Wednesday, June 02, 2004


Say what you want about her, but Adrienne Clarkson is about to become the most important person in Canada. For the first time in a long time, the Governor General will be on the hot seat because we are heading towards the most unworkable parliament in Canadian history. A Liberal minority is one thing but a Liberal or Conservative minority where the NDP is not powerful enough to prop up the government is another. More and more, it is looking like the BQ will hold the balance of power. Say we wind up with a parliament like this (or some variation of it):

Lib 120
Con 108
BQ 55
NDP 25

Even if Layton wanted to help the Liberals (and why would he if all they do is go onto the streets at night and kill homeless women with their bare hands?), it wouldn't get them over the magic 155 seats needed for a majority. As a result, the Liberals would need support from the BQ or the Cons to pass confidence motions.

Of course, the combined Con/BQ support would be over 155 so they could conceivably form government, but the political fallout for both parties would be immense. (Then again, maybe not. Jean Lapierre founded the freaking BQ and he’s Martin’s Quebec lieutenant)

I'll admit I was only in High School when we had our last minority government so I may not be overly qualified to speculate on what the GG's proper procedure would be, but based on precendence, here's what my understanding of the proper course of action for Adrienne Clarkson would be:

First, she’d have to ask the current PM if he still has support of the house. So, even if Martin wins fewer seats than the Cons, he could in theory tell he that he does and continue to govern as PM until he loses a confidence motion. Since this is bound to happen sooner or later, if little time has passed, the proper thing would be for Clarkson to give Harper an opportunity to form government. When he loses a confidence vote, we'd have to have a new election. Add it up, and we'll most certainly be back to the polls by Christmas 2005.

But that's only if everyone follows tradition. What if Martin finishes 20 seats behind the Cons, with less popular vote and tells her he wants to stay on as PM? Should she let him? Mackenzie King, back in the 20s, was the only PM to ever govern with fewer seats than the opposition leader. What if Martin takes over and then goes to her after 6 months, telling her to dissolve parliament? Should she give Harper a chance to govern or agree with him and go to the polls? This happened in '57 with Diefenbaker but it was a controversial measure. And Pearson had dared him to do it in the house. What if Harper was against going to the polls, feeling he deserved a chance to form government? The last time a Governor General went against the wishes of a sitting Prime Minister was in 1927, when Byng turned King down and it became the central election issue.

There are many more scenarios out there. What if neither leader tells Adrienne he has the confidence of the house? Would we simply start another campaign on June 29th? What if Harper forms government right away but can't hold it? Does Martin get a chance, even though he told her on the 29th that he didn't have confidence of the house? Now we're treading into territory where there isn't a historical precedence in Canada. Should Adrienne read up on 18th century British parliamentary history?

I don't think many people recognize what a historic parliament we could be heading towards. Minority governments are one thing - we've had lots of them. But minority governments where a separatist party holds the balance of power? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that neither leader makes the GG’s spending habits an issue during this campaign.


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