Rejecting Constitutional Advice Equals Dismissal from Office: How Governor General Lord Aberdeen Forced Sir Charles Tupper’s Resignation in 1896

When I first embarked on this constitutional odyssey in 2011, I encountered scholars who propagated a novel constitutional interpretation with no basis in history, nor in the principles of Responsible Government itself, which I call “Reserve Powers Without Consequence”: the notion that the Governor General can reject a prime minister’s constitutional advice and that this extraordinary and rare vice-regal intervention, in turn, entails no consequences and allows the prime minister to carry on in office as if nothing happened until the House of Commons might say otherwise. This is false. And numerous historical precedents — along with the recent case from British Columbia in 2017 — demonstrate the falsity of this notion. I have written on one such case study in my latest piece in The Dorchester Review.

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Posted in Articles, Caretaker Convention, Dorchester Review, Formation of Governments | 2 Comments

Extra-Constitutional Reform of the Senate of Canada

The latest issue of The Dorchester Review includes my piece on “The Founders’ Senate.” In this article, I outline how the Senate of Canada, and the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada, functioned as partisan legislative bodies from the 1840s to 2015. I also argue that Stephen Harper from 2013 to 2015 and Justin Trudeau from 2015 to present both took steps to undermine and transform the role and composition of the Senate through extra-constitutional means in response to the Supreme Court’s Senate Reference, which has all but destroyed any efforts to reform the Senate through constitutional amendment. I encourage you to subscribe to the DR if you’re interested in reading my piece.

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Posted in Articles, Dorchester Review, History of British North America, Senate Reform | Leave a comment

On Dual Citizenship and Senators in Canada and Australia

Senate of Canada

The British North America Act, 1867 and the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1901 set up the two first federal self-governing dominions within the British Empire, and they contain numerous similarities, sometimes even identical wording. For instance, section 91 of the BNA Act says, complete with the chronic capitalisation of nouns in the mid-19th century style, that the Parliament of Canada shall “make Laws for the Peace, Order and good Government of Canada.” The Australian constitution uses precisely the same wording (but without the German method of capitalising all nouns) in its equivalent section 51 outlining the heads of legislative power for the federal order of government: the Parliament of Australia shall hold “the power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth.” Somehow this standard Colonial Office phrasing “peace, order, and good government”, which made its way into most commissions and letters of instructions to governors and governors general across the Empire for centuries, has become Canada’s national creed and a rebuttal of Jefferson’s “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. In contrast, our Australian cousins do not seem to give this veritable cliché a second thought and certainly do not elevate it to a national motto.

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Posted in Commonwealth Realms, Comparative | 8 Comments

Elizabeth May & the Spectre of Proportional Representation, Part II

Elizabeth May’s Electoral System Would Require a Multilateral Constitutional Amendment

The day after the election, May appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics and both bragged that the Greens had tripled their parliamentary party (in the most basic sense, from 1 to 3) and complained that the Bloc Québécois won more seats despite winning a similar share of the popular vote as compared to the Greens.

The big winner in all this, I suppose, was the Bloc Québécois, but they only got a fraction of, or hardly  that many more votes than, the Greens, but they got 32 seats while we have three. So, again, it underscores the perversity of our first-past-the-post electoral system.

First, May provides a mendacious metric. Since the Bloc Québécois only runs in Quebec, the honest and accurate standard of comparison would consist of the Bloc’s support and the Green Party’s support in Quebec alone, not within Canada as a whole.

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Elizabeth May & The Spectre of Proportional Representation, Part I

The results of the general federal election of October 2019 – particularly in Quebec –  have revivified the unthinking cacophonous bleating about proportional representation to which the Special Committee on Electoral Reform gave a platform in the last parliament. And this new minority parliament just might give the proponents of PR their big chance, especially since the decennial retribution must occur in 2022-23 anyway.

On the night of the election, Elizabeth May gave a typically incoherent rant in that familiarly grating “Well, actually” tone of condescending moral certitude which she has inflicted on all who dare to disagree with her politics since 2006.  She apparently believed that she presented an argument against single-member plurality but, in fact, implied an argument for it — all without betraying any notion of irony. Perhaps she was just “tired” again, as she sometimes claims after making such utterances. I waited for the epiphany to dawn on her, but she managed to stumble through her oblivious stupor to the very end.

It is worth quoting in full.

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