Black, Red, and Yellow Are the New Black, Yellow, and Red.
Germany has become the new Belgium now that the Merkel III Ministry, a Grand Coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats that should only have lasted from 2013 to 2017, has become a Belgian-style long-term caretaker government. Caretaker Chancellor Merkel affirmed her commitment in an address on New Year’s Eve to “quickly building a stable government for Germany in the new year” — but this is, of course, not entirely within her control.
Worse still, instead of hastening the demise of this caretaker ministry, Germany’s Basic Law, its codified constitution has, in fact, entrenched and enabled this Belgian-style sclerosis. The constitutional conventions which apply to any Westminster Parliament would have rectified Germany`s peculiar problem, outlined below, months ago, but Continental Parliamentarism depends upon codified constitutions and a civil law tradition. In short, Continental parliaments are prone to litigious absurdity, sometimes because codified constitutions can never cover every contingency, or sometimes because — as in this case — the codified constitution enables deadlock.
Introduction: A Lazy and Stupid Metaphor
Political scientists like taking shortcuts and writing in shorthand. But sometimes, these cause them to get hopelessly lost rather than shortening their journey toward fact and truth.
For instance, too many political scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries — especially those dealing in comparative politics — try to explain parliamentary systems of government not in and of themselves but, instead, implicitly in opposition to presidential systems of government.  Consequently, they have committed a categorical error by claiming that parliamentarism “fuses” the executive and legislature together. They use this metaphor of fusion, presumably taken from physics, in order to explain the confidence convention in particular, and to contrast parliamentary government in general to the strong and strict separation of powers which characterizes presidential-congressional systems of government.
The Grand Coalition of the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats straddles the center-left and center-right like the Colossus of Rhodes and leaves no credible opposition as an alternative government in its wake.
Germans elected a new parliament on 24 September 2017. The main center-right and center-left parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, both lost ground to the far-right Alternative for Germany and the far-left, aptly named The Left. The Free Democrats, a pro-business liberal party, won back the presence and representation that they lost in 2013, and the Greens also made gains.
From 2005 to 2009 and from 2013 to 2017, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats governed in Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats. From 2009 to 2013, the Christian Democrats entered into a more ideologically compatible coalition with the Free Democrats. In 2017, the Christian Democrats won a plurality of seats and sought to form another coalition, but the Social Democrats refused to continue their previous arrangement and instead sought to become the official opposition. The Christian Democrats entered into negotiations with the Free Democrats and Greens — since all three would need to coalesce in order to form a parliamentary majority.
On 20 November 2017, coalition talks between these three parties broke down after the Free Democrats withdrew. The German media then discussed the possibility that Germans would have to go to polls in an early election in 2018. Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel herself reportedly favours this possibility. Most of these media articles did not comment on precisely how the Basic Law allows for early elections under limited circumstances or delve into discussions of constructive non-confidence and confirmation voting. Essentially, there are two possibilities for how an early election can occur in Germany, and I’ve outlined them below.
On Friday, 20 October 2017, CBC journalist Jacques Poitras reported on a strange, ambiguous press release from the Liberal Premier of New Brunswick, Brian Gallant, and speculated what it might mean. The original press release said that the Premier would meet with the Lieutenant Governor on Monday. This coy phrasing kicked off speculation that the Premier might intend to advise an early dissolution. However, Poitras correctly surmised that the cryptic wording alluded to an upcoming prorogation, short intersession, and new Speech from the Throne.
Public Records Must Be Freely Available
I discovered by attempting to research New Brunswick’s fixed-date election law that the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick has not uploaded its Debates, Journals, or committee transcripts online. All the other provincial and territorial legislative assemblies make these records freely and publicly available online. Worse still, the Legislative Library of New Brunswick has failed even to send hard copies of its Journals to university libraries since 2005, and it hasn’t sent copies of the Debates since long before then. In other words, New Brunswickers cannot access basic information that would allow them to hold their government and legislative assembly to account. I e-mailed the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick and requested all records pertaining to the province’s fixed-date election law, which entered into force in 2007. The library did indeed send me all this information promptly. Consequently, Speaker Chris Collins took to Twitter in a vain attempt to shame me publicly for my earlier jokes about the inadequacies of New Brunswick’s record-keeping. He said:
The issue is not whether the Legislative Library responds quickly to requests; the issue is that the library has failed to publish these records so that all New Brunswickers and Canada, or anyone, can access them freely. I should have been able to access all those records myself at 12:07 am or any other time of day that I damn well please. I would go as far as to argue that legislative bodies have a fiduciary duty to publish all records of all proceedings not conducted in camera or in secret sittings. All the other provinces and territories have done their duty; only New Brunswick has not. And the fact that the legislative library sent me these records so quickly — in the form of clean, searchable PDFs, by the way — means that they exist in-house and that the Legislative Library has properly indexed them. It should now simply publish them online. Publishing these records online promotes accountability and neutrality, and it would also unburden the staff at the Legislative Library from carrying out these requests themselves. Furthermore, journalists in New Brunswick ought to care more about this issue and should champion the freedom of information, since their trade depends on it.
Only an informed citizenry can sustain a liberal democracy.