The Delegitimation of the Crown of Canada: Paul Heinbecker’s Argument Against Constitutional Monarchy


The Crown Hurts Diplomacy?

Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian diplomat and now the Director of Global Relations at Wilfrid Laurier University, contributed a column to the Globe and Mail entitled “The Monarchy Hurts Canada’s Standing in the World. It’s Time To Let It Go” on July 1st – a deliberately auspicious day to advocate the destruction of Canada’s constitutional system and British inheritance. A longer version of Heinbecker’s article, under the strange title “Rethinking Canada’s Place in the Monarchy,” also appears in a new online publication called “Constitution.ca.”[1]

Heinbecker argues that Canada should become a republic in order to improve its standing in the world. He declares from the outset of the longer piece:

Fealty to the British monarchy is an anachronism and a drag on Canadian foreign policy that confuses many and delivers little.

This phrasing, as well as his derisive references to “‘our’ throne,” suggests that Heinbecker believes that the one and indivisible Imperial Crown of the 19th and early 20th centuries still exists, when in reality it has long since multiplied out into a personal union of several Crowns vested in one natural person. The phrasing “Canada’s Place in the Monarchy” also implies that the Crown of Canada is a foreign object from which Canada can detach itself. In order to prove this argument, Heinbecker would have to demonstrate that the United Kingdom has determined Canadian foreign policy throughout the 20th century and that Canada does not possess a separate international legal personality. However, Heinbecker’s own examples in fact prove the opposite position, that the Crown of Canada is a separate legal person from the Crown of the United Kingdom (as part of a personal union) and that Canada therefore does both possess and exercise its separate international legal personality. In the next paragraph, he exalts the Government of Canada’s achievements in foreign affairs, in many of which he played a role. He described his experience in the Foreign Service in positive terms.

Canada was regarded as the most successful country on the planet in integrating foreigners into our society and making diversity a strength, all the while safeguarding the rule of law, protecting the interests of our minorities, albeit with some regrettable lapses with respect to aboriginal Canadians, and promoting progress abroad. As Prime Minister Mulroney’s foreign policy adviser, I saw the high regard with which Canada was held overseas in fighting Apartheid in the Eighties and in promoting German unification in the Nineties, often in conflict with London. As Canadian Ambassador to the UN, I saw the respect Canada enjoyed when Prime Minister Chrétien withstood British (and American) pressure to join in the catastrophic 2003 Iraq war.

Heinbecker thereby undermines the main thrust of his argument. Despite the “anachronism” that “fealty to the British monarch” represents, and despite Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy, the Government of Canada achieved great accomplishments in its own right as an independent, sovereign country possessing its own international legal personality. In fact, as Heinbecker notes, the Mulroney government and the Thatcher government took different positions on the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s and opposite positions on German Reunification in 1990 – both despite the fact that the British and Canadian Crowns form part of a personal union vested in Queen Elizabeth II. In other words, the Queen of the United Kingdom (at least initially) opposed German reunification, while the Queen of Canada supported it. In 2002 and 2003, the Blair government supported the Bush administration and joined the “Coalition of the Willing” that invaded Iraq in order to topple Saddam Hussein and spread democracy à la Bonaparte. The Chretien government (wisely, in my view as well) decided that Canada would not participate in this foolish war. As in the previous examples, the contrary positions of the British and Canadian governments reveal the nature of the Personal Union: the Queen of the United Kingdom was at war with Iraq, while the Queen of Canada was not. Heinbecker’s own examples clearly demonstrate that Canada does not pay “fealty to the British monarchy.”

The Crown of Canada and British Colonialism

Heinbecker also argues:

In international relations, fealty to the British monarch delivers us precisely zero benefit in the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and at the same time associates us with a checkered British colonial legacy.

If that case, how on earth did Canada realized those achievements from 1984 to 2003 that he mentioned in the earlier paragraph? Heinbecker cites the legacy of British colonialism and decolonization in Africa, India, and the effects of the Skyes-Picot Treaty of 1916 on the Middle East as examples of British Imperial baggage that somehow hinders the conduct of Canadian diplomacy. But Heinbecker offers no evidence that this legacy has affected Canada’s foreign policy in Africa or India.

Invoking the Sykes-Picot Treaty is particularly bizarre, given that both the British and the French used it to carve out their respective spheres of influence and administration of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. How has Sykes-Picot affected the conduct of Canada’s foreign policy in the Middle East? Perhaps one example comes from the Suez Crisis and Canada’s peace-keeping force. Egyptian President Nasser initially objected to Canada’s participation in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) because “Her Majesty’s British troops were replaced by Her Majesty’s Canadian troops.”[2] Nasser also apparently objected to the Royal Canadian Navy’s White Ensign, which was identical to that of the Royal Navy at the time, and to the Red Ensign, which contains the Union Flag in its canton.[3] (As Prime Minister, Pearson did away with the Red Ensign and replaced it with the Maple Leaf). Despite Nasser’s initial objections, Pearson’s efforts paid off and Canada became known for her peacekeeping efforts throughout the Cold War. And even if this case falls under Heinbecker’s category, focusing on the Crown of Canada misses the larger point that Prime Minister St. Laurent opposed Prime Minister Eden’s disastrous invasion of Egypt under the guise of protecting the Suez Canal; as with those earlier examples, the Queen of the United Kingdom and the Queen of Canada took different positions because each country has a separate international legal personality.

Perhaps Heinbecker is correct. But in order to prove this claim, he would have to demonstrate that Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy and the personal union of the Commonwealth Realms have someone prevented the Government of Canada from pursuing its desired diplomatic objectives. If anything, Heinbecker’s own examples on Canada’s diplomatic success between 1984 and 2003 point to precisely the opposite conclusion! And even if Heinbecker is correct, a few diplomatic kerfuffles do not make a good argument on why the Dominion of Canada should reject its inheritance and become the First Federal Republic of Canada. Even if Canada were a republic now or had been a republic in the mid-20th century, we will never be able to erase our history and the fact that Canada was once a British Crown colony.

The Queen’s Representation of Canada Abroad

Heinbecker recounts an event that occurred during his time as Canada’s Ambassador to Germany. The Queen of the United Kingdom visited Bonn (the capital of the former West Germany) in order to promote British businesses in Germany. Heinbecker thought that the Queen should also act in her Canadian capacity and promote Canadian businesses at the same diplomatic event, so he asked the aide-de-camp of the British diplomat accompanying the Queen of the United Kingdom to broach the subject with his superior. “It was evident from his startled reaction that such an idea had never occurred to him,” Heinbecker writes. Derek Burney, also a former diplomat and anti-monarchist closely associated with the Mulroney government, told a similar anecdote in 2011 about a similar conversation with a British diplomat that occurred in the 1980s.

Heads of State and Government and their Spouses at the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway

Heads of State and Government and their Spouses at the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway

First, the Queen of Canada only represents Canada abroad on and in accordance with the advice of her Canadian government because responsible government means that ministers of the Crown take responsibility for all acts of the Crown. For instance, the Queen of Canada represented Canada in France in 2007 when Her Majesty rededicated the Canadian war memorial at Vimy. Her uncle, King Edward VIII, also acted as the King of Canada when he dedicated our memorial in Vimy at its initial opening in 1936. The Queen of Canada has also represented Canada in the United States. For instance, the Queen of Canada and President Eisenhower, each representing their respective countries, jointly opened the St. Lawrence Seaway at an official State ceremony in 1959.

Second, the Queen only represents one Commonwealth Realm of which she is the sovereign or head of state at any one time on official trips abroad, apart from two addresses to the United Nations General Assembly in 1957 and in 2010. In 2010, the Queen said, “I address you today as Queen of sixteen United Nations Member States and as Head of the Commonwealth of 54 countries,” and the flags of all 16 Commonwealth Realms fly upon the Queen’s arrival.[4]

This procedure of representing only one Realm on a diplomatic visit during the conduct of official business avoids unnecessary confusion, but it does not derogate from the personal union of the Crowns. The personal union of the Crowns of the Commonwealth Realms always exists because Elizabeth II always personifies all the Crowns, but the personal union also imposes a physical limitation that the Queen of the United Kingdom and the Queen of Canada cannot speak with one voice. For practical reasons, the Queen does not act in more than one capacity at once. Her Majesty’s addresses to the United Nations General Assembly are the exception because of the nature of the UNGA itself, where representatives of all 16 Commonwealth Realms are gathered, and because the speeches did not contain anything controversial.

Heinbecker presents an absurd notion that violates both common decency and diplomatic protocol: that he, as a Canadian diplomat, could, with no preparation or briefing, ask a British aide-de-camp to ask a British ambassador who in turn would ask that the Queen of the United Kingdom to represent Canada abroad with no advice from the Government of Canada. And frankly, Heinbecker either knows that this is absurd, or he is ignorant of his own trade. The British aide-de-camp probably looked shocked and did not appreciate Heinbecker’s suggestion, because Heinbecker was totally out of order. Not even the British ambassador to Germany– let alone the British ambassador’s aide-de-camp – would possess the authority to advise the Queen in her Canadian capacity on any matter whatsoever. Only Canadian Ministers of the Crown could do so. Ironically, if the Queen had acted in her Canadian capacity on the advice of British officials, Heinbecker would have succeeded only in harkening back to the 19th century, when Canada was still a colony of the British Imperial Crown and not a sovereign state bearing its own separate legal personality in its own right as part of the personal union of the Commonwealth Realms. In fact, the British Imperial Crown multiplied outward into a personal union of several Crowns in the 1930s precisely because the Sovereign started to act upon the advice of separate sets of responsible ministers with respect to those separate Dominions. [5]

Heinbecker probably intended to use this anecdote as some kind of ironic critique of the Crown of Canada, as in “What is the point in being a monarchy if the Queen doesn’t promote Canadian businesses abroad and only focuses on the United Kingdom?” In reality, Heinbecker’s anecdote relies on the fallacy of appeal to authority (that his role as a diplomat in and of itself means that the reader must take his account as unassailable), a complete rejection of diplomatic protocol,  and on an objectively false interpretation of the role of the Queen of Canada under Responsible Government.

The Politicians’ Republic

Heinbecker defines the Crown as “a legal convenience and historical artefact in Canada, even a convenient fiction” as well as “an anachronism” to which Canada is “manacled” — as if the Crown were a ball and chain and symbol of colonial servitude. He also refers to Canada’s “link to the monarchy” – again, as if the one and indivisible Imperial Crown still existed and as if the Crown of Canada did not form an integral part of the constitution. A “link” could be severed with no complications. Heinbecker thereby dismisses the Crown of Canada’s centrality within the Constitution of Canada, particularly in sections 9 and 17 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which acknowledge that the executive authority of Canada is vested in the Crown, and that the Parliament of Canada, or the Crown-in-Parliament, consists of the Crown, Senate, and Commons. The Crown is thus integral to both the executive and the legislature. A vestigial anachronism cannot form the basis of the daily operation of the government and parliament. Despite describing the Crown as an anachronism, Heinbecker does acknowledge the fact that only an amendment under the unanimity formula of section 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 could bring forth his Elitist Politician’s Republic in which the Governor General would subsume the Queen’s authority and functions and be elected by the 1050 elected representations in the House of Commons and provincial assemblies but only “from among the members of the Order of Canada.” (It is unclear whether the eligible pool of candidates for Governor General would consist only of the “Members” of the Order of Canada, or whether this would also include the two higher categories, Officers and Companions.) The Globe and Mail supported a similar scheme in the late 1990s. The struggle for righteous liberation from this tyrannical monarchy would give way to a new oligarchy wherein only elected MPs, MPPs, MLA, MNAs, and MHAs would possess the right to vote for Canada’s new head of state, and wherein only recipients of the Order of Canada would be eligible for election. This Elitist’s Republic of Canada would probably not resonate even within the republican movement!

Canada’s ambassador to Germany wants Canada to become like Germany: he probably derived this method of selection from Germany’s parliamentary republic. The German president serves a term of five years, once renewable, and he is elected by a “Federal Convention” consisting of the elected members of the lower house of the federal parliament and “an equal number of members elected by” the parliaments of the 16 states. Currently, the Bundestag (lower house of the federal parliament) consists of 631 elected MPs, which means that the next President of Germany would be elected by around 1260 persons. Heinbecker probably wants to preserve or increase the Governor General’s independence by insulating him from the popular control and depriving him of a popular mandate. (In contrast, Ireland and Israel provide a different model of parliamentary republic in which the president serves as head of state but is directly elected by voters).

On another note, what would become of the provincial Lieutenant Governors? Republicans tend to fixate on the Governor General and the head-of-state function at the federal level and to ignore the comparable function at the provincial level. Heinbecker does not indicate whether the Governor General would continue to appoint the Lieutenant Governors on the Prime Minister’s advice or whether they would be subject to a new method of appointment.    

Conclusion: The Paradoxical Canadian Crown

Governments in Canada Have Chosen to Marginalize the Queen

Despite his argument’s logical inconsistencies, Heinbecker is right that the Queen of Canada’s role has been reduced in some ways. But the Queen of Canada has not been marginalized by the turning wheel of history or through the inevitable republican teleology; instead, successive Canadian prime ministers and ministries have chosen to marginalize the Queen in order to “Canadianize” the Crown and emphasize the Governor General.

Heinbecker argues that Canada needs a government willing to lay the groundwork for a republic. This pre-republican government would “treat the Governor General as the de facto Head of State in all ways that the constitution does not actually prohibit” and ensure that the Governor General “performs the ceremonial roles of Head of State,” including the exclusive right to represent Canada abroad and to “promote non-partisan Canadian interests” abroad. In fact, the Governor General already represents Canada both at home and abroad, and the Queen of Canada exercises these functions infrequently.

In practice and in law, most of what Heinbecker proposes already exists. By 2014, the Governor General of Canada already exercises virtually all the legal-constitutional functions of the Queen of Canada within and without Canada. The Queen of Canada now rarely represents Canada abroad because the Government of Canada rarely asks her to do so. Chris McCreery has shown how the Government of Canada gradually delegated most of the roles of the Queen of Canada to the Governor General of Canada from 1947 to 2005.[5] Through the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General, 1947, the King of Canada delegated (not “transferred”) the “exercise [of] all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Us in respect of Canada.” The Queen of Canada remains the legal-constitutional source of all these powers and authorities; if the Office of the Queen ceased to exist, then all the Governor General’s powers and authorities would vanish with it. In practice, the Government of Canada did not ask George VI, and subsequently, Elizabeth II, to delegate the exercise of all the Crown’s powers and authorities until well after 1947. For instance, the Queen of Canada granted all letters of credence to Canadian diplomats until 1975; from 1975 to 2005, the Governor General did so explicitly on behalf of and in the name of the Queen. And from 2005 onward, the Governor General now issues them without direct reference to the Queen of Canada, even though she still personifies this constitutional authority.[6]

Queen Elizabeth II reads the Trudeau government's speech from the throne in 1977

Queen Elizabeth II reads the Trudeau government’s speech from the throne in 1977

A more subtle example includes the Queen of Canada’s role as part of the Crown-in-Parliament (Queen, Senate, and Commons). The Queen of Canada read the Speech from the Throne in the Senate in 1957; Prime Minister Trudeau invited her to do so again in 1977 as part of her Silver Jubilee. But in 2002 when Prime Minister Chretien almost certainly could have invited the Queen of Canada to read the Speech from the Throne as part of her Golden Jubilee Royal Tour, from 4 October to 15 October 2002, he instead allowed Governor General Clarkson to read it one week before on 30 September 2002.

The Queen’s website also unfortunately lends some credibility to Heinbecker’s argument that Elizabeth II is perceived as exclusively British in a cultural sense. Elizabeth II dedicated the Canadian war memorial at Vimy as Queen of Canada, and not as Queen of the United Kingdom, in 2007, but the text of the speech appears under the “Official Website of the British Monarchy.” The website ought to reflect the personal union of the 16 Crowns of the Commonwealth Realms more effectively in this respect. The website does contain sub-sections for each Realm, but the banner “The Official Website of the British Monarchy” still looms large over the sub-heading “Queen and Canada,” which really ought to say “Queen of Canada.” The Canadian section includes sub-sections on “The Queen’s Role in Canada” (which would more accurately be “the Role of the Queen of Canada”), Royal Tours, a photo gallery, and “Symbols and Ceremonies.” The Queen of Canada’s website also ought to include a sub-section dealing with speeches that she has delivered in that capacity so that the text of Her Majesty’s re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial appears there. The Government of Canada now maintains a helpful website called “The Canadian Crown”; the Government could improve upon it by including the Queen of Canada’s speeches therein.

While the Crown of Canada enjoys a secure legal-constitutional entrenchment under section 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Crown of Canada as a distinct Canadian legal person has been delegitimated, more or less successfully, in the media and popular culture through a process well-known to scholars of nationalism and nationalist political discourse:”othering.” The Queen has become the foreign “other” so that the Crown of Canada can transform itself from the integral source of legal-constitutional authority to a foreign nuisance or distraction — and so that the good Canadian now assumes the duty to destroy this Other. Heinbecker argues that the government should “take down portraits of the royal family,” by which Heinbecker presumably means that the Government should take down all the portraits of the Queen of Canada from Canadian embassies as well as the portrait of the Queen from the Sovereign’s Wall in the Lester B. Pearson Building, because our embassies don’t display portraits of the whole Royal Family. Removing the Queen of Canada’s portraits from Canadian embassies and consulates would not alter the Queen of Canada’s legal-constitutional position as the sovereign (or head of state, if you prefer); however, this tactic of republicanism-by-stealth – the incremental and deliberate removing the outward symbols of the Crown that reflect Canada’s constitutional monarchy – is an effective method of delegitimating the Crown in the cultural sense. Elizabeth II is reputed to have said, “I have to be seen to be believed.” Each step in republicanism-by-stealth denies the Crown its rightful place in public view and ensures that Canadians no longer think of Canada as the constitutional monarchy that it is. A concerted strategy of republicanism-by-stealth and removing the Crown from everyday public view would make it easier for Canadians to imagine Canada as a republic so that they could perhaps one day will the First Federal Republic of Canada into existence.

As Chris Champion showed in The Strange Demise of British Canada, these anti-monarchist neo-nationalists mean to create Canada anew. Canadian media often refer to the “British monarchy,” which implies that the one and indivisible Imperial Crown still exists and that therefore the Crown is inherently a foreign “other.” The phrase “cutting ties to the monarchy” often appears, and republicans like Duff Conacher of Your Canada, Your Constitution and Paul Heinbecker emphasize it; this wording implies that the Crown is nothing more than a colonial vestige that must, according to the republican teleology, inevitably consign itself the dustbin of history after collapsing under the weight of its legal fiction. While the current Constitution of Canada entrenches the Crown under section 41(a) in the legal-constitutional sense, the Crown of Canada will not necessarily sustain itself automatically in this cultural sense. Even maintaining the status quo requires active effort. In this case, those who favour constitutional monarchy must point out that the Crown of Canada forms an integral part of Canada’s legal-constitutional framework, and that we are merely drawing attention to and reinforcing the current fact and not “retrogressing” backward to some “colonial” subservience. It is the republicans who are the radicals, and the onus rests with them on why we should abolish the Crown of Canada.

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[1] Constitution.ca states that it will focus on, among other things, questions relating to “the role and method of selection of Canada’s Head of State” – which at first instance sounds awfully like a republican argument couched in deliberately ambiguous language. Upon further analysis, the website confirmed my suspicion: under “Publisher Info,” Constitution.ca indicates that it “is published by Your Canada, Your Constitution” (YCYC). In Newspeak, Constitution.ca describes YCYC as “a research and education foundation dedicated to developing knowledge of Canada’s constitution.” In plain English, YCYC advocates that Canada become a republic, and therefore destroy the Crown by replacing its executive, legislative, and judicial authority with a new fully codified constitution. (I have documented YCYC’s mendacity and push-polling in previous entries).
[2] Sean M. Maloney, Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War By Other Means, 1945-1970. (St. Catherines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2002), 67.
[3] Ibid., 73.
[4] Richard Berthelsen, correspondence with author, 24 July 2014.
[5] Anne Twomey, “Responsible Government and Divisibility of the Crown,” Public Law no. 4 (2008): 742-767.
[6] Chris McCreery, “Myth and Misunderstanding: The Origins and Meaning of the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General, 1947,” chapter 3 in The Evolving Canadian Crown, edited by Jennifer Smith and D. Michael Jackson, 31-56 (Kingston-Montreal: Queen’s-McGill University Press, 2012).
[7] Ibid., 48-51.

Posted in Crown (Powers and Office), Monarchism v Republicanism, The Personal Union, YCYC Watch | 5 Comments

From Dominion Day to Canada Day: From Historical Significance To Banality


Dominion DayHistory of the “Dominion” of Canada

The re-organization of three British North American Crown colonies – the United Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia – into a federation under the Imperial Crown created a unique type of polity.

John A. Macdonald first sought to name the new federal state resulting from Confederation “The Kingdom of Canada”, but the British Foreign Secretary vetoed the proposal, fearing that such a name would invite hostility from the American republic.[1]At the London Conference in 1866, the Fathers of Confederation and the British government needed to agree on a new name. Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick supposedly provided this inspiration by looking to the King James Authorised Translation of the Holy Bible, and Psalm 72: 8, which reads: “And he shall have dominion also from sea to sea, from the rivers unto the ends of the earth.” This passage corresponds well to uniting British North America into one polity because the “he” refers to King Solomon, and Chapter 72 of the Psalm focuses on good kingship. While Canadian historian A.H.U. Colquhoun considers the biblical origins of the “Dominion of Canada” apocryphal (pun intended)[2], this passage probably still influenced the original choice of name of this country, “The Dominion of Canada.” The Department of Canadian Heritage acknowledges that the national motto contained in our coat of arms, Ad mari usque ad mare (“From Sea to Sea”), comes from Psalm 72:8. The ribbon of our coat of arms contains the phrase desiderantes meliorem patriam (“desiring a better country”), which comes from Hebrews 11:16.

The first recital of the preamble of the British North America Act, 1867 thus recognizes this novel arrangement – a federation and constitutional monarchy under the Imperial Crown – as a “Dominion.” In 1879, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized July 1st as Dominion Day through the Dominion Day Act. The preamble of the bill noted the historic significance of July 1st and the created of the Dominion of Canada in 1867:

Whereas, it was on the first day of July that the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick became one Dominion, under the name of Canada;
And whereas Rupert’s Land and the North-west Territory, and the Province of British Columbia became part of the Dominion in the month of July, and Prince Edward Island became part of the Dominion of the first day of July;
And whereas it is expedient that such important events should be commemorated:

This name for our national day would endure for over one century, though the Parliament of Canada and the Canada Gazette both dropped the term in the later 1940s.

Contrary to what some of my readers have suggested in the comments section on previous, similar posts, I am not arguing that Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley created the word “Dominion” for the first time — which, frankly, should be rather obvious, given that I also suggested that Tilley and our Fathers of Confederation derived the use of the word from the King James Authorized Translation of the Holy Bible and Psalm 72:8. The English word “Dominion” is therefore at least as old as the KJV itself, which first came out in 1611. As the Bible shows, “Dominion” has always had a political connotation in the English language; in Psalm 72:8, it evokes having control or sovereignty over a territory. While republicans would argue that it meant British control over Canada, I would suggest that it meant Canada’s consolidation of and control over British North America. “Dominion” also appears in the Bill of Rights, 1689. During the Glorious Revolution, Bostonites and New Yorkers revolted, the colonies in northeastern British America rebelled against the deposed King James II and his appointed Governors, and established the “Dominion of New England”, which consolidated all the colonies of that region into one. While this entity bore the name “Dominion,” its political structure differed significantly from the Dominion of Canada and the other self-governing dominions of the 19th and 20th centures. In other words, the same word was used to describe two completely different governing arrangements.

The use of “Dominion” to describe the unique polity of a self-governing territory under the indivisible Imperial Crown of the 19th century originated here in Canada and later came to be applied to other the self-governing British Crown colonies in Australasia. The St. Laurent, King, and Pearson governments phased out the use of “The Dominion of Canada” on most government and parliamentary letterheads in favour of the more pedestrian “Canada.” Canadians were the first to describe this new self-governing federation under the Imperial Crown that enjoyed autonomy and responsible government in its domestic affairs as a “Dominion.”

Eugene Forsey on the Banality of “Canada Day”

On 12 March 1970, Eugene Forsey appeared before a parliamentary committee and discussed the perennial proposition to change the name of July 1st from Dominion Day to something else. Ultimately, Parliament changed the name of our national day in the early 1982 from the historically significant “Dominion Day” to the historically bereft and pedestrian “Canada Day” – as if Canadians didn’t already know that they lived in Canada and needed the government to remind them of the country’s name.

Professor Forsey has provided witty testimony against the republicans who sought to erase Dominion Day and replace it with banal platitude.

Well, I think it [Canada Day] is devoid of the historical associations which you do get either in Dominion Day or in Mr. Hogarth’s suggestion Confederation Day. It takes the historical zip out of the thing somehow and it seems to me that you want to have something in the name of the day if possible. You want to have something to commemorate some historical event and this was a meaningful historical event. Just as I would say, if the United States called its national holiday “United States Day”, that would be a rather colourless and banal description of that day. They call it, to the best of my belief, “Independence Day”, and I think that immediately recalls to every American the fact that on July 4, 1776, the 13 colonies became the United States of America. I think it has an evocative touch to it that you would not get if you simply said “United States Day.” [...] Similarly, if you called the French national holiday “Bastille Day”, as I think it usually is called, again it seems to me that you would be taking some of the historical significance out of the thing.

In 1970, the Trudeau government was still attempting to change the name of our national holiday legitimately and under the full scrutiny of a government bill tabled by a responsible minister and put before a committee of the House of Commons. Having failed to achieve its revolutionary aim through the standard parliamentary process in the 1970s, some Liberal backbenchers sympathetic to the Trudeau Project seized their opportunity on 9 July 1982 to ram a private member’s bill to the same effect through the House of Commons at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon – all without the quorum of 20 members mandated by section 48 of the British North America Act, 1867.

1982: July 1st Goes from “Dominion Day” to “Canada Day” – Without Proper Parliamentary Quorum

On the afternoon of 9 July 1982, thirteen MPs rammed the Act to Amend the Holidays Act through Second Reading, Committee, Report, and Third Reading in mere minutes in order to change the name of Canada’s national day from Dominion Day to Canada Day. The official transcript of this incident takes up only one page’s worth of space in the Commons Debates, and the House immediately adjourned thereafter.

Liberal MP Hal Herbert moved that Bill C-201 be given Second Reading and referred to its corresponding Standing Committee, and the Deputy Speaker agreed. The bill moved through the House of Commons with such haste that it caught the Conservative MP for Nepean-Carleton, David Baker, off guard. The transcript shows that he asked, “What is going on?” just before the Deputy Speaker asked for the unanimous consent of the House that the bill be dealt with by the Committee of the Whole.[3] No one answered his question. David Smith, then a Liberal MP and now a Liberal Senator Senate Liberal, rose on a point of order in favour of passing the bill. Liberal MP for Ottawa-West, Cyril Lloyd Francis, chaired the Committee of the Whole and passed the bill: “Clause 1 agreed to. Preamble agreed to. Title agreed to. Bill reported, read the third time and passed.”[4] After participating in this charade and mockery of the parliamentary process, New Democratic MP Mark Rose proudly proclaimed, “I think this is a day on which to develop and to celebrate our new holiday. It is only appropriate that, in celebrating our new holiday called Canada Day, we should at least take a holiday of 55 minutes for the afternoon.”[5]

In his triumphalism, Rose brazenly glossed over the parliamentary coup d’état in which he had just participated. The House of Commons acted unconstitutionally and did not validly pass this bill, because section 48 of the British North America Act, 1867 mandates that a quorum in the House of Commons is 20, not 13: “The Presence of at least Twenty Members of the House of Commons shall be necessary to constitute a Meeting of the House for the Exercise of its Powers, and for that Purpose the Speaker shall be reckoned as a Member.” For this reason alone, the bill should not have regarded as legitimately passed onto the Senate, and the Senate should have rejected it. In addition, this private member’s bill was not, and could not have been construed as, a matter of confidence in the Trudeau government, so rejecting it would not have threatened the government’s parliamentary position. I’ve heard the argument that Speaker Jeanne Sauvé ultimately should have allowed the debate to stand despite the fact that the Commons fell short of its constitutionally-mandate quorum of 20 MPs because none of the MPs present during the debate protested the lack of quorum. This argument is flawed for two reasons. First and most fundamentally, the Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of the land, and though the House of Commons has the authority to control its own internal affairs, its Standing Orders must conform to the Constitution. If the Standing Orders and a specific provision of the Constitution come into conflict, the Constitution must prevail. Second, David Baker probably would have objected at the time if he had grasped the significance of the parliamentary usurpation that his colleagues were in the middle of orchestrating. Conservative Senator David Walker noted that the House of Commons passed the bill with only 13 members and “to make sure that the bill slipped through, a member asked for ‘unanimous consent that the clock now read five o’clock’” so that the House adjourned immediately after passing the bill, thus precluding any further objections to it that day.[6] Since the House of Commons failed to uphold the Constitution, the Senate should have done so by rejecting the bill.

Senate Debates on the Bill

In The Strange Demise of British Canada: The Liberals and Canadian Nationalism, 1964-1968, Chris Champion notes that Prime Minister Pearson and his cabinet ministers legitimated their “neo-nationalism” of making Canada independent from the British Empire and United Kingdom ironically by portraying their ideas as having flowed naturally from Canada’s British inheritance.[7] In fact, they were trying to substitute one system or another. These neo-nationalists believed that Canada must replace its “traditional identity and symbols with new ones, now matter how many Canadians opposed it,” and they portrayed their political opponents as “reactionaries mired in nostalgia.”[8] In this way, neo-nationalists function rather like the vanguards of the proletarian revolution because they must drag this “Ready, Aye, Ready” Canadians who cling to Empire into modernity and out of their false Imperial consciousness. The neo-nationalist views Canadian history as a “nationalist teleology” such that Canadians have inevitably sought to eliminate what they would consider colonial vestiges in a journey from colony to nation[9] – and ultimately, to a republic.

In this neo-nationalist mould, Liberal Senator Florence Bird supported the bill and moved it to Second Reading in the Senate. Bird emphasized Canada’s inheritance of Westminster parliamentarism, trial by jury, the common law, and the recognition of fundamental freedoms like the freedom of speech.[10] She regarded the transformation of Dominion Day into Canada Day as the culmination of Canada’s independence as a sovereign state. Bird cited the Statute of Westminster, 1931 and the Royal Style and Titles Act, 1953, and the Patriation of the Constitution itself as other examples and characterized this bill as “celebrating the national day of Canada as a completely independent country.”[11] Bird sought to delegitimate “Dominion Day” by turning it to the neo-nationalist’s foreign “other”, and creating a false dichotomy between “Dominion” and “Canada,” as if the two terms were contradictory rather than complimentary.

In her new construction, only paleo-nationalistic reactionaries loyal to the United Kingdom would opt for the colonial baggage of “Dominion,” while true Canadians loyal to Canada would choose “Canada.” Bird asked rhetorically, “Do you think that the men who fought in two world wars were fighting for dominion, or do you think that they were fighting for Canada? Those men wore proudly the word ‘Canada’ on their shoulder patches.”[12] Bird portrayed “the Dominion of Canada” as a colonial artifact that signified Canada’s subordination to the Imperial Crown by pointing out that Canadians now swear an oath of allegiance to “the Queen of Canada, not to the Queen of the British Dominion Beyond the Seas.”[13] In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was a federation and Crown colony under the Imperial Crown, but the Imperial Crown had long since multiplied into the personal union by 1982. Bird concluded that Canada had finally “achieved full nationhood” in 1982 and that “the days of our so-called inferiority complex are over.”[14] In reality, of course, “Dominion” is a Canadian invention.

Liberal Senator George McIlraith argued that a Minister of the Crown should have tabled the bill as a government bill and that the Senate should let the bill die on the Order Paper rather that defeating it so that a Minister could re-introduce it as a government bill in the next session.[15] Senator Ernest C. Manning implored his colleagues to reject the bill outright because of the unconstitutional manner in which the Commons had passed it; he noted that the Trudeau government had tabled similar government bills to this effect in the 1970s.

They [the previous iterations of this bill] were not proceeded with in the other place [the House of Commons] because opposition to them was such that the [Trudeau] government wisely did not want to make an issue out of the legislation. In this case, as has been outlined, the matter was sneaked through the other house without debate, with less than a quorum in the house, and it now turns up on the Order Paper on this chamber for sober second thought.[16]

Manning also protested against the Liberals’ attempt to “wipe out one more part of Canada’s heritage by abolishing Dominion Day and all that its name implies to millions of Canadians and replace it with a name that has absolutely no historic significance.”[17] Manning accused the Trudeau government – quite rightly – of having engaged in “a long series of deliberate steps to chip away at all those things which pertain to the rich heritage of this country’s past.”[18]

Conclusion

I don’t share Forsey’s hostility to “Confederation Day,” though I would have preferred to maintain the original name. If the Parliament of Canada had to rechristen our national day, “Confederation Day” would have provided a much more suitable replacement, because it dignifies the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st, 1867 with the historical gravitas and significance that the day deserves. A name like “Confederation Day” would also implicitly recognize that Canada’s history does not start at a French Revolution-style Year Zero in 1867. In terms of Canada’s political evolution, 1848, when London granted the United Province of Canada responsible government – is a far more significant year than is 1867. In contrast, “Canada Day” has the air of a prosaic, banal, non-descript, unoriginal, and politically correct moniker created solely to minimize offence. It does not convey any concrete meaning, and it implies that Canadian history begins in 1867 and that anything which antedates Confederation is “British” or “Imperial” and therefore ought to be filed under forgotten and treated as a shameful anachronism.

Our sister realm of Australia calls itself officially “The Commonwealth of Australia” without monarchical pretension, and in Australia, “the Commonwealth” or “the Commonwealth government” serves as a metonymy for the federal government of Australia much as “Dominion” and “Dominion government” once did here in Canada. That said, Australia has adopted the equally banal and politically correct name of “Australia Day” for its national holiday. I once thought that any attempt to restore the long-form of this country’s name to The Dominion of Canada – perhaps for the Sesquicentennial in 2017 – would be portrayed as an unpardonable imperial retrogression; I now suspect that it would, if anything, simply be met with confusion and bewilderment rather than hostility. At least hostility would imply some kind of engagement on the issue; the confusion that would likely result shows that over the course of thirty-one years, Canadians have been deracinated from their history and raised on Pearsonian neo-nationalism, and that Canada’s old official name, “Dominion,” has been successfully denormalized and delegitimated. I find myself in a George Grant-like lament for a nation. I do lament the loss of Dominion Day, both because I disagree with the substance of the bill and because I disagree with the unconstitutional knowingly fraudulent manner in which Liberal neo-nationalists rammed it through the Commons. Sadly, the “Dominion of Canada” and “Dominion Day” have been consigned to the proverbial revolutionary’s dustbin of history. Unfortunately, the neo-nationalists and crypto-republicans won this battle. But the slow death of “Dominion” in Canadian public institutions did not occur inevitably according to some post-colonialist or republican teleology: successive governments let it decline and made the decision to abandon it.

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[1] Janet Ajzenstat et al., ed. Canada’s Founding Debates. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999): 60.
[2] George M. Wrong and H.H. Langton, ed. The Chronicles of Canada: Volume VIII – The Growth of Nationality (Tuscon, AZ: Fireship Press, 2009): 61.
[3] David Baker, Commons Debates, 31st Parliament, 1st Session, 9 July 1982: 19201.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 19202.
[6] Senator David Walker, Senate Debates, 31st Parliament, 1st Session, 3 August 1982.
[7] C.P. Champion, The Strange Demise of British Canada: The Liberals and Canadian Nationalism, 1964-1968 (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), 3-15.
[8] Ibid., 15. For instance, Pearson even tabled the resolution to adopt the Maple Leaf flag on the 749th anniversary of Magna Carta.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Senator Bird in Senate Debates, 32nd Parliament, 1st Session, 22 July 1982: 4668.
[11] Senator Bird in Senate Debates, 32nd Parliament, 1st Session, 22 July 1982: 4668.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., 4669.
[15] Senator McIlraith in Senate Debates, 32nd Parliament, 1st Session, 22 July 1982: 4671.
[16] Senator Ernest C. Manning in Senate Debates, 32nd Parliament, 1st Session, 22 July 1982: 4672.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., 4673.

Posted in History of British North America | 3 Comments

Lagassé and Bowden on the Crown as Corporation Sole and Royal Succession


Royal Succession 2014-04-04Philippe Lagassé and I have written a short article on the Crown of Canada as a corporation sole and how this fundamental attribute of the Crown pertains to royal succession and section 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982.

I’d like to thank Patricia Paradis of Constitutional Forum for having published our article, which you can read at the link below.

Lagassé, Philippe and James W.J. Bowden. “The Crown as Corporation Sole and the Royal Succession: A Critique of Canada’s Succession to the Throne Act, 2013.” Constitutional Forum 23, no. 1 (April 2014): 17-26.

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Posted in Corporation Sole, Crown (Powers and Office), Succession (Sovereign) | 7 Comments

The Ontario Young Liberals Blur the Line Between Satire and Genuineness


I hope that my regular readers won’t mind that this post presents a cultural critique rather than the sorts of subjects on which I typically write. Those of you who have watched House of Cards (either the British version or the new American iteration on which this poster is based) will recognize this promotional poster that the Ontario Young Liberals recently published.

House of Cards and the Young Liberals

At first, I thought that it was satire and that the Ontario Progressive Conservative Youth Association, the Young Liberals’ rival group, had created it in order to critique the Liberal Party of Ontario as corrupt and power-hungry. The Young Liberals probably thought something to the effect that this poster makes politics seem exciting and that it would help recruit passionate politicos to their team. In reality, the Young Liberals have made the Conservative and New Democratic case against their own party – that the Liberals run a corrupt, entitled, wasteful government – just as effectively as the Western Standard did in 2004 through this poster, which parodies the HBO series The Sopranos and lampoons the Liberal Party of Canada for having perpetrated the Sponsorship Scandal.

libranos

The Ontario Young Liberals seem oblivious to irony and satire, because this promotional poster in fact reflects poorly on the Liberal Party of Ontario and on the McGuinty and Wynne Governments. An astute politico who has watched House of Cards might very well think – though I couldn’t possibly comment – that the Young Liberals are suggesting that Kathleen Wynne represents Frank Underwood, and that she orchestrated the Gas Plant Scandal as a pretext for McGuinty’s resignation in 2013 so that she could become leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of Ontario.

The Young Liberals also might not have realized that an upside down flag is a sign of distress, and not merely a logo for the American version of House of Cards. Ironically, the Young Liberals have thereby acknowledged that the McGuinty and Wynne Governments have put this province in distress.

In short, this promotional poster is unintentionally revealing in its damning criticism of the McGuinty and Wynne Governments, and it exemplifies the disturbing convergence of satire and genuineness in politics. The Young Liberals have thus proven Poe’s Law: without the modulated voice inflections and gestures that we experience in personal interaction, it is often impossible in print media to distinguish between a genuine argument or slogan and its parody.

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Posted in Political Parties, Satire | Leave a comment

Premier Marois Copies Prime Minister Harper: The Futility of Fixed-Date Elections Laws


Pauline Marois

Introduction

Notwithstanding Quebec’s new fixed-date election law, Premier Pauline Marois of Quebec advised the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the 40th Legislature on 5 March 2014, while the assembly was adjourned on recess and even though Marois’ single-party minority Parti Québécois government had not first lost the confidence of the assembly. Marois had floated the prospect of an early dissolution as early as September 2013, but she ultimately decided against a winter election.  The Legislature of Quebec passed its fixed-date election law in 2013, though apparently no one had taken notice.

Pauline Marois has thus built on Prime Minister Harper’s precedent from 2008, when despite the federal fixed-date election law, he advised the Governor General to dissolve the 39th Parliament while it was adjourned and while his single-party minority government still commanded the confidence of the Commons.

Prime Minister Harper met with great criticism for having “broken his own law,” or having broken a non-existent constitutional convention that he would only advise an early dissolution if his government had first lost the confidence of the Commons. In contrast, Premier Marois has mostly escaped this charge; thus far, I could find only one article in the French-language media that even mentioned that Quebec now has a fixed-date election law. But even Radio-Canada does not touch upon the significance of the non-derogation clause, “Seul le lieutenant-gouverneur peut dissoudre l’Assemblée nationale avant l’expiration d’une législature.”

In reality, neither Prime Minister Harper nor Premier Marois broke a law or a convention, because all the fixed-date election laws in Canada deliberately preserve the established constitutional positions of the First Minister and Governor via the non-derogation clauses.

Pauline Marois Uses Dissolution to Avoid Either in Contempt of Parliament or Facing and Embarrassing Committee Hearing

Premier Marois stated her intention to advise an early dissolution and an early general provincial election on 6 February 2014, as TVA Nouvelles reported. Just as Prime Minister Harper had concluded in August 2008 that his minority government was on the verge of losing control of the agenda in the House of Commons, and thereby the confidence of the Commons, Pauline Marois explained that she would not allow the opposition parties to obstruct her government’s bills and complained that the Liberals and the Coalition pour l’avenir du Quebec (CAQ) had decided to vote against her upcoming budget without even having read it. Marois also implied that both the Government and the Opposition must commit to making a minority parliament work, or else it should be dissolved.

J’entends les commentaires de ceux qui disent : vous devriez respecter votre loi. Je suis d’accord. Mais ça ne peut pas se jouer seulement d’un côté de la chambre. Ça doit se jouer des deux côtés. Pour l’instant les oppositions nous disent : on aime pas d’avance votre budget, mais on ne sait pas ce qu’il y a dedans. On veut vous renverser sur le budget. Disons qu’on va jouer à armes égales.

Marois concluded unambiguously, ‘Je me réserve le droit [de déclencher les élections].’

On 20 February 2014, the Liberals and CAQ used their combined majority in the National Assembly to pass a motion compelling Premier Marois and her husband Claude Blanchet, a wealthy businessman, to appear before the Parliamentary Commission on Public Finances. The commission is investigating political corruption and a questionable political donation of almost $3 millions from FTQ Construction to Blanchet’s business Capital BLF back in 2008.

«Que la Commission des finances publiques fasse toute la lumière sur les circonstances entourant l’investissement de 2 999 999,70 $ du Fonds de solidarité FTQ dans la société Capital BLF en juillet 2008 et qu’à cette fin, la commission entende la première ministre, l’ancien président et chef de direction de Capital BLF, M. Claude Blanchet, ainsi que toutes les personnes qu’elle jugera nécessaire de convoquer;
«Que l’exposé de la première ministre soit d’une durée maximale de 15 minutes et que les échanges avec les membres de la commission soient d’une durée maximale de 3 heures;
«Que l’exposé de M. Claude Blanchet soit d’une durée maximale de 15 minutes et que les échanges avec les membres de la commission soient d’une durée maximale de 3 heures;
«Que la durée maximale de l’exposé pour chacun des autres intervenants, le cas échéant, soit de 10 minutes et que les échanges avec les membres de la commission soient d’une durée maximale de 80 minutes;
«Que la commission fasse rapport à l’Assemblée [nationale] au plus tard le [18] mars 2014, à moins que la commission en décide autrement;
«Enfin, que cette motion devienne un ordre de l’Assemblée.»

This motion is binding and compels the Premier to appear before the committee before 18 March 2014; if she were to refuse, she would place herself in contempt of parliament. According to the National Assembly’s calendar, this schedule recess would end on March 10th, which would give Marois at most 8 days to prepare for her appearance.

However, Marois found a convenient method of ensuring that she will not risk being declared in contempt of parliament and that she does not have to appear before the committee: an early dissolution. An early election will also allow the Parti Québécois to take advantage of the virtual collapse of the CAQ’s support, present its proposed Charter of Quebec Values to the electorate for approval, and most likely win a parliamentary majority. Since Marois did not table a budget before the dissolution, the Government of Quebec might have to use Special Warrants in 2014, depending upon when the 41st Legislature is first summoned.

After the Lieutenant Governor promulgated the proclamation of dissolution, Marois reiterated her earlier argument from February and said that only an early election could break deadlock in the assembly because the Liberals and CAQ had already indicated that they would vote against the budget and other government bills:

Nous avons un plan et l’équipe pour réaliser ce plan. Malheureusement les libéraux et les caquistes n’ont plus qu’un but c’est de bloquer le gouvernement.

Conclusion

The Ineffective Canadian Laws vs the Binding British Law

As of March 2014, all the provincial legislatures, except Nova Scotia’s, and the Parliament of Canada have passed fixed-date election laws. Governments across the country have portrayed these laws as limiting the Prime Minister’s ability to advise an early dissolution and control the timing of the election for partisan gain. In reality, all of these fixed-date election laws have preserved the established constitutional positions of the First Minister and Governor by including a non-derogation clause saving the power of the Governor to dissolve the legislature; only a constitutional amendment under section 41(a) – the unanimity formula – could truly take away the executive’s control over dissolution, because this authority pertains to the “Office of the Queen, Governor General, or Lieutenant Governor of a Province.” These laws also do not conjure up a new constitutional convention that the First Minister would only advise an early dissolution under certain conditions, as Prime Minister Harper and Premier Marois have shown through their decisions, and as Premier Wynne has indicated in her statements from last fall.

For instance, the British Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 has put the prerogative of dissolution in abeyance and transferred this authority to the House of Commons; the Queen no longer dissolves parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. The British Parliament can only be dissolved earlier than the five-year limit if two-thirds of MPs approve a motion “That there be a dissolution of parliament and an early general election,” or to break the deadlock if a simple majority of MPs pass a motion of constructive non-confidence in the government but the alternative government fails to command the confidence of the Commons within 14 days. This model of true fixed-term parliaments also requires constructive non-confidence (which means that the Opposition could only withdraw its confidence from the Government if it also proposes an alternative government) and represents a radical departure from Westminster parliamentarism as we knew it. Thankfully, only a constitutional amendment could impose this radicalism of transferring the Crown’s executive authority over dissolution to the Commons and replacing the current confidence convention with constructive non-confidence on Canada. I oppose both of these efforts on principle.

Responsible Government means that Ministers of the Crown take responsibility for all acts of the Crown, and therefore that the Governor acts on and, save for exceptional circumstances, in accordance with the advice of the First Minister or Cabinet. The Governors still possess the discretionary authority to reject advice to dissolve parliament and thus refuse fresh elections; however, a Governor can only justify his intervention into the executive government under exceptional circumstances precisely because of the exceptional consequence of his discretion. By refusing to act on the advice of the First Minister or Cabinet, the Governor dismisses them from office or forces them to resign, because a Ministry can only take responsibility for advice that it has offered, not for the contrary advice that it did not offer. In addition, the Governor can reject ministerial advice in this fashion if and only if he can then appoint a new First Minister who will take responsibility the dismissal or resignation of the outgoing Ministry. Some First Minister must always take responsibility for dissolution. Finally, refusing advice to dissolve is not the equivalent of dissolving unilaterally. Under our system, Governors do not and cannot undertake any executive act unilaterally because every proclamation, order-in-council, or other executive instrument requires the counter-signature of a responsible Minister of the Crown before the Governor can formally promulgate it. The proclamations of dissolution, the writs of election, and calling together the next parliament after the general election all require ministerial counter-signatures.

In other words, if the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec rejected Premier Marois’ advice to dissolve the legislature, he would thereby revoke her official commission of authority to govern and either force her resignation or outright dismiss her from the Premiership. He would then have to commission an alternative government from within this 40th Legislature by calling upon Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard and CAQ Leader Francois Legault to form some kind of coalition government (since their parties combined form a majority) in order to take responsibility for Marois’ dismissal and command the confidence of the assembly. This was never really an option – particularly not in Quebec, where gubernatorial intervention would only make the sovereigntist cause more popular and provoke the Parti Québécois to call a third referendum!

Inconsistent Media Coverage

Will the media treat Harper and Marois equally? I doubt it. If this article in Tuesday’s edition of the Globe and Mail provides any indication, most of the English-language media probably don’t even know that Quebec also has a fixed-date election law – which fits into their pattern of ignoring Quebec entirely under most circumstances, except to stir up resentment against the Parti Québécois. However, even among the French-language media like Le Devoir, La Presse, TVA, and Radio-Canada, I could find only one article, from the state broadcaster, that devoted any attention to Quebec’s new law. As such, most media outlets would not even grasp the fact that Marois is doing in 2013 precisely what Harper did in 2008: advising early dissolution while the assembly is adjourned and while the single-party minority government still possesses the confidence of said assembly. When Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario – who also leads a single-party minority government – suggested in October 2013 that she would seek an early dissolution if her government lost control of the legislative assembly’s agenda, the media also responded apathetically and never mentioned Ontario’s fixed-date election law. Wynne would in fact be well within her rights to do so. While it is possible that the media have learned from Prime Minister Harper’s precedent of 2008 and accepted the fact that Canada’s fixed-date election laws do nothing at all, I can’t help but think that partisan considerations also play a role in the inconsistent coverage.

Canada’s fixed-date election laws do not alter the established constitutional positions of the First Minister and Governor, so Harper, Marois, Wynne, and whatever other First Minister could always advise an early dissolution under any circumstances, just as before. I only ask that the media treat these First Ministers consistently, or at least clarify that since 2008, they’ve accepted the futility of the Canadian approach to fixed-date elections. But that’s probably too much to ask!

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Posted in Crown (Powers and Office), Dissolution, Fixed Elections, Governor's Discretion, Prime Minister's Powers, Reform | 5 Comments