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December 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Constitutional crisis in Canada

The global economic crisis is yielding a variety of side-effects in various countries, as governments struggle to cope with the loss of jobs and the evaporation of credit, and Canada happens to be an extreme case of that right now. Claiming that Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a Conservative) was not doing enough to address the crisis, the Liberal-led coalition tried to have a vote of no-confidence, notwithstanding the fact that the Conservative party just made a substantial gain in parliamentary elections last month.* Under parliamentary rules, such a motion would remove the prime minister from power. In response, Harper declared he would use "every legal means" to thwart this move, which could lead to further uncertainty and loss of investor confidence. [At his request, Governor General Michaelle Jean Parliament ordered the temporary suspension of Parliament, prompting outcries by the opposition.] Canadian politics are often raucous, but rarely has the system itself been subjected to such strain. Under their constitution, the Governor General exercises power as the head of state, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, to decide whether parliament should be suspended or dissolved. [Only rarely does this prerogative matter very much, however.] See BBC.

* Parliamentary elections were held in Canada on October 14, but few Americans paid attention, being preoccupied with their own election campaign. The Conservatives emerged with the greatest number of seats by far, 143 vs. 77 for the Liberals, 37 for the New Democrats, and 49 for the Bloc Quebeçois. It was short of a majority, however, meaning that the parties had to reach a tacit understanding on the need to cooperate. Well, that didn't last long, did it?

I was watching a panel of Canadian commentators discuss this situation last night on C-SPAN, and the experts seems to agree that Harper's move, though regrettable, was probably necessary to prevent political and economic chaos. A big part of the problem is that a key part of the Coalition, the Bloc Quebeçois, intends to secede from the rest of Canada. Will the Liberals and the New Democrats have to agree to let Quebec go as the price for taking power in Ottawa?

Perhaps it won't get to that point. Today, the head of the Coalition, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion**, was replaced by Bob Rae, also a Liberal. Dion, an academic (political science!) by profession, is disliked as aloof and elitist by many Canadians, and it appears to many that he is opportunistically taking advantage of the country's misery for his own ends. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that a majority of people in Canada want the current Tory (Conservative) government to stay in power. The people aren't eager to go through another election again so soon after the last round.

** Possibly related to superstar vocalist Celine Dion; sources differ. smile

This crisis in Canada illustrates the downside of the parliamentary system, which is more flexible than our presidential system, but often prone to paralysis and divisiveness. If we had a parliamentary system, our national leader would be forced out of office if there was a major policy setback, such as the war in Iraq. Our system is more stable but less flexible.

Cold War? What-ever!

In the comments on the blog piece from Waldo that I cited yesterday, James Young made a point about Reagan and the end of the Cold War that I heartily agree with, but he went a rhetorical step too far. This elicited a response from Waldo which, in turn, went a step too far, exposing for all the world to see, the smug no-nothingness of his generation:

When Republicans shake their fists and rage against communism and socialism, what an increasingly-large chunk of the electorate hear is "blah blah blah I'm old and out of touch blah blah blah." You might as well be telling us to get off your lawn. You might be right, but it doesn't matter -- it's still a losing tactic. [emphasis added]

If this is how an intelligent, well-informed member of Generation X (or is it Y?) thinks, I shudder to think what a typical, clueless person of that age group must think.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 05 Dec 2008, 10: 18 PM

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