Parliament 101

Right from the get-go, I knew that this “coalition” business would poison the well of discourse in the present election… But if nothing else good comes out of this vapid, snooze-inducing exercise, perhaps a few more Canadian citizens will have learned something about the way their parliament works – or, at least, how it always was intended to function. And that would be a good thing.

Here, Michael Ignatieff does a commendable job of rebuffing the twisted logic of Stephen Harper and his supporters that a minority government would give him the absolute and unimpeachable right to behave as if he had a clear majority and that any challenge to this deeply flawed premise is somehow “undemocratic.”

I could be wrong, but I suspect the reason this issue has reared its head again is because the media is by now weary (not that I can blame them) with dutifully reporting the endless repetition of visionless stump speeches dealing with small-bore issues and disappointed that the polls haven’t been jumping around sufficiently for them to breathlessly report on the sporting aspect of the election. Understandably, they would much rather escape the phenomenally dull reality of an inane campaign in order to re-engage in the familiar and more mentally stimulating activity of hypothetical speculation (aka “fiction”).


30 Replies to “Parliament 101”

  1. Hearing you Liberals going on about “the way their parliament works” makes me chuckle.

    Proroguing parliament is perfectly normal, within the rules of a parliamentary democracy and perfectly legitimate yet you all had a hissy fit when it happened. Didn’t hear you all using the “it’s within the rules” lines then.

    Canadians were also right to be upset about it, because it doesn’t SEEM proper. Same thing with a coalition of parties that didn’t get the most seats. It just doesn’t SEEM proper despite what the rules say.

    Sort of like the single point after a failed field goal attempt.

  2. Proroguing parliament is perfectly normal, within the rules of a parliamentary democracy and perfectly legitimate…

    …unless it’s done the way Harper requested it be done–well before the end of a parliamentary session (in the second case, immediately after the session had begun)–in which case it’s abnormal, outside the rules of a parliamentary democracy, and perfectly illegitimate.

    Sort of like tracing out own your goal-line with chalk, scoring with it, and claiming that scoring a goal is perfectly normal and well within the rules.

  3. Sir Francis:

    Not to mention proroguing to avoid a confidence vote which you think you are going to lose, unheard of and unprecedented in our history until Harper did it that first time. You got to love the way Conbots and CPC supporters/partisans either don’t know or don’t care that they are mixing up apples and oranges when they say proroguing is a perfectly normal Parliamentary power when used properly to defend to instances where it clearly was NOT used properly in the traditional manner to end a session of the House but was instead used to short circuit the defeat of the government in one case right after it had come out of an election with a minority government and the second time to shut down processes to compel the government to produce serious documents regarding the treatment of Canadian POWs and whether they conformed to international treaties/law that we are a party to.

    It is also very ironic to watch such as Mark there go on about we “Liberals” here go on about these things, as if only Liberals do so, when in fact one finds it in NDPers, old time PCPCers who are not enamoured of the Harper CPC, swing voters who normally have no party affiliation, etc. Indeed, many people who object here about the abuse of power and process by the Harper CPC are doing it coming from a conservative political background themselves or as in my own case are from the conservative element in their complex political identity/nature. The Harper CPC are anything but conservative in the way they abuse the powers and processes of government, indeed to call them radical extremists would be an understatement in the older sense of the political spectrum. Sad really to see how debased political discourse has become thanks to the emergence of the Harper CPC speaking for a wing of the political spectrum, especially since the reality is it reflects and represents only a marginal tiny percentage of Canadians who even consider themselves to be right leaning to hard right politically speaking let alone overall in the full spectrum of the Canadian public.

    For decades we have successfully managed to limit the influence and importation of the insane right wing style of politics (strategy, tactics as well as ideology) of the USA in our federal politics, but with Harper and his success in killing his only real political competition the PCPC and becoming leader of the CPC we have seen a massive rapid import of some of the worst tools and beliefs of that extremist (especially when considered in the Canadian context) right wing that hijacked the GOP over the last few decades. Yet we that are truly believers in Canadian conservative values and principles having merit (IOW to cover those that are centrists or even socially/economically left leaning to left wing but still are fundamentally conservative where it comes to altering the fundamental structures and processes of government) in wanting to see our political processes and laws properly respected by sitting governments no matter what party they belong to are somehow the Liberals and lefties and deranged and not standing up for Canada. The one thing that is truly amazing to me is the consistency of the projection we get from NA right wing extremists, they really do a wonderful job of projecting onto everyone they deem as enemies what their own worst traits/sins/natures/intentions are. Harper and company are no exception it seems.

  4. Dave: It always amazes me that we share the same subs. I was listening to Thom Hartman earlier today rag on the movie and was thinking about posting something on the subject, especially seeing as Ayn Rand is “required reading” by the staff of Republican wunderkind Paul Ryan. I think that tells you a lot about where his head is at… And I don’t mean the Eddie Munster haircut!

    Anyway, thanks for the tip. I’ll go check out the review and maybe even see if I can watch the movie online — for free! Heh. Take that Ms. Rosenbaum!

  5. Mark: I may be one of “you Liberals” but I wasn’t actually too perturbed by Harper’s proroguing of parliament – even though the way it was done was far from “perfectly normal” as you suggest.

    So, just to recap… you are making a blanket generalization, an incorrect assumption, and coupling those with a total distortion of fact. Well, that’s nothing new for a HarperCon… Those are all just tools in your rhetorical toolbox, right?

  6. I thought Ignatieff gave horribly twisted answers. He keeps talking about “…making it clear…” . He has painted himself into a corner.

    Ignatieff just isn’t believeable. How many times has he changed his answers, just in the last 4 weeks? He should have stuck with the red door, blue door, analogy. His trust numbers were already below 20%. What is it they say, when you find yourself in a hole, quit digging?

    The posters should at least recognize that Mark is correct. RT deserves credit for seeing that.

  7. Tomm: First off, Mark is a partisan boob, so let’s forget about him.

    I don’t know that I’d characterize Ignatieff’s responses as “horribly twisted” so much as “painfully awkward” and while that might be splitting hairs, there’s an important distinction to be made.

    It’s next to impossible to answer a hypothetical question about what arrangements might be made post-election without feeding into the trope currently being furiously peddled by the Conservatives that a nefarious conspiracy is afoot to undermine legitimate “democracy” and usurp power by the evil forces of a “reckless coalition of losers”…

    Yes, it could happen…

    And it would be legitimate. Moreover, it’s precisely the way our parliamentary system was designed to work and expressed as such by the founders of this country.

    So, I have to ask, why do so-called “Conservatives” hate the founding fathers and traditions of our country?

  8. RT,

    Yes, you are right, it was more “painfully awkward” then anything.

    But you posed a question…”So, I have to ask, why do so-called “Conservatives” hate the founding fathers and traditions of our country?”

    They don’t. They just have a little more testosterone than their opponents. That in itself has worked.

    It isn’t like their campaign plan wasn’t predictable and obvious.

    They’ve also been receiving terrible press. But somehow they knew it wouldn’t make any difference. Their message would resonate. Somehow they knew that they were on bedrock.

    The founding father’s (at least McDonald and perhaps Laurier) might have celebrated Harper’s bravado.

  9. Urgh. That’s a bit of a metaphorical stretch, Tomm. But, as they say, thanks for trying.

    The Harper Conservatives are on a “bedrock” of relative economic stability only because the Liberals were such miserable fucking pricks during much of the 90s attempting to get this country on the right track and extricating us from the deep economic hole that preceding governments (Liberal and Conservative) had managed to dig. Have we all collectively forgotten what assholes the Libs were during those years? We’re also not in the same catastrophic financial mess of untold “troubled assets” with our banks as the US and other countries because of a somewhat more tightly regulated system that was (albeit somewhat reluctantly) maintained by the Liberals.

    The fact of the matter is that the Harper Conservatives rapidly squandered the $8 billion “rainy day” surplus the Liberals had managed to scrimp and set aside as a buffer against potential economic instability as quickly as possible. Then they slashed the GST for purely political purposes against the advice of every economist on the planet in order to try win a needless election that they failed to gain a majority of seat in, but still cost the treasury billions of dollars in lost revenue as a result. And in the midst of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, they were prepared to just do nothing and tighten their belts and march into a austerity program… A strategy that would have been catastrophically unproductive. Until, that is, at the risk of losing power, they were forced to accede to investing in a cross-country infrastructure spending program that they now proudly take credit for and all their “Action Plan”.

    It’s laughable really how completely witless and dishonest the Conservatives have been thoughout this whole economic mess. By the grace of God and good fortune perhaps, they may have managed to ineptly stumble through it relatively intact – at least compared to other countries that are even worse off in present circumstances – but don’t imagine for a moment that it was by virtue of their acute planning or sound judgment, and don’t fantasize that it was attributable in any way, shape or form to the economic GENIUS of Stephen Harper.

  10. “The founding father’s (at least McDonald and perhaps Laurier) might have celebrated Harper’s bravado.”

    Doubt it, mire likely Bennetts fare. He wasn’t the most personable of PMs either.

  11. The founding father’s[sic] (at least McDonald[sic] and perhaps Laurier[sic])…

    Extraordinary. The old man misspells the first and mislabels the second. Seems to think Sir John A. is the big fella with the red hair and the Big Macs. Pathetic.

    Tomm, there are Roma squeegee kids working in downtown Budapest whose Canadian conservatism is more lucid and morally serious than yours.

  12. RT,

    Your post is certainly interesting. A viewpoint that has adherents. I trust that you will understand if I don’t share it. I noted that you did not disagree with mine, only who should be praised for making it bedrock.

    Sir Francis,

    You must be enjoying this election immensely. All the leaders have taken different tack lines. Now they are heading back toward the bouy and it is clear that two took a line with considerably less wind, and one other found a little puff that no one but him spotted. The fourth just put himself in line with the prevailing wind and ensured he had clean air.

    My apologies for misspelling MacDonald and putting the apostrophe in the wrong place. As you know, my spelling has really deteriorated and without a spell checker, it tends to slip. Plus, it was late. What was wrong with Laurier?

    With regards to the Hungarian gypsies, I understand they all emigrated to Canada. I think that they are the “ethnic” vote Harper is courting.

    In regards to moral standing, you must already know I am pretty much morally bankrupt (I revealed to you that I’ve been reading Kafka for goodness sake). As an educated man who read Mao, and voted Marxist-Leninist in the 70’s, I now vote for Harper’s candidate. It is my shame to bear.

  13. Ah, so you’re an Air sign, Tomm. That explains much.

    As for the rest, Laurier was not a Father of Confederation, and no properly educated person could ever vote Marxist-Leninist; such a thing is clear evidence of mis-education, Christopher Hitchens being a notorious case in point.

  14. I’m in fact a water sign.

    My apologies about my education level when I voted Marxist-Leninist. It was 1974, I had just started University and I voted for the guy that made the most sense at the all-candidates forum. I was likely still spouting from the little red book at the time.

    But I learned something. My guy got 31 votes. Without my vote he would have had 30. I felt like I had contributed.

  15. I could physically see my vote. I had contributed more than 3% to his vote total. This was, no longer, the Law of Large Numbers.

  16. I agree with the consensus on this board that the Conservative scaremongerring plays merely into ignorance of the political system. But this is not completely true, and there always seems to be a little spoiler that is left out.

    True, coalition governments are legit, because we elect the members of Parliament who then choose amongst themselves who has the confidence of the House, and the GG is constitutionally obligated to appoint that person to be PM. If a minority government cannot present a budget immediately after the election, for the sake of stability an opposition coalition has the right to take a swing at governing.

    However, what I never see mentioned in these so-called “debates” (unthinkingly partisan wind bags going at each other is hardly a real debate) is that even though a coalition is legit in the parliamentary system, every single one since the beginning of responsible cabinet governance in the 1840’s has included the largest party, a notion that is out of the question for the Conservatives due to being the only right-centre/right party.

    I do not like the contemporary Conservatives, but I cannot see legitamacy in any government where the largest party sits as the Opposition. Call me a fool, but that is just the way I see it. If you want to argue this point or if you can prove me wrong, I’m willing to listen.

  17. D.I.D.,
    That, in essence, is the government’s position. Of course, we also have the “a la mode” of the 4th party being a Separatist Party bent on maximizing the flow of wealth to a single province, and eventually wrenching Quebec from Canada… as a necessary partner.

    Your point had to be the one asked by the media, or failing that, given their partisan nature, (did you see Milewski’s question to Harper today?) addressed directly by the party leaders themselves.

    It has sat there like some hair ball in the gut with nobody bringing it up except Harper and the National Post.

    But there is a solution to this. There is a guy that posts here, Sir Francis (Dred Tory), who undoubtedly will have some entertaining thoughts if he is willing to share them.

  18. Tomm,

    And that is the reason that I am upset with the Conservatives: they have had every reason and every opportunity to make this perfectly legit claim, yet rather than do it, they prefer to use fearmongerring, and even lying that a coalition of any sort is totally illegitamate, to scare Canadians rather than convince them to vote Conservative. They are willing to prey on the ignorant and the fearfull, and in this respect they are no better than the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc.

    As for those oh so evil separatists quit beating a dead horse. The separatist dynamic of the Bloc must be considered, but even the Bloc itself recognizes that it is against reason for a separatist faction to share power in a federal government. Even during the Conservative minority, the government had to seek the approval or backing of the Bloc on some votes, so yes, the Cons have indeed been in bed with those “seditionists”, and their arrangement with some sort of coalition would be no different than what has already happened.

    “Your point had to be the one asked by the media, or failing that, given their partisan nature, (did you see Milewski’s question to Harper today?) addressed directly by the party leaders themselves.”

    Ah yes, the Liberal-biased media myth…

    ALL media is biased one way or another, and this just feeds further into the divisive “us versus them” mentality that is destroying this country and the rest of the Western world. True, there are media that are evidently left-wing, but, at least in my humble opinion, there is a balance or a near-balance of left-leaning and right-leaning media.

    You mentioned the National Post and Post media, but there is also the SUN newspaper chain and in addition CTV and the Globe and Mail seem to be somewhat centrist. This pretty much balances out CBC and other “left-leaning” media.

  19. D.I.D.,
    I accept your point. The Conservative’s talking points have mostly been around the “socialists & the separatists”. But they certainly have been making your point as well. I believe Harper made that point with his interview with Mansbridge indicating he would not accept the government lead as a second party. A hollow gesture quite likely since that is highly improbable at this point. However with respect to a separatist link to a governing coaliton, Canadian’s rightly are concerned about what almost happened in 2008. To the Liberal’s credit they could have continued with their plans after the prorogation, but they thought better of it, booted their leader and quickly selected a new spokesperson.

    Your pooh-poohing the “myth” of a media bias is disappointing. I watched two sets of campaign questions on the TV today. The first were those posed to Harper in Mississauga. The second were those posed to Layton, I believe in Montreal. Milewski’s questions (3 actually) were hard hitting and pointed. He used talking points off of a Dosanjh campaign piece, hadn’t checked his facts, and didn’t bother listening for the full answer actually trying to yell over the Prime Minister to ask a fourth question. In contrast, Layton was asked questions one at a time, simple ones that he could easily hit out of the park. Isn’t Layton the one we need, right now, to start answer some significant questions?

    If Harper is going to be asked questions about whether he is going to church (as he was yesterday), Layton should be asked questions about his religious affiliations. It is all part of a double standard by the media. You don’t need to believe me, just pay greater attention to this.

  20. Tomm,

    I accept your position on the Conservatives, but I still maintain my position on the media. Maybe our perceptions are different or one of us has seen too much of one side and not enough of the other, but I will continue to sniff around to see if your claim can be validated. So far, however, I am inclined to hold fast.

    You are right that the separatists as the primary pillar of support for a coalition government is a concern among many Canadians, but I think that this is threat is much weaker than it seems. As I am sure you know, alliances among the powerful are fickle at best and outright deception at the worst: the Bloc Québecois in 2008 was not going to be ‘part’ of the government, but had pledged to support it on motions of non-confidence. Of course, this gives the Bloc a lot of wrangling (think: blocmail/extortion) power, but remember that as the Bloc will have no direct legal links to the government, the coalition could very easily try to gain the support of the powerful (if angered) Conservative opposition if the Bloc becomes to arrogant or unbearable. This would be percieved by the Québécois nationalists as the a ‘humiliation’, but the point is that the NDP and Liberals would not neccessarily be beholden to the Bloc. They would have options.

  21. There is a guy that posts here, Sir Francis (Dred Tory), who undoubtedly will have some entertaining thoughts.

    Well allow me to “entertain” you both by pointing out that Parliament, a basically Medieval creature established long before the dawn of inflexibly partisan politics, is not obliged to respect the presumed rights of the largest party, because it does not fundamentally acknowledge the existence of parties at all (nor does our common law, by the way, which treats parties, on the infrequent and unhappy occasions when it has to adjudicate issues concerning them, as clubs).

    Parliament acknowledges only its members; a governing party that cannot retain the confidence of a sufficient number of members and pass legislation, no matter how “large” that party is, cannot stand. Parliament’s rights are of an infinitely higher order than those of our political parties (which fortunately enjoy virtually no rights at all, in fact, and deserve none), something Reform-Alliance-“Conservative” militants used to scream to the heavens when in Opposition and which they now find as expendable as their meager number of announced “principles”.

    To your list of un-asked media questions, I might add the question I would love to see posed to a senior CPC minister: “Given that your leader’s partisan intransigence is the key reason for your minority’s perpetual instability and given that his wide unpopularity is a key reason for the perpetuation of your government’s minority status, why has your caucus not effected his replacement?”

    As to a “solution” for the ostensibly intolerable exclusion of the “largest” party from a hypothetical coalition, nothing would prevent an Ignatieff/Layton team (or Ignatieff alone) from offering Cabinet positions to a set of qualified CPC moderates; Michael Chong and Julian Fantino, just for two, come immediately to mind. Harper would pre-empt any such thing, of course: the humiliation would be too great. Iggy (or Iggy and Jack) could then remind Canadians that it is Harper who is the problem—that he’s totally unwilling to make Parliament work unless he gets his own majority sandbox to play in.

    Your pooh-poohing the “myth” of a media bias is disappointing

    …says the man who manages to mention Harper’s fellatial Mansbridge interview without blushing.

  22. Hey, Sir Francis. You have some decent points, but I must add

    “…Well allow me to “entertain” you both by pointing out that Parliament, a basically Medieval creature established long before the dawn of inflexibly partisan politics, is not obliged to respect the presumed rights of the largest party, because it does not fundamentally acknowledge the existence of parties at all (nor does our common law, by the way, which treats parties, on the infrequent and unhappy occasions when it has to adjudicate issues concerning them, as clubs)…”

    Parliament and common law does not ‘fundementally acknowledge’ the existance of parties, but they are a political fact in this country, and are increasingly heirarchal and even dictatorial in constitution. The Parliament recognizes the rights of Members…. most of whom are part of an organised political apparatus and only gained their seat in the House due to the influence and resources of that party and its leader to whom they have a connection to. In addition, the set up of the parliamentary system, wheras the persons endowed with the confidence of the House of Commons must win every confidence motion to maintain power, tends to lead the group in power to utilise the party apparatus (commonly of which it is the leadership) to enact party “discipline” to stifle the individual will of MPs as a means of clinging to power.

    Any ‘mutiny’ of an MP against her/his party leadership often will lead to a loss of credibility within the party and thus the loss of their riding’s party candidacy in the next election, either forcing the person out of the organised ladders of power and into the position of an Independent (which due to the existance and advantages of party politics, an inherent disadvantage) or into another party.

    The equality of Members of Parliament and the the inconsequence of rigid parties is an inspiring political theory, but it is not a current political reality.

    You are right, of course, that a coalition government could ask Conservative MPs to be part of the Cabinet, but you yourself conceeded that it was improbable due to the power of Harper – who heads a political party and has power, whether rightfully or not, over many MPs.

    And it is not merely the fault of Harper alone. The parties that have an unofficial but very real monopoly of political power in this country are all controlled by snakes, liars, cheats, and crooks, and I would not doubt that both Ignatieff and Layton would behave the same as Harper in this regard.

  23. The totalitarian nature of political parties is, indeed, part of our sad reality, but Parliament need not always bend to our sad political realities; that is a huge part of why it is so crucial to our democracy. Otherwise, it would need, for example, to conform itself to the sad reality with which you closed, the current ascendancy of “snakes, liars, cheats, and crooks”, by becoming as hospitable as possible to those snakes, liars, cheats, and crooks. Fortunately, those creatures still find Parliament a very uncomfortable place. I pray they may always do so.

    Speaking of whom, I’m not sure I agree with you that all parties are led and peopled by reprobates. I was delighted to read of anNDP MP who actually followed his conscience on an issue that promised considerable partisan advantage had he acted differently. Such gestures are rare, and they need to be honoured when they happen.

  24. D.I.D.,
    All the provinces are the same as well, if an MP doesn’t follow the directions of the House Leader, they risk being shown the door. Please note that the Federal Liberal’s & Bloc whipped a private member’s vote in the last parliament.

    The NWT has a consensus style government and no parties. But it isn’t a perfect solution either. All the MLAs elect the Premier. The Premier then selects the cabinet. The Premier and the Cabinet (7 of 17) maintain cabinet solidarity on all votes, but always face a majority of members that are outside of Cabinet. They need to catch at least a couple to get things passed. You end up with a bit more compromise. Politics in the north tends to be at a very grass roots level.

    This is one of the things that I would have liked the CPC government to have been more open about. A looser set of guidelines on party discipline was certainly a Reform plank at one point. It is a direction I support.

  25. Christopherson was one of Bob Rae’s few decent ministers. He’s a credit to his party and to his country; morally and intellectually, he’s worth Harper’s entire caucus.

    His inevitable inclusion in a non-CPC Cabinet is one of the reasons why the idea of a coalition government is not objectionable to me in the slightest. Right now, the desperate price of my partisan loyalty is one just man. Currently, neither the CPC nor the LPC can afford that price.

  26. Sir Francis,

    The Christopherson story was certainly refreshing, and if we had more like him maybe the political theory of the MPs that you alluded to would be far more in line with the political realities.


    Provincial politics has reached a low as has federal politics, on that I agree. I also support a great amount of what was the former Reform party’s platform, but, unfortunately, the right-wing predicilations of that party has tainted the very meaning of “Reform” and has made it a dirty word in the minds of many Canadians who would have otherwise supported their ideas of change.

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