Stop Appealing to the Governor General To Overthrow Responsible Government


Members of Parliament on the Opposition benches need to stop asking the Governor General of Canada and the Queen of Canada to overthrow Responsible Government. This should go without saying, but, alas, it does not. Responsible Government has so effectively reconciled the medieval principle that the Queen can do no wrong with the modern principle of democratic self-government that sometimes even Members of Parliament themselves in opposition call on the Governor General to assume the mantle of a wise and just philosopher-king when they can only but protest the ministry’s policies. We’re all happy with Responsible Government — except when things don’t go our way.

Over the last five years, we’ve seen several examples of this phenomenon, notably from Liberal MP Bob Rae in 2011 (as he was at the time), the lone Green MP Elizabeth May in 2012, and now from Conservative MP Michelle Rempel in 2016.

Three Bad Precedents

In 2011, Bob Rae, then the interim leader of the Liberal Party, sent a letter to Governor General Johnston and asked that he delay giving Royal Assent to a bill that the House of Commons and Senate had passed correctly.

As Leader of the Liberal Party, I would ask most respectfully that full consideration be given to awaiting final disposition of this matter before the courts before legislation receives Royal Assent.

As leader of the Liberal Party, Bob Rae had no standing to advise the Governor General on any constitutional matter. Interestingly enough, Rae had also presumed in one of his questions in the House of Commons that Cabinet has the authority to “ask the Governor General to give royal assent to the law”. In fact, the Governor General does not grant Royal Assent to bills on the advice of Cabinet, but rather, as the preambles to most bills say, “by and with the advice and consent of the House of Commons and Senate.” The Parliament of Canada consists of the Queen, Senate, and Commons. In other words, the Governor General gives Royal Assent in his capacity as representing the Queen of Canada as legislator, not the Queen as executor.

May's Letter to the Queen

Not to be outdone, Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party and its lone MP, one-uped Bob Rae and wrote a letter to the Queen of Canada dated 30 August 2012 and appealed to Her Majesty to undermine Responsible Government. Specifically, May asked the Queen to act in place of the Governor General and substitute the advice in her letter for the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister and Cabinet in order to call a royal inquiry on the conduct of the 41st general federal election, which would “restore Canada to a free and fair democracy.” After all, nothing could restore democracy more quickly than undermining Responsible Government itself. The Palace wrote back on 18 March 2013 and provided May with a succinct response on how Responsible Government works:

“Perhaps I should explain, however, that this is not a matter in which the Queen would intervene. As a constitutional Sovereign, Her Majesty acts through her personal representative, the Governor-General, on the advice of her Canadian ministers, and it is to them that your appeal should be directed.”

If you understand the subtleties upper class British English, then you have no doubt also spotted the hilarious condescension that Elizabeth May received and so richly deserved. “Perhaps I should explain,” “which you feel is currently being infringed,” “Nevertheless, “Her Majesty was interested to know your views.”

Michelle Rempel, Conservative MP and aspiring future leader of the Conservative Party, has continued in the deplorable tradition of Bob Rae and Elizabeth May by not only spreading misinformation about the established constitutional positions of the Governor General and Prime Minister in our system of Responsible Government works, but also by calling on her Twitter followers to bombard His Excellency with irrelevant and non-constitutional opinions on why he should overthrow Responsible Government and refuse to implement the Prime Minister’s constitutional advice.

Rempel says, “Governor General Johnston is the federal viceregal representative of our head of state. Justin Trudeau technically can’t order him anywhere.” Rempel says, “Governor General Johnston is the federal viceregal representative of our head of state. Justin Trudeau technically can’t order him anywhere.” She further suggests that her follows contact Rideau Hall and ask that the Governor General not represent Canada at Castro’s funeral. Technically, Trudeau can in fact order Johnston to represent Canada at the funeral of the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Rempel is wrong on this matter of fact — and, frankly, as a current Privy Councillor and former cabinet minister, she should know better. The normative question as to whether Prime Minister Trudeau ought to advise Governor General Johnson to represent Canada at the funeral is separate from the fact that, constitutionally, he is well within his rights to do so. And since the Governor General acts on ministerial advice, Trudeau must still take responsibility for Johnston’s attendance just as much as if he himself had decided to go, which was almost certainly his original intention before the controversy around his deplorable and obsequious white-washing of Castro’s dictatorship erupted.  Canadians and MPs may write letters to His Excellency expressing their personal opinions, but under no circumstances could the Governor General act in accordance with public opinion against the advice of his ministers.

To be fair, Bob Rae and Elizabeth May seemed far more committed in their appeals to the Governor General and Queen, respectively, to overthrow Responsible Government, since they wrote formal letters to them, than does Michelle Rempel, whose tweets seem half-hearted. While, as a matter of policy, I share Rempel’s disdain for Prime Minister Trudeau’s obsequious and mendacious white-washing of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, our response cannot involve undermining our own system of government.

Conclusion: What Responsible Government Means

At its core, Responsible Government is a trinity (three in one) of responsibilities: ministerial responsibility to the Crown, individual ministerial responsibility before the Commons, and collective ministerial responsibility & solidarity before the Commons.[1] In this manner, Responsible Government therefore preserves and fully incorporates the medieval principle of Royal Infallibility and reconciles it with liberal democracy and self-government: the Queen can still do no wrong because it is the ministry which takes responsibility for all acts of the Crown, for good or ill. Responsible Government means that “Ministers of the Crown take responsibility of all acts of the Crown”[2] and that the Governor General acts on and in accordance with ministerial advice, save for exceptional circumstances.[3] These acts include accepting responsibility for one’s own appointment as Prime Minister, the dismissal of one’s predecessor, and for dissolving parliament. Logically, therefore, we cannot drive a wedge between the Queen or Governor General on the one hand and the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the other; under no circumstances could the Queen or Governor General act independent of ministerial advice on matters of state,  and only under exceptional circumstances could the Queen or Governor General act contrary to ministerial advice.

The Queen or Governor General can only refuse to promulgate ministerial advice in exceptional circumstances because the consequence of exercising such discretionary authority is equally and proportionately exceptional: the Governor General thereby dismisses the Prime Minister and ministry which tendered the original constitutional advice and must appoint in their place a new Prime Minister and ministry which can then take responsibility for the Governor General’s decision to refuse advice and force the dismissal of their predecessors.[4] Ultimately, the Constitution Act, 1867 does in fact partially codify these basic principles of Responsible Government, contrary to scholarly belief.[5] Section 10 states that the Governor General acts “on behalf of an in the name of the Queen,” section 12 states that the Governor General acts alone (thus, conventionally, on the Prime Minister’s advice) or on the advice of the Privy Council (thus, conventionally, on the Cabinet’s advice), and section 13 further clarifies that the Governor-in-Council refers to “the Governor General acting by and with the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada” (and thus, conventionally, on the advice of Cabinet). Furthermore, sections 53 and 54 state that money bills must be introduced by the people’s elected representatives in the House of Commons and that the Ministry must take responsibility for, and therefore give sanction to, all money bills.

One must distinguish discretionary policy matters from necessary constitutional norms. Obviously, based on my post yesterday, I disagree with the Prime Minister’s policy on and general attitude toward Cuba, but that does not warrant calling into question the system of government itself. It is the Prime Minister who takes responsibility for the constitutional advice that he tenders to the Governor General, and it is therefore Prime Minister Trudeau who must respond to all criticism for having advised Governor General Johnston to attend and represent the Dominion of Canada at the funeral of the late dictator Fidel Castro. We must never let MPs or Cabinet Ministers themselves forget who takes responsibility before the Commons and the people for all decisions of government.

Responsible Government becomes untenable and impossible if the Governor General can simply refuse to act on the Prime Minister’s advice without reason or consequence.

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[1] Robert Macgregor Dawson, “The Constitutional Question,” Dalhousie Review VI, no. 3 (October 1926): 332-337; Eugene Forsey and Graham C. Eglington, The Question of Confidence in Responsible Government (Ottawa: Parliament of Canada, 1985), 16-17.

[2] Sir John George Bourinot, Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, 4th ed. (Montreal: Dawson Brothers Publishing, 1916): 102.

[3]  R. Macgregor Dawson, The Government of Canada. 5th ed. (1970), revised by Norman Ward (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1947): 175.

[4] Sir John George Bourinot, Parliamentary Procedure and Practice. 1st ed. (Montreal: Dawson Brothers Publishing, 1884): 58.

[5] Janet Ajzenstat, The Once and Future Canadian Democracy: An Essay in Political Thought (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), 64, 66-67.

Posted in Reaffirmation of, Responsible Government | Leave a comment

Justin Trudeau Has A “Basic Dictatorship” Problem


The Root Cause of Trudeau’s Basic Dictatorship Problem

Justin Trudeau has a “Basic Dictatorship” Problem. Ultimately, it stems from his political Romanticism and his attempt to deny that politics is, by definition, divisive precisely because we are free to express our disagreements with one another and with the government of the day.

To borrow his infamous phrasing from 2013, Trudeau has expressed a disturbing and obsequious admiration for both China’s “basic dictatorship” and now to Cuba and its “longest-serving president,” Fidel Castro, who died on 25 November 2016.

On 7 November 2013, Trudeau attended a fundraiser that the Liberal Party described as a “ladies’ night” involving “cocktails, candid conversation, and curiosity-inducing ideas.” Before this fawning and adulatory group of female supporters, the moderator asked Trudeau: “Which nation, besides Canada, which nation’s administration do you most admire?”

Trudeau, basking in the glow of the audience’s uncritical adoration, replied:

“There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime, and say, ‘we need to go greenest fastest,’ y’know, ‘we need to start investing in solar.’ There is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about, of having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted, uh, that I find quite interesting.”

This comment is revealing on many levels. Trudeau categorically and unequivocally expressed his “admiration” for a “basic dictatorship” that has since 1949 committed various atrocities, including — like all Communist regimes — mass murder of political opponents and forced famines that starved to death millions of peasants in Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Perhaps Trudeau means that he only admires China’s “basic dictatorship” only after the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In that case, Human Rights Watch describes what China truly is:

“Ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for more than six decades, China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.” 

Trudeau talks of China’s command-and-control economy’s turn toward sustainable energy sources as if this virtue-signalling alone somehow absolves China of decades of Communist atrocities. Finally, Trudeau ends his comment with a rhetorical flourish on how Stephen Harper, when he was prime minister, must have fantasized about wielding the immense power of the Chinese president, thereby defecting some attention and responsibility away from his own self-described “admiration” for dictatorship. Indeed, Stephen Harper was such a dictator that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals defeated his Conservatives in a free and fair election which saw Harper’s resignation and an orderly transition of power between the Harper Ministry and the Trudeau Ministry on 4 November 2015.

He later offered this mendacious re-interpretation of his earlier remarks at a subsequent press conference:

“The point I made was that despite all of our freedoms and our extraordinary system of government and democracy, we are up against countries that play by different rules that we would never accept, but that find themselves, uh, able to address big issues quickly and completely.”

With respect, that was not the point that Trudeau was making. Trudeau did not merely describe how an authoritarian state operates, controls industry, interferes in the economy, and suppresses the political freedoms and civil rights of its people; instead, he clearly expressed his personal “admiration” for a “basic dictatorship” and therefore judged that authoritarian regimes are superior to liberal democracies, at least on the issue of sustainable energy.

The Trudeaus’ Long-Standing Adulation of Castro

The Trudeaus’ adoration and adulation of Cuba goes back decades. In this interview of Margaret Trudeau, which looks like it must have aired in the late 1970s or early 1980s, she describes from 3:15 to 6:06 Fidel Castro in an almost hagiographical way. She lavishes Castro with great praise and paints him as a sort of gallant, chivalric hero, one of those rare great men who was also a good man because he practised egalitarianism around the dinner table by including her and her nanny in the political discussion and statecraft that he held with Pierre Trudeau.

The real gem of this conversation occurs at 5:50. The host asks Margaret Trudeau if Fidel Castro allowed her to participate in discussions. “Yes,” she affirmed.

“At several times, he [Castro] turned to me — he gave me the credit of translating [his and Pierre Trudeau’s Spanish-language conversation] for me what was going on — and asking my opinion. He even asked the nanny’s opinion on the problems of being free in an unfree world.”

Sadly, the perverse irony that Fidel Castro himself contributed so significantly to making the world more unfree was lost on both Margaret Trudeau and the interviewer.

The CBC recently created this jolly little compilation video of footage from Pierre Trudeau’s official visit to Cuba in 1976 and made light of Trudeau’s obsequious exhortations when he addressed a crowed of pre-approved compliant Cubans — in Spanish, no less — “Viva el primer ministro commandante Fidel Castro!”

The Trudeaus’ admiration of Castro’s basic dictatorship doesn’t stop there. When Fidel Castro resigned amidst poor health in the summer of 2006, reports of his death weren’t the only thing that was greatly exaggerated. Alexandre “Sasha” Trudeau took up the mantle of hyperbolic hagiographic propaganda of Fidel Castro in a column for Toronto Star entitled “The Last Days of a Patriarch.” A. Trudeau praised Castro as a Renaissance or Enlightenment Man, but also in more sinister and disturbing Nietzschean terms as a “superman” of “Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage,” “intellectual machismo and rigour,” as a “revolutionary,” a “grand adventurer,” and a “great scientific mind.” Fidel Castro sounds like nothing less than Nietzsche’s ubermensch and Machiavelli’s master of fortuna, a veritable god amongst men! A. Trudeau then lauded Castro and endorsed utopian revolutionary ideology and the fallacy espoused by many radicals and despots and revolution becomes an end unto itself:

“He lives to learn and to put his knowledge in the service of the revolution. For Fidel, revolution is really a work of reason. In his view, revolution, when rigorously adopted, cannot fail to lead humanity towards ever greater justice, towards an ever more perfect social order.”

Finally, A. Trudeau glossed over the Castro regime’s various atrocities and human rights violations and even dismissed exiled Cubans’ (because Cubans in Cuba would be thrown in prison for saying such things!) political criticism of Castro in paternalistic terms as a puerile, adolescent rebellion against one’s parents.

“But Castro’s leadership can be something of a burden, too. They do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father. The Jefe (chief) sees all and knows all, they might say. In particular, young Cubans have told me that an outsider cannot ever really imagine what it is like to live in such a hermetic society, where everyone has an assigned spot and is watched and judged carefully. You can never really learn on your own, they might say. The Jefe always knows what is best for you. It can be suffocating, they say.”

Indeed, irony is often lost on the Trudeaus. Fidel Castro overthrew Batista through his brilliance and revolutionary prowess in order to build a “more perfect social order” — but anyone else who opposes or rebels against Fidel the Great must be swatted down and dismissed as a petulant child. Utopians believe in the right of might over the rule of law and worship power above all.

Finally, by pure coincidence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Cuba on an official visit just last week. The imagery in the CBC’s news video perfectly sums up Castro’s Cuba and the Trudeaus’ bizarre decades-long adoration to it: the Cuban honour guard goose-steps out of frame to reveal a solemn-looking Justin Trudeau with hagiography of Che Guevara — another psychopathic revolutionary romanticized by first-year left-wing undergraduates — looming over them all in the background.


The Brutal Truth of Castro’s Dictatorship 


The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro:

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

“While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.

“I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.

On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”

In light of Fidel Castro’s death, Trudeau has eulogizes him in mendacious euphemism as a “legendary revolutionary and orator” instead of confronting Castro’s brutal legacy: like all Communists dictators, he imposed his utopia by wading through a sea of blood, jailing and murdering political opponents, and then maintained his dictatorship through authoritarian repression of free markets and free elections.

Trudeau uses mendacious euphemism to gloss over Communist dictatorship, referring to Castro as “Cuba’s longest-serving president” and, in a statement that sounds like a joke, Trudeau deigns to acknowledge Castro as a “controversial figure” — as if his record were merely a matter of polite disagreement amongst policy wonks.

Trudeau even throws in a welfare nationalist line about healthcare and education in a pathetic attempt to underline shared policies between Canada and Cuba, as if the means by which those policies were achieved justified their results and made them morally equal. Perhaps we should add, the Castros provided good education and healthcare to all those Cubans whom they hadn’t already cruelly murdered or arbitrarily detained or permanently exiled. Cubans expressed a “deep and lasting affection for ‘el Commadante'” because they had no choice in the matter. Overall, Justin Trudeau fell for the Potemkin Village routine that all dictators put on for visiting foreign dignitaries.

Let’s briefly examine the true nature of the Castros’ dictatorship. Human Rights Watch describes the litany of authoritarian policies to which the Castros have subjected Cubans. In a report from 1999, Human Rights Watch noted:

“Cuban authorities continue to treat as criminal offenses nonviolent activities such as meeting to discuss the economy or elections, writing letters to the government, reporting on political or economic developments, speaking to international reporters, or advocating the release of political prisoners. […]

The Cuban Criminal Code lies at the core of Cuba’s repressive machinery, unabashedly prohibiting nonviolent dissent. With the Criminal Code in hand, Cuban officials have broad authority to repress peaceful government opponents at home. Cuban law tightly restricts the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. In an extraordinary June 1998 statement, Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo justified Cuba’s restrictions on dissent by explaining that, as Spain had instituted laws to protect the monarch from criticism, Cuba was justified in protecting Fidel Castro from criticism, since he served a similar function as Cuba’s “king.””

The Castros have murdered and arbitrarily imprisoned their political opponents for decades. In Cuba, the Castros have stamped out and brutally repressed the rule of law, liberty, and representative and responsible government. There is no due process. There is no habeus corpus. There is no freedom of expression. There is no freedom of movement. There are no free markets. There are no political parties, and there are no free and fair elections. In short, Cuba’s basic dictatorship outlaws and criminalizes all that which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds and guarantees for Canadians.

As after his “Basic Dictatorship” comment in 2013, Justin Trudeau seemed genuinely surprised by the backlash to his remarks and retrenched in his original sentiment, as evidenced by his halting responses to reporters  in Madagascar at the Francophonie summit:

“It was a statement to recognize the passing of a former head of state, uh, the head of state that, uh, with which Canada has had, uh, a deep, uh, and lasting friendship. As people know and, uh, can make no mistake about, I never shy away from bringing up human rights, uh, wherever I go. Uh, I highlight our values and, uh, uh, the challenges we face and underline, uh, the importance of respecting human rights, uh, wherever I am, including in Cuba last week, including here [in Madagascar] yesterday, including, uh, wherever I go around the world.”

“I, uh, have a personal recollection of, uh, uh, the reaction, uh, when, uh, a, uh, long-time political figure of a particular country passes away, uh, however, uh, polarizing, uh, they may have been, uh, for certain people. Uh, I made a statement that recognized, uh, the close connection — the long-standing connection — between, uh, Canada and Cuba.

You see, as Justin Trudeau helpfully explained, Fidel Castro was not, objectively, a brutal Communist dictator, but merely a “long-time political figure” who  was “polarizing”, but only “for certain people” — i.e., those people who disagree with Justin Trudeau’s point of view. Curiously, however, Trudeau did affirm that Fidel Castro “was a dictator” and immediately pivoted back toward his mendacious euphemistic language:

“The fact is that Fidel Castro had a deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people. Uh, he certainly was a polarizing figure, and there certainly were, uh, significant concerns around human rights. Uh, that’s something that I’m open about and that I’ve highlighted.”

Again, with due respect to the prime minister, Fidel Castro was not merely a conventional “polarizing” politician with whom Cubans were free to openly disagree with and vote out of office, like the politicians whom we normally describe as “polarizing” in liberal democracies. Castro had a “deep and lasting impact on the Cuban people” because he repressed them and denied them civil rights and political freedoms. There were not merely mild “concerns around human rights” — the Castro regime has violated human rights for six decades. And Justin Trudeau ends his comments with a deflection, similar to that which he offered in 2013.” For we must all understand that Trudeau has been “open about” the “concerns around human rights” in Cuba, and we are mistaken and misguided in our criticism of Trudeau’s admiration for a dictator. We just wouldn’t understand. Trudeau simply lacks the courage of his convictions and can’t take responsibility for his own statements, nor for the consequences of his statements.

Conclusion: The Danger of Political Romanticism

In general, I’ve noticed over the last three years that Justin Trudeau demonstrates a disturbing naiveté about the nature of dictatorships. His comments from 2013 praising China’s “basic dictatorship” remind me of the sort of facile assertions that I heard as a Teaching Assistant from first-year undergraduates — almost always a young man aged 18 to 21 — who think that command-and-control dictatorships are inherently superior to and more efficient in distributing resources than capitalistic liberal democracies. Other former TAs might recognize this trope. I found that these students normally divided along two lines: one, the slightly irreverent young man with a devil-may-care attitude and looking to score laughs and show off his own ability to play the part of contrarian and good debater, and the other, more sinister character who genuinely believes it and might be actively monitored by CSIS.

In reality, dictatorships are inefficient. Indian economist Amartya Sen has demonstrated empirically that dictatorships cause famines, which shows that they cannot or do not distribute resources efficiently and justly– which, frankly, should be obvious to any 20th-century observer. We need look no further than Stalin’s Holodormer in Ukraine or Mao’s Great Leap Forward in China. All good classical liberals and Whigs, like British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, understand that good government fundamentally depends upon a strong link between taxation, representation, and expenditure, which bind together the accountability and responsibility of the government and the consent of the governed. We know what happens when that relationship breaks down: many petro-States are authoritarian precisely because the government can rely on royalties from natural resources for revenue rather than having to rely on taxation taken from the people. Consent and accountability break down because the people have no stake in the government. Classical liberals in the 19th century also well understood this principle, especially Lord Durham. In his famous report, which provided the blue print for liberty and self-government in the British Empire in the 19th century, he maintained that the Royal Recommendation (the requirement that Ministers of the Crown sanction and take responsibility for all money bills) coupled with the principle that all money bills must be introduced by the people’s elected representatives in the assembly was a necessary condition for Responsible Government. Durham even referred to this principle as a “the real protection of the people.”

Since becoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has consistently demonstrated that he either does not understand or deliberately obscures the difference between the executive and the legislature. Trudeau frequently presumes to speak “on behalf of all Canadians,” as he did in that press release about Fidel Castro’s death, and he has taken to asserting that “Canada is back” — the implication being that only the Liberals can legitimately represent Canada as a whole and the True Canada, and that Conservatives and New Democrats and all other parties are unpatriotic and do not represent True Canada. Furthermore, that latter implication contains a certain irony and contradiction of its own, given that Trudeau has also described Canada as a “post-national” state, which makes patriotism itself untenable.

In our parliamentary system, the Prime Minister and Cabinet represent Canada as a State and as an international legal person (as in le pays), and they govern in a way that should promote Canada’s national interest; however, the Prime Minister and Cabinet most certainly cannot “represent all Canadians” in the sense of “reflecting their values in government.” The Sovereign and Governor General represent Canada in the sense of la patrie.

But only the House of Commons as a whole “represents all Canadians” as a political nation because we elect Members of Parliament. Within the House of Commons, the loyal opposition represents “the political minority” and makes the representation of political dissent integral to Westminster parliamentarism,[1] and the government’s legitimacy depends on commanding the confidence of a majority of MPs within the chamber. Therefore, no Prime Minister could ever claim to “represent all Canadians” unless his party won all 338 seats in the House of Commons and Canada became a one-party State — rather like the Communist countries that Justin Trudeau claims to admire  so much. As Janet Ajzenstat states, “the supreme benefit of parliamentary government is that it protects political opposition, the right to dissent.”[2]

At the Liberal event in 2013 where Trudeau expressed admiration for Chinese dictatorship, he also praised the “consensus government” that pertains in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  And, for the record, Trudeau is essentially right in his description of how consensus government works, but he was wrong about Yukon, which in fact has operated under standard responsible government with competing political parties since 1978. Only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in fact operate under consensus government.

“But if I were to reach out and say which kind of administration I most admire, I think there’s something to be said right here in Canada for the way our territories are run. Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon are done without political parties around consensus. And are much more like a municipal government. And I think there’s a lot to be said for people pulling together to try and solve issues rather than to score points off of each other. And I think we need a little more of that.”

Not surprisingly, this comment received less attention that his self-described admiration for China’s dictatorship, but the two comments are not as tangential as they might first appear. The only difference between consensus government and an authoritarian regime is whether the threat of force and coercion are necessary to mandating, manufacturing, and maintaining that consensus. In small communities, a genuine consensus can emerge legitimately and peacefully. But this is impossible in a large State.

What animates Justin Trudeau’s political thought is, above all, Counter-Enlightenment Romanticism.  It is a “philosophy of community” where “all strive to be virtuous according to the same definition of virtue.”[3] In its mild and benign form, political Romanticism manifests itself as a kind of “civic republicanism,” which derives more from the Ancients like Aristotle and his views on a “virtuous and participatory citizenry” than the Moderns.[4] In its worse forms, Romanticism derives from Counter-Enlightenment philosophy from Rousseau onward, with infusions from Hegel and Marx. Romantics see the absence of consensus as an existential threat to the general will and the public interest. Therefore, anyone who disrupts that consensus prevents the political nation from realizing the general will and becomes an impediment that must be removed. Romantics also view history as teleological and thus as a force inexorably moving in one direction toward a clear endpoint. Trudeau expresses his facile teleological romanticism in his blithe phrase, which has since become a meme, “Because it’s the current year.”In other words, anyone who attempts to disrupt, slow down, or alter the course of history must simply step out of the way of progress. Trudeau’s “post-nationalism” best corresponds to what political scientists would call “post-materialist politics”, which concerns itself above all with “opening opportunities for political demands” — particularly of historically marginalized groups –, and participation rather than the distribution of scarce resources.[5]  Trudeau even envelopes himself in what Weber would call “monarchical authority” in his official biography and refers to himself as if he were the living embodiment of Canadian unity:

“His passion for public service and vision for Canada are shaped by his experiences and influences — his father, Pierre, and mother, Margaret; the Trudeau and Sinclair families; his roots in the East and West, French and English.”

In particular, “The Trudeau and Sinclair families; his roots in East and West, French and English” evokes the Tudors, with their rose both red and white, with roots in the Houses of Lancaster and York,  in the North and in the South.

In short, “romantics shrink from the adversarial politics of the parliamentary system.”[ 6] Trudeau himself frequently laments “divisiveness” and the “politics of division.” But, as the late Christopher Hitchens so aptly observed, “politics is division by definition,”[7] because in a liberal-democratic society, we are free to express disagreements, and because our parliamentary system itself legitimates opposition and adversarialism in order to maintain the accountability of the government. In short, politics by nature is and should be divisive. Without the disagreement and dissent that comes from persons who sincerely hold opposing views and beliefs, politics would cease to exist altogether.

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[1] Janet Ajzenstat, “Bicameralism and Canada’s Founders: The Origins of the Canadian Senate,” in Protecting Canadian Democracy: The Senate You Never Knew, ed. Serge Joyal (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003): 3, 7.
[2] Ibid., 7.
[3] Janet Ajzenstat, The Once and Future Canadian Democracy: An Essay in Political Thought (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), 8, 9.
[4] Ibid., 8.
[5] Ibid., 12.
[6] Ibid., 15.
[7] Christopher Hitchens, “Are Alternative Newspapers Doing Their Jobs?” Address to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, 12 June 1998 at 31:29.

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Justin Trudeau Makes John Pepall’s Case Against Electoral Reform


The charming non-country of Belgium shows the dangers of proportional representation. The Christian Democrats are always in power and can never be turfed out!

On 19 October 2016, Le Devoir, the most erudite newspaper in Canada, published a very interesting interview with the Prime Minister, “Trudeau ne garantit plus une reforme electorale majeure.”

Trudeau II unwittingly made John Pepall’s case. In his 2010 book Against Reform, Pepall attributed most reform movements with dissatisfaction not with the system or institutions of government, but rather, with the policies or attitudes of the government of the day, or of the political party that happened to be in government at the time.

This pattern works on both the Left and the Right. For instance, after Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, he borrowed the Reform Party’s old matra, “The West Wants In!” and proclaimed, “The West is in.” Not surprisingly, rates of Western alienation decreased once the Conservatives formed government, and arguments for institutional reform, like the Triple-E Senate, also fell by the wayside – because what Western Conservatives really wanted was a Conservative government, not a Triple-E Senate with a Liberal government in power.

Precisely the same pattern has occurred on electoral reform. When the Conservatives won a parliamentary majority in 2011 with only 39.6% of the popular vote, some Liberals cried foul. But when the Liberals won an even larger parliamentary majority in 2015 with only 39.5% of the popular vote, the Liberals’ righteous indignation against single-member plurality evapourated and has since been replaced by fundamentally unserious apathetic platitudes on electoral reform. The New Democrats have at least opposed single-member plurality consistently over time, owing to their inability to form government at the federal level under the current system.

Pepall argues in his essay “First-Past-The-Post: Empowered Voters, Accountable Government”:

It is the ability to “throw the bums out,” more even than the ability to choose a new government, that is the most striking practical virtue of FPTP. Our governments are responsible, must answer to the voters, and are regularly defeated. Joseph Schumpeter (1987: 272) and Karl Popper (1963 and 1988, April 23) saw the ability to get rid of an unsatisfactory government as the purpose and test of democracy and condemned proportional representation for not seeing this.

To “throw the bums out” is almost impossible with proportional representation. In the 50 years after 1945 in 103 elections in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, the major governing party was only thrown from office six times (Pinto-Duschinsky, 1998, September 25). Major parties have remained in government for decades under proportional representation despite wide fluctuations in their votes.

And Trudeau II made precisely the same case to Le Devoir earlier this week:

Sous M. [Stephen] Harper, il y avait tellement de gens mécontents du gouvernement et de son approche que les gens disaient “ça prend une réforme électorale pour ne plus avoir de gouvernement qu’on n’aime pas”. Or, sous le système actuel, ils ont maintenant un gouvernement avec lequel ils sont plus satisfaits. Et la motivation de vouloir changer le système électoral est moins percutante.

 Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people dissatisfied with the government and its approach, and people said, “It would take electoral reform to no longer have a government that we don’t like.” Yet, under the current system, they now have a government with which they are more satisfied. And the motivation of wanting to change the electoral system is less powerful [My translation].

Thank you, Prime Minister! You just put forward one of the main arguments in favour of single-member plurality: this system allows voters to make a decision and get rid of one government entirely and replace it with another. (Yes, we only elect members and not governments directly, but the point is that proportional systems try to impose artificial majorities where none exist, and they thereby allow politicians to negotiate with each other behind closed doors and form coalitions that no one voted for either). Proportional systems in fact make throwing one government out and replacing it with another almost impossible and therefore detract from the very same goal that the Prime Minister himself advocated in his interview with Le Devoir.

Single-member plurality allows peaceful revolutions by legitimating opposition and making Belgian-style coalitions, where the Christian Democrats have almost always stayed in power for the last one hundred years, more difficult. Our system also relegates “grand coalitions” of ideologically opposing parties to true national emergencies like forming Confederation itself, fighting world wars, and muddling through great depressions, which thereby legitimates opposition in politics, gives it a healthy outlet, and prevents both left-wing and right-wing extremists from gaining traction. In contrast, Germany has suffered under “Grand Coalitions” of the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party – what are supposed to be the two main opposing parties – from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 to present. Consequently, political opposition in Germany has been channelled into the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.

As I suggested in my entry from 12 September 2016, “the general election of 2019 will be first-past-the-post.” The Prime Minister has stated his own apathy and ambivalence to electoral reform very clearly, which suggests that he would be content with letting the issue go away; in contrast, reforming the electoral system would require that the government take a firm stance on the issue and actually argue in favour or against something concrete! At any rate, time has already run out on electoral reform for 2019, except instant run-off balloting.

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Finally, A Media Outlet Writes an Accurate Story on Ontario’s Next Provincial Election!



The Canadian Press finally wrote a factually correct and accurate story pertaining to the timing of Ontario’s next general election.

The election is currently set for the fall of 2018, but the Liberal government wants to avoid conflict with the next municipal elections, which are set for October of that year.

That said, it would have been difficult to write an inaccurate story in this instance, since the whole premise of the article rests on the fact that the Wynne government just tabled a bill to switch the next scheduled general election from the fall to the spring.

Minister Naqvi tabled earlier today Bill 45, Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2016. The relevant provisions state:Subsection 9 (2) of the Act is repealed and the following substituted:

Subsection 9 (2) of the Act is repealed and the following substituted:

First Thursday in June

   (2)  Subject to the powers of the Lieutenant Governor referred to in subsection (1), general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in June in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.

The Elections Act currently states:

First Thursday in October

(2)  Subject to the powers of the Lieutenant Governor referred to in subsection (1),
            (a) a general election shall be held on Thursday, October 4, 2007, unless a general election has been held, after the day on which the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 receives Royal Assent and before October 4, 2007, because of a dissolution of the Legislature; and
            (b) thereafter, general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.  2005, c. 35, s. 1 (3).

When this bill passes, Ontario will join British Columbia and Alberta in setting its scheduled general elections in the spring — where they really ought to have been all along — rather than in the fall. I’ve never understood why politicians prefer campaigning and door-knocking in the cold and dark of late fall. Ontario will also be the fourth province to have amended its fixed-date election law; Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island had already amended their equivalent statutes such that if the federal and provincial generals elections were ever scheduled to overlap in October, then their provincial general elections would be postponed by six months until the following April.

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Do Journalists Who Cover Ontario Politics Know When the Next General Election Is Scheduled?  


I have yet to encounter a political journalist in Ontario who will state initially and independently, without further prompting, that the next general provincial election is in fact still scheduled for October 2018 and not for June 2018 that they all keep reporting, until such time that the legislature amends the Elections Act. Steve Paikin of TVO and Robert Benzie & Rob Ferguson of the Toronto Star, and Keith Leslie & Alison Jones of the Canadian Press all insist on giving inaccurate information.

When pressed, they sometimes acknowledge that the current legislation still in fact schedules the next general election for October 2018. For instance, I mentioned to Steve Paikin on Twitter that the Elections Act does not scheduled fixed-date elections precisely every four years, but instead schedules elections in the October of the fourth calendar year after the previous election — which means that this 41st Legislature is scheduled to live longer than four years because the 41st general provincial election took place in June 2014.

First Thursday in October

(2)  Subject to the powers of the Lieutenant Governor referred to in subsection (1),
            (a) a general election shall be held on Thursday, October 4, 2007, unless a general election has been held, after the day on which the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 receives Royal Assent and before October 4, 2007, because of a dissolution of the Legislature; and
            (b) thereafter, general elections shall be held on the first Thursday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.  2005, c. 35, s. 1 (3).

Paikin and others should not act as if their insider knowledge of the Chief Electoral Officer’s report and the Wynne government’s press release from June 2016 substitutes for providing a simple explanation like this: “While the next general provincial election is currently scheduled for October 2018, the Wynne government has stated its intention to implement the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendation to move the date from the fall to the spring (probably early June) and will soon table legislation to that effect.” That’s all that they’d have to say in order to bring their reporting in line with all the facts.

It’s also true that Attorney-General Naqvi mentioned on September 22nd that the government intends to table legislation in this new session that would move the scheduled election from the fall to the spring. But until the legislature amends section 9(2)(b) of the Elections Act and replaces “first Thursday in October” with something like “second Thursday in June,” the next general provincial election remains scheduled for October 2018. I say “scheduled” because the Premier can, of course, advise the Lieutenant-Governor to dissolve the 41st Legislature at any time for any reason prior to the scheduled date. In other words, only the legislature can amend the Elections Act and determine when the next general election is scheduled, but because section 9(1) of the Act, the Premier retains the authority to advise and receive an early dissolution outside of the scheduled date.

The facts are both more complex and more interesting than the inaccurate account that Ontario’s political journalists have been letting on thus far. But if journalists won’t report on the facts, then who will?

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