The Radicalism of the “Stop Harper” Lobby and of the High-Tory Monarchists
Last year, Bridget DePape abused her position as a Senate Page and mounted a silent protest with her “Stop Harper” sign in the Senate chamber while the Governor General read the Speech from the Throne that opened the 1st Session of the 41st Parliament. DePape has since inspired a new virulent “Stop Harper” Lobby, which has adopted histrionic extra-Parliamentary tactics and anti-constitutional viewpoints on the role of the Governor General of Canada and Queen of Canada in our system of Responsible Government.
Much to my surprise and chagrin, I have also recently learned of the existence of what I can only describe as a small fringe element of High Tories in Canada, who have expressed objection to this entry on some social media because they maintain that the Sovereign in the United Kingdom and Governors General in the Realms at least should be able to dissolve parliament unilaterally. As the tagline of Parliamentum indicates, I am a proud Whig and constitutional monarchist, so I will issue a rebuke to High-Tory monarchists and curb their excesses when necessary.
In short, both these radical leftists and the extremist High Tories either do not understand or explicitly reject the principle of Responsible Government: the Prime Minister exercises power, while the Queen and Governor General exercise authority. This dichotomy between power and authority is the essence of constitutional monarchy.
Petitions to Restore the Despotic Stuart Crown of the 17th Century – I mean, to “Stop Harper”
One Chantal Dupuis from Quebec wrote Buckingham Palace and asked Queen Elizabeth II to dismiss Stephen Harper as Prime Minister and dissolve Parliament unilaterally. Curiously, she justified this flagrant violation of the principles of responsible government because “Canadian democracy is in danger like never before in history.”
Letter to the Queen
Chantal Dupuis wrote the following letter on 16 December 2011 to the Queen of Canada and asked her to engage in a blatant anti-constitutional act that violates every principle of Responsible Government.
As Your Majesty is our head of state, I have no other choice but to ask Your Majesty to help us Canadians to remove Stephen Harper from the office of Prime Minister of Canada, because Canadian democracy is in danger like never before in its history.
In the past, people went to prison for having been found in contempt of Parliament, but now, when the totality of the government Stephen Harper leads is found in contempt, nothing is done to protect Canadians and their constitutional rights.
As a Canadian, I was wondering when Your Majesty would intervene to protect us Canadians? How could Her Majesty, as the chief of Canada, do nothing?
The Senior Correspondence Officer of Buckingham Palace wrote back on 24 February 2012:
Her Majesty has taken note of the views you express but I should explain that there is no question of The Queen dismissing the Canadian Prime Minister or dissolving Parliament as you suggest.
The Governor General of Canada can only dissolve Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. As a practical matter, the Queen of Canada could only dissolve Parliament directly if she were in Canada and if the Prime Minister’s Office, Government House, and Buckingham Palace had made the appropriate arrangements before because of the nature of the Letters Patent, 1947. In other words, the Queen of Canada could also only dissolve the Parliament of Canada by and with the advice and consent of the Prime Minister of Canada. However, as one of my knowledgeable correspondents reminded me this morning, the Queen of Canada still has not exercised the power dissolve the Parliament of Canada when she finds herself on Canadian soil. In May 2005, when Her Majesty visited Canada in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces, the Martin government commanded the confidence of the Commons by the smallest of margins. The Palace, Government House, and the Office of the Prime Minister all agreed that if the Martin government had then fallen, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson would have issued the Proclamation of Dissolution, rather than Her Majesty the Queen of Canada.
The Queen of Canada tends to exercise only her authority for the more ceremonial and liturgical aspects of constitutional monarchy. For instance, Her Majesty read the Speeches from the Throne in 1957 and 1977 instead of the Governor General, by and with the advice and consent of Prime Ministers Diefenbaker and Trudeau, respectively. And sometimes the Queen of Canada travels abroad by and with the advice and consent of her Canadian Ministers; for instance, Her Majesty rededicated the Vimy Memorial in France in April 2007 as the Queen of Canada rather than as the Queen of the United Kingdom. This solemn ceremony also qualifies as a liturgical function. [A]
If the King or Queen of Canada attempted to dismiss the Prime Minister of Canada and dissolve the Parliament of Canada unilaterally, that action would surely go down in history as the most flagrant violation of the principles of Responsible Government.
Petition to the Governor General
I have also recently learned (hat-tip, Utsav Sanduja) that some of the more extreme left-wing activists have organized an online petition that calls on Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament unilaterally because of various alleged abuses of the Harper government. The creator of the petition, one grammatically-challenged “Eve Of-Liberty”, even identifies himself or herself with a photo of the Sergeant-at-Arms dragging Brigdet DePape out of the Senate chamber.
“Eve Of-Liberty” and others have called on the Governor General to dissolve Parliament unilaterally because they hate Stephen Harper: “The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada: Dissolve Parliament. Call for a Full Election”. They introduce their petition with the following description on “why this is so important”:
Canadians do not expect a timely legal remedy to the various investigations surrounding the Conservative Party’s suppression of democratic voting. Election fraud has occurred in 77 ridings to date, however we may never know the full extent or full effect of this Criminal Act. We ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call forth a new Full Election immediately, as we are currently under an illegitimate Government and have zero tolerance for voter suppression. We act in solidarity to use every democratic instrument at our disposition with resolve. It is an essential need for the preservation of the most fundamental and sacred right of every Canadian to see the Harper Government deposed.
The activists then provided the following template and encouraged their like-minded supporters to lend their signatures to the petition – grammatical errors and inaccurate salutations and all!
Dissolve Parliament. Call for a Full Election
To: The Right Honourable David Johnston Governor General of Canada
As a subject of her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England and a concerned Canadian;
I solicitate [sic] and petition you by the present, that you dissolve the current Parliament and declare an immediate Federal Election on grounds of “non-confidence and rejection” by the Canadian population of the current Government due to, individually and in whole of, proven multiple abuses of functions, creation of unconstitutional laws, proven multiple electoral frauds, illegal activities, proven forging of parliamentary documents by a cabinet member and the undemocratic nullification of the House of Commons due to native flaw in the Westminster system.
This solicitation and petition is in accordance of the Canadian Constitution (Constitution Act, 1867) and is within your power in accordance to the Royal Proclamation of 1947 (article V and VI) of the letter patent constituting the office of the Governor General of Canada.
The anti-constitutional activists boast as of 5 April 2012 that they have collected 2,675 signatures and intend to amass at least 5,000.
The first duty of the Governor General is to ensure that there is a government in office. Therefore, the dismissal of a government during a crisis is the last action that the Governor General should ever undertake! If anything, an emergency of some kind would only reinforce the necessity of the government of the day continuing in office. Among other things, these activists do not understand that if the Governor General were even able to dissolve Parliament unilaterally, he would in effect also dismiss the government of the day. He would therefore need to appoint a new one immediately thereafter. A true constitutional crisis would ensue.
Second, if the Governor General dissolve parliament unilaterally, and therefore dismissed the Harper government from office, before Elections Canada completed its investigation, the Governor General would in fact prevent both the House of Commons and the Canadian electorate from holding the government to account.
Third, these activists have made the common mistake of applying a fundamentalist interpretation to the written constitution and to the Letters Patent, 1947. By a literal reading of the Constitution Act, 1867, Canada would be akin to a despotic monarchy. However, as the Supreme Court ruled in the Patriation Reference, the conventional constitution plus the written constitution equals the total constitution of Canada. And by the constitutional conventions and principles of responsible government, the Governor General only dissolves parliament upon the advice of the Prime Minister. A unilateral dissolution on the part of the Queen of Canada or the Governor General of Canada would therefore be a wholly unconstitutional act.
Why Unilateral Dissolution Is Anti-Constitutional
King Charles I ruled for 11 years without Parliament, between 1629 and 1640 in what became known as the “Personal Rule” or the “11 Years’ Tyranny.” He then summoned a parliament in the spring of 1640, known as The Short Parliament, because he dissolved it in frustration three weeks later. The Bishops’ War in Scotland bankrupted Charles and forced him to summon another later in the fall of 1640. This Parliament took the radical step of eliminating outright the Crown prerogatives on both prorogation and dissolution through the Triennial Act, 1641. Parliament would prorogue or dissolve itself by act of parliament; both houses would pass the bill, and the King would be bound to give it Royal Assent. The Long Parliament ultimately lasted for 20 years because of the English Civil Wars of the 1640s, the regicide of Charles I in 1649, and the Cromwellian Interregnum of the 1650s. It finally voted to dissolve itself in 1660 after inviting Charles II to return to England. A new parliament then amended the Triennial Act under Charles II but made it ineffective.
After the Glorious Revolution and the installation of William III & Mary, Parliament decided to limit the Crown prerogative on dissolution again, with the Triennial Act, 1695. However, this Act did not eliminate the Crown’s powers to prorogue and dissolve Parliament, which allowed for the offices of prime minister and cabinet to assume this power by convention by the early 19th century. This version merely limited the prerogative by forcing the Sovereign to summon a parliament at least once every three years, which allowed for the possibility that the same parliament would remain in session for three years. Eventually, over the course of the 18th century and the early 19th century, the office of prime minister emerged by convention and the remaining Crown prerogatives on dissolution were transferred by convention from the Sovereign to the Prime Minister. Under Responsible Government, the Sovereign may only dissolve upon the advice of the Prime Minister.
Following the creative protest of Bridget DePape, these myopic activists seek pyrrhic victories. They would sacrifice the constitutional principles of Responsible Government in favour their perceived short-term partisan advantage. They should ask themselves the obvious question: would they advocate that the Governor General or the Queen dismiss a left-wing government that they support and for which they voted? I think not.
Proper Procedure for the Dissolution of One Parliament, Issuing of Writs of Election, and the Summoning of Another Parliament
The Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada rules out all independent vice-regal dissolution: “The advice to dissolve is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.” The Governor General can reject advice to dissolve under “those rare and almost indefinable circumstances when it is necessary for the protection of the constitution”, or when an alternative government that could command the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons exists. The Manual interprets the King-Byng Affair as a significant point of reference for the limited circumstances in which the governor general can exercise the reserve powers.
The Manual supports the notion that the governor general must retain confidence in his prime minister, which in turn implies that the prime minister would need to resign if the governor general rejected his advice.
The discretion of the Governor General in selecting a Prime Minister is exercised within the limits of his position as representative of a constitutional monarch. He is looking for a Prime Minister who will be supported by a majority in the House of Commons and whose advice he will accept as long as he retains his confidence. […].
The Governor General can, under exceptional circumstance circumstances, reject the Prime Minister’s advice to dissolve Parliament. When a Governor General rejects advice of such constitutional significance, he in effect forces the Prime Minister to resign, or may dismiss him directly. However, the Governor General could exercise this reserve power if he can appoint a new Prime Minister, usually by calling on the Leader of the Official Opposition, immediately thereafter so that this new Prime Minister can take responsibility for the Governor General’s actions. The King-Byng Affair of 1926 involved precisely this dynamic: Governor General Lord Byng reject Prime Minister King’s advice to dissolve parliament, so King resigned as Prime Minister. Lord Byng then appointed the Leader of the Official Opposition, Arthur Meighen as Prime Minister. When the new Meighen government lost the confidence of the House of Commons only one week later, Meighen advised Lord Byng to dissolve parliament, and Lord Byng agreed because that particular House of Commons could not support any government.
Unilateral dissolution would mean that the Governor General dissolves Parliament without any prime ministerial advice. As the example above demonstrates, unilateral dissolution is an entirely different matter from rejectingone Prime Minister’s advice to dissolve and appointing a new Prime Minister. The principle of responsible government itself precludes any unilateral action on the part of the Queen or Governor General because they must remain neutral and outside the arena of policy and partisan politics. Responsible government means that the Ministers of the Crown (the Prime Minister and Cabinet, i.e., the government) are collectively and individually responsible for acts of the Crown and responsible to the House of Commons. In addition, the first duty of the Governor General is to ensure that there is a government in office. The government (the Prime Minister and Cabinet) is responsible directly to the House of Commons and indirectly to the electorate. The government must also take collective responsibility for the acts of Crown prerogative, such as the prorogation and dissolution of parliament, which the Governor General carries out upon the advice of the Prime Minister. Unilateral vice-regal action would violate all the fundamental principles of responsible government and represent a retrogression to the despotic Crown of the Stuart Kings of the 17th century.
The documents in the Canada Gazette show that the Government of Canada still follows essentially the same procedure that the Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada described in 1968. All three documents – the dissolution of the old parliament, the issuing of writs of election, and the pro forma summoning of a new parliament – show that the Governor General could not possibly dissolve parliament unilaterally. The Governor General issues the Proclamation Dissolving Parliament “by and with the advice of Our Prime Minister of Canada.”. The Governor General as Governor-in-Council then issues the Proclamation Issuing Writs of Election “by and with the advice of Our Privy Council for Canada,” which means that Cabinet makes the decision. Finally, the Governor General issues the Proclamation Summoning Parliament to Meet on 30 May 2011 “by and with the advice of Our Prime Minister of Canada”, because the Governor General retains no discretion on summoning and proroguing Parliament.
The Deputy Attorney General and the Deputy Registrar General counter-sign the proclamation. The advice of the Prime Minister and the validation of two senior civil servants make unilateral vice-regal dissolution impossible. We have established a country of laws and utterly rejected the despotic Crown of the 17th century.
- Dawson and Forsey Clash Over the Prorogation of 2008 and the Reserve Powers
- The True Nature of Crown Prerogative and Responsible Government
- No Discretion: On Royal Assent and the Governor General
- The Maple Crown and the Commonwealth Realms
 Althia Raj, “Chantal Dupuis: Queen Elizabeth Writes Back After Getting Letter from Quebec Resident Calling For Stephen Harper to Be Fired.” The Huffington Post: Canada, 5 March 2012.
[A] Paul Benoit. “State Ceremonial: The Constitutional Monarch’s Liturgical Authority,” in The Evolving Canadian Crown, edited by Jennifer Smith and D. Michael Jackson, 119-137. (Kingston: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, 2012).
 Eve Of-Liberty. “Petition: The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada: Dissolve Parliament. Call for a Full Election.” Change.org [Accessed 4 April 2012].
 Canada. Privy Council Office, Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada, Henry F. Davis and André Millar.(Ottawa, Government of Canada, 1968): 408.
 Ibid., 408-409; James W.J. Bowden and Nicholas A. MacDonald, “Writing the Unwritten: The Officialization of Constitutional Conventions,” Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law 6, no 2 (2012): forthcoming
 James W.J. Bowden and Nicholas A. MacDonald, “Writing the Unwritten: The Officialization of Constitutional Conventions,” Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law 6, no 2 (2012): forthcoming
 Canada. Privy Council Office, Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada, Henry F. Davis and André Millar.(Ottawa, Government of Canada, 1968):, 146. The Manual provided the following citation for the quote: “Can. H. Of C. Debates, June 30, 1926, p. 5217.”
 Peter H. Russell, Two Cheers for Minority Government: The Evolution of Canadian Parliamentary Democracy (Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications, 2008):15-25.
 Sir John George Bourinot, Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, 4th ed. (Montreal: Dawson Brothers Publishing, 1916): 102; Paul Benoit, “Parliament and Democracy in the 21st Century: The Crown and the Constitution,” Canadian Parliamentary Review 25, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 2-3.
 Canada Gazette, “Proclamation Dissolving Parliament,” 28 March 2011.
 Canada Gazette, “Proclamation Issuing Writs of Election,” 28 March 2011.
 Canada Gazette, “Proclamation Summoning Parliament to Meet on 31 May 2011,” 28 March 2011.