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 Thursday, December 4, 2008 

Canadians’ blood should be running a little cold today. 

Economic consideration trumped democracy.  I suppose this should not be too surprising, given our collective disengagement with our political process, and given that notions of citizenship, and the attendant rights and responsibilities, seem to have been reduced to residing and consuming in Canada.

What we seem to want, above all, is a government that ensures we continue to collect paycheques and enjoy our lifestyles.   (We also want a handful of basics thrown in – education, public safety, and healthcare (maybe).   Some of the more progressive among us also want basic food and shelter provided for each citizen regardless of their perceived merit or lack thereof.)

But we’re wrong in wanting that as a chief end of our government.

The constitutional mandate of parliament is to legislate for peace, order and good government.  I’ll get back to this shortly, but first, we’re wrong about a couple other critical distinctions too:

1. We think we elected Harper to be our Prime Minister.  We did not.   He was elected as an MP (as are all Prime Ministers) in Calgary SW;  he was the leader of his party; and the governor general appointed him to be the Prime Minister.  Again:  Our Prime Ministers are appointed, not elected.  By convention, the governor general appoints the person most likely to have the confidence of the house.  Arguments that the coalition does not have the right to overthrow “the PM we elected” are ignorant arguments.

2. We think that the coalition’s request for power is anti-democratic.  On the contrary, it is entirely democratic.   Combined, coalition MPs were elected by nearly two-thirds of Canadians.   The MP conserveratives were in the minority, and subject to precisely the risk of a vote of non-confidence.  We can be angry that the Liberals and NDP would choose to do so in the current climate, just like we can be angry that the Conservatives would use the opportunity to reduce the coffers of their opponents, but threatening a vote of non confidence is absolutely democratic.  The conservatives are not “our government”.   They simply have more seats in our house of parliament than any other single party.  That’s all.   

Instead of  facing a vote of non-confidence, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue parliament.  He argued that the economic climate required this.  While our economy is indeed a nail-biter, his request was not about parliament’s chief concern:   Peace, Good order, Good government.  It was about protecting the shaky status of his 127 MPs.   Good government is about demonstrating a spirit willing to collaborate in the face of challenging times.   It may even be about reluctantly trying a coalition government – such as those in Norway, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean acquiesced.  She opted to pre-empt the majority of our MPs, who we Canadians elected, by doing so.  Who knows what her reasoning was.  Her primary duty is to ensure a functioning parliament – did Harper threaten to deepen the disruption?  did she truly believe a coalition government would deepen the disruption?

In any case, democracy took a hit today, trumped by rhetoric about the economic crisis – a crisis which hasn’t even struck Canada, yet.   I hope all of us, regardless of political affiliation (I’m green, for the record), especially conservatives who mistakenly claim that this was undemocratic, are shaken. 

About the Author

Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com


  1. Thanks for this post, Nancy. I completely agree with you. I’m not sure I support this coalition (because it didn’t seem all that stable to me), but it really pissed me off when people claimed it undemocratic. Harper’s request to suspend Parliament seems much less democratic. I fear the GG’s decision to concede sets a dangerous precedent for democracy in Canada. Now, if a PM doesn’t want to face a vote of confidence, he can just prorouge Parliament.

    This story keeps getting weirder and weirder. If the Globe is right, I’m looking forward to what Bob Rae’s voice will bring to the coalition campaign. In the very least, we’ll get a superior speaker to Dion.


    Dec 05, 2008
  2. Traciatim

    If the NDP and Liberal had the house by themselves there would be no problem with the coalition. Including the party who’s sole purpose is to destroy the federal government by making it so disfunctional that it can use that as an excuse to tear apart the country . . . well, then you have problems.


    Dec 05, 2008
  3. Very well said. The challenge is Canadians are not accustomed to coalitions or “prorogued” governments. They just don’t happen here. These actions are more commonly seen in other commonwealth countries. So to see the government maneuver in this manner confuses the people – understandably. Meanwhile, I’m paying my taxes to have my parliament sit on their prorogues and do nothing.


    Dec 05, 2008
  4. brad

    @Traciatim: I think you’re confusing the Bloc Québecois with the Parti Québecois. The PQ is the provincial separatist party; the Bloc may have separatist leanings but its primary purpose is to defend the interests of Québec in federal policymaking, not to promote separation. Most people in Québec do not support the sovereignty movement, and I personally know people who oppose sovereignty but vote for the Bloc. We really are a “distinct society” within Canada, and I’m personally glad the Bloc is there to represent our interests. And the federal government is perfectly dysfunctional on its own, thank you very much, there’s not much the Bloc can do to make it worse. 😉


    Dec 05, 2008
  5. Hey Nancy. I’d have to say that Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean took the least controversial course available. Given that most Canadians are concerned about this coalition being a disruptive influence, it’s not surprising she seems to have doubts as well.

    From a legalistic standpoint, the coalition is not undemocratic. But Harper has never called the coalition illegal. But it does break the spirit of our system. All the coalition had to do was make clear their intention to form this coalition BEFORE the last election and we wouldn’t be in this situation.


    Dec 07, 2008
  6. That said, VERY interesting posts of late. Nicely done.


    Dec 07, 2008
  7. Robert Finlayson

    Hi Nancy – First time poster, long time reader. Advance apologies to Hades.
    I’m unsure how a coalition government in this instance can bring about “peace, order and good government.” The stated policies of each coalition partner contradicts one another and you must have the feeling the detail has not been developed. If the coalition was formed prior to the recent election each policy area would have required agreement and signoff from all coalition partners before being presented to the people. How can they be ready to form Government? Instead of a uniform, consistent voice presenting policy for legislation, we’ll have Cerberus, the multi-headed dog from Greek and Roman mythology, barking out different retorts and trying to head the country in opposing directions.
    The lack of transparency in forming the coalition deal and the indecency not to present the coalition choice (at the election we had 2 months ago) all confirm my opinion that the coalition partners are not ready to take power. The coalition is the complete polar opposite to “peace, order and good government.”


    Dec 09, 2008
  8. @unspend Well, looks like we know about the Bob Rae option – not. I get the dilemma the Liberals faced – act now and move forward v. drawn-out process of uncertainty in their camp now. Still, I’m a little unnerverd by the coronation of Ignatieff. But what do I care: i’m a Green 🙂
    @traciatim Give me a couple more years to get some Greens in, and we won’t face the same dilemma 🙂 Having said that, I’m not as anxious about the Bloc. PQ has unique interests, more so than the rest of us, I think, and I don’t blame them for elbowing their way to have at least some influence (even if disproportionate, they still don’t have *that* much influence).
    @squawkfox I know! It kinda gets to us frugal types, doesn’t it!
    @Jonathon Hey, thanks for dropping by! As time goes by, I think I understand better why the GG did as she did – a lesser of evils, I suppose, in her eyes. Having said that, I think letting the PM off the hook, even if temporarily, broke the spirit more than the coalition would have.
    @Robert I’m glad you jumped in, and you have good points. To be honest, I’m not sure under what circumstances and conditions coalitions are formed in other governments, and should do some research on that. I agree it was a very fragile thing and hadn’t had time to come together. That may happen over the coming weeks. And true, maybe it would have been Cerberus (classics major, perchance?) but maybe not – maybe it would have forced more discussion, collaboration and consensus building and *working together* than we’ve seen previously in Canada. We’ll see what unfolds in coming weeks.


    Dec 10, 2008

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