Monday, February 11, 2008

Van Loan admits Conservative fixed election-date legislation meaningless

A rare moment of clarity from Conservative House Leader and smearer-in-chief Peter (only Conservatives are real Canadians) Van Loan, who admitted that the Conservatives’ much ballyhooed fixed-election date legislation is a farce, and not worth the paper it was printed on:

But Mr. Van Loan has said the law does not prevent the prime minister from asking the Governor General to pull the plug.

"There is nothing in the law that takes away the Crown's traditional and usual prerogatives on this matter," he told reporters last week.

One wonders what the point of the whole exercise was then. This law will prevent a government from choosing the time of its own demise…unless it wants to choose the time of its own demise, in which case there’s nothing in the law preventing that, so just go to town. Maybe it’s only meant to bind Liberal governments?

Anyway, the Van Loan comment came in the context of a larger story, about Conservative confidence landmine #296, the unconstitutional force the Senate to pass the crime bill motion. Apperantly, reports CanWest, Harper will go to the Governor-General, even if the HoC passes his little motion, if the Senate still doesn’t pass his crime bill by his own arbitrary deadline.

If the Commons passes the motion and the Senate does not comply, the prime minister could ask Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to dissolve Parliament, said a Harper spokeswoman.

"It's a confidence motion, so that's still an option," said Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the prime minister's press secretary.

This is an issue because Harper’s original motion, as previously discussed, would have no binding impact on the Senate. Even if passed, the Senate could just say bite me Steve, and there’d be nothing he could do about it.

So now, The Automaton is saying even if his confidence motion passes, if the Senate doesn’t play ball he’ll go to the GG anyway. Yeah, sorry Steve, that won’t work. And you don’t need much more than high school social studies to figure out why.

When you go to the GG and ask her to dissolve Parliament, it’s because you’ve lost the confidence of the House of Commons. But in his scenario, he wouldn’t have lost the confidence of the HoC. The confidence motion, calling on the Senate to pass the crime bill, would have been passed by the HoC.

So I don’t see how, under that scenario, the GG could possibly grant an election. Any constitutional experts out there have any idea? It seems likely she’d say no, you haven’t proven you’ve lost the confidence of the HOUSE, go and prove it before you come and bother me again during tea time.

Not only does Van Loan’s threat make a mockery of his government’s own fixed election date legislation, it also flies in the face of his own leader’s call in 2004 for clear confidence motions with limited scope.

The Automaton is starting to look more and more like The Cry Baby, stomping his feet and huffing and puffing when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Thinking about it, this is probably all about posturing and positioning. It seems likely now the Liberals will bring the government down on the budget. The budget will be tabled in the HoC Feb. 26th, we learned today. Will the first budget confidence vote, on the BQ amendment, be that week, before March 1st? I don't recall how the schedule usually works.

But it could be Harper would rather fall on the a crime question then on the budget, and that could be why Van Loan is talking all this unconstitutional smack today, they might want to bring themselves down on the crime question before the budget can come to a vote.

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Anonymous said...

On March 1, Dion can also go to the Governor-General and demand the House should not fall. As long as supply has not been cut off, the Parliament still stands. So you can make the House sit through filibusters.

Harper can simply call a vote on supply shortly after the budget and keep a token presence on the government benches. This was how Schroder's government fell by calling a vote of non-confidence.

MrvnMouse said...

So what exactly happens if Harper goes to the GG and demands she dissolve government?

Does the "fixed election date" bill have no standing? Or, like would this simply lead to a constitutional crisis?

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

I would be very surprised to see that actually happen. I think both sides are playing political brinkmanship right now. PVL is just clarify to the LPC that if the CPC wanted to, they could. The could use the argument that the Senate is ignoring the will of the House in not passing in a timely fashion the Crime Bill, calm down I said they could say, I think if it was packaged right they would be able to make a case to the public.

Dr. Tux said...

Dion is really funny:

calgarygrit said...

Ha ha - that's great. Good find.

Gayle said...

There are times I think the conservatives really do not want an election, and that this posturing is meant to fool the libs into thinking they DO want one, so the libs will work hard to ensure they do not fall for Harper's tricks.

And then I get dizzy...

In any event, according to Craig Oliver the liberals are reconsidering this whole election thing.

ottlib said...

It is the perogative of a Prime Minister to go to the GG and request she dissolve Parliament and parliamentary convention states she will not turn him down.

So he can still ask the GG to dissolve Parliament if the Senate does not meet his deadline.

Of course, standing in his way is the Fixed Election Date Law.

It might not really have the force of law but the perception of Stephen Harper breaking his own law to launch an election just makes me feel all giddy.

Even his apologists in the media would have a hard time defending that.

After all when the Crime motion passes the House he will not be able to claim the House does not have confidence in him so his calling an election would be a bald face repudiation of his own law and a blantant breaking of a key promise from the 2006 election as we begin a new one.

Just imagine the Conservatives during the first few days of the campaign trying to defend breaking their own law by using the line that the law was not worth much to begin with. Like I say the idea just makes me giddy.

Unfortunately, I do not think it will happen but I can dream.

burlivespipe said...

Mushroom sed: "This was how Schroder's government fell by calling a vote of non-confidence."

Arrrggg! I had almost erased the memories of those dark Peanuts governing days... Schroder proposing to nationalize Beethoven while his finance minister PigPen created a smog screen with all the Beetle Bailey lobbiests came and filled their gun barrels. But worse of all was Linus' well-meaning but crummily hatched NEP -- national Eraser Program -- that sent the cartoon's economy into Dogpatch...

burlivespipe said...

There's certainly evilness in his mind, if Harper is willing to break his own law (then it becomes as worthless as a Harper promise) just to call the first election issue. It's crafty if he is able to actually play it into the central election issue -- despite senate reform being a non-starter with the other elected bodies.
However, the hypocrisy of him cancelling and stalling 2/3rds of this crime legislation last summer, pausing it and dragging it on as though its a puppy on a leash, should also return to bite him on the back. And Craig Oliver's a mummified and shrunken Duffy apple, so his words mean squiddly.

Greg said...

So now, The Automaton is saying even if his confidence motion passes, if the Senate doesn’t play ball he’ll go to the GG anyway.

I suspect Harper will do another "Linda Keen". He will announce to the world that the Senate is not just defying him, but also the will of the House and so an election is needed to give him a mandate to reform the Senate. Crazy? Yes, but not impossible. After all who thought he would fire Linda Keen the night before she was to appear before a House Committee?

Jeff said...


Does the "fixed election date" bill have no standing? Or, like would this simply lead to a constitutional crisis?

It would depend on the specific wording of the fixed-date legislation, although since Van Loan has admitted its toothless and they wrote it, I suspect the bill wouldn't be an impediment. Going against the spirit of the law would be a political impediment, not a legal one.

What would be an impediment, I'd think, would be the fact Harper wouldn't be able to demonstrate he's lost the confidence of the House. An inability to move legislation through the Senate wouldn't cut it, IMO. It's likely the GG would refuse his request.


I think if it was packaged right they would be able to make a case to the public.

Could be. I'm sure we'd battle it out on the PR front, they'd say the Senate flouting the will of the people, we'd say they're making a mockery of their own fixed date law, and so on.

I don't think it'd get there though because, as I said, without falling on a clear confidence vote the GG may say no. Which may be what Harper wants, then he can run against the Liberal Senate AND the Liberal-appointed GG flouting the yada yada.


It is the perogative of a Prime Minister to go to the GG and request she dissolve Parliament and parliamentary convention states she will not turn him down.

In a majority situation, sure. But in a minority? There's the King/Bing precedent, of course. And if there's not a clear confidence vote? I don't think an election being granted in such a situation is necessarily a given.

Anyway, as you said, it's not likely to ever come down to this. The budget will likely be it.

Jason Hickman said...

At the outset, I'll say that I'm a supporter of fixed election dates as a general rule.

Jeff asked about the text of the legislation, and I believe that this is it. You'll need to click on the link reading "text of fixed election dates bill", I think.

(Caveat: I'm taking a quick break from work to find this, and I don't have time to search it out in depth. Apologies if I'm wrong.)

The "money quote" appears to be this:

56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

2) Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.

So PVL is legally correct: the "powers of the GG" are unaffected.

I would also add this: there is a precedent for dissolving Parliament when there is an impasse between the HofC and the Senate. In '88, that situation arose with respect to the FTA.

Now, before everyone starts in on me, there are obvious differences between that situation & the crime bill. Whether the end of Feb would be an appropriate time to declare an impasse is certainly up for debate.

But nothing in the new legislation takes away the power of the GG to dissolve Parliament, using her traditional reasons for doing so. An impasse between the 2 Houses of Parliament - assuming one has arisen - would seem to fit the bill as much as a loss of confidence in the government in the HofC.

Anonymous said...


You know I was referring to the Social Democratic Party in Germany in which Chancellor Gerhard Schroder called a motion of non-confidence to quell an internal party revolt over the economic reforms of Agenda 2010. SPD members abstained and the House fell. Harper can do this on the budget and even on the crime bill by keeping the CPC backbench away from the crucial vote.

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