Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean has acceeded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament until January. Harper’s Conservatives have a minority government: the Opposition Liberals, New Democrats (social democrats/socialists) and Bloc Quebecois together have a majority of sears. They are furious over Harper’s refusal to enact a budget stimulus and his ham-handed attempts to cut their government funding. So they threatened to topple the government on a no-confidence vote.
Josh Marshall calls this a “constitutional coup,” which I think is quite wrong: it’s perfectly legitimate in a parliamentary system. It’s just been rare in Canada, which used to have a stable two-party system, but now seems to resemble a more multipolar model.
So Harper got Jean to shut down Parliament, which will buy him time to change the budget, back off of the politics, and hopefully get the thing to blow over.
Harper has long had the reputation as a partisan hack–imagine if Karl Rove were President–so this comes as no surprise. As Marshall writes, “he’s just shut the legislature down so it can’t do anything.”
The interesting theoretical question here is: why did Jean go along with this? I think that this reflects a lacuna in the theory of parliamentary democracy. If you’re the Governor-General, what is the “democratic” thing to do? Listen to the elected Prime Minister and prorogue, or see where the votes are in Parliament and stay out of it?
Marshall also distorts the matter by noting (accurately) that Jean was technically “appointed” by the Queen. True enough, but she was recommended (and thus actually appointed) by the former Prime Minister, Liberal Paul Martin. She doesn’t seem to be a hack; she’s just trying to figure out what her role is, which as I suggested, isn’t really clear.
I suspect that this will not help Harper: the next few weeks of economic news are going to be bad, and Parliament will just be AWOL. And pushing for prorogation will make him look like a petty bully, which he is.