The Disgrace of Boris Johnson


The British press first reported on allegations on 30 November 2021 that Number 10 Downing Street had held numerous parties and social gatherings in contravention of the lockdowns and restrictions throughout 2020 and 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially denied these allegations in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021, saying: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken.”[1] The press later discovered that several parties had taken place at Downing Street during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, including one the night before the state funeral of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and that Johnson himself had attended some of them.[2] He pled his innocence through the absurd statement, “Nobody told me, ‘this is an event that’s against the rules.’”[3] This, in turn, gave rise to the claim that Johnson had lied to the House of Commons on 8 December 2021. And unlike in Canada, the British have always taken lying to the House of Commons as a serious offence. Ministers who lied to the House of Commons must resign. The Ministerial Code, maintained by the Cabinet Office, has made this convention official: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”[4] This same standard should apply to the Prime Minister as well.

Continue reading

Posted in Parliament | 1 Comment

Consociationalism and Bifurcated Cabinets in Northern Ireland

The dysfunction, conflict, and ideological incoherence at the heart of the Northern Irish Executive offers a modern analogy to what the dual ministries and co-premiership of the Province of Canada might have looked like.

Continue reading

Posted in Comparative, Confirmation Voting | 3 Comments

Orrrrrrrddaaaaa! Speaking in the Second Person

Rhoticity Makes Melody

Speakers of the House of Commons of Canada sound so flat when they say, “Order” in our rhotic (pronouncing the ‘r’) North American accents. Australian and British Speakers of the House sound far more comical and entertaining when they yell out a long “ooooooorrrrrdddddaaaaaaa” because their non-rhotic accents allow them to carry the last syllable as a vowel, more like singing than speech. That’s why John Bercow’s infamous calls to oooooorrrrrrrrdddddaaaa! lend themselves to songified remixes on YouTube, while Peter Milliken’s simple “orders” never did. The same goes for a chorus of “hear, hear,” which British and Australian MPs often chant out and elongate in their non-rhotic accents, but which Canadians MPs always say in a short, clipped form that befits their rhoticity.

Speaking in the Third Person in Theory

For centuries, parliamentarians have held that they should address one another in the third person – “my honourable friend,” “the member opposite”, the “member for x”, “he,” “she,” etc. – so that they can speak freely but decouple their express strong views and divergent opinions from their colleagues as individuals. Members of Parliament instead address the Speaker. When they say “you,” they are, or at least should be, talking to he Speaker and not to another MP. Members of Parliament address the Speaker when they talk in the House of Commons. Legislative bodies like the House of Commons and Senate are masters of their own proceedings and derive the authority to determine and enforce their own rules through collective parliamentary privilege. This tradition from the Westminster Parliament carried over into legislatures throughout the British Empire in the 13 Colonies, British North America, British Australasia, and the Caribbean. Even the United States House of Representatives recognises that members shall speak to each other in the third person and address the Speaker; it does so through rules 1(a) and 1(b) of “Decorum and Debate” in its modern Rules, equivalent to our Standing Orders.

Continue reading

Posted in Decorum, Parliament | Leave a comment

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November: Nova Scotia Enacts Canada’s Last Fixed-Date Election Law

Nova Scotia’s Failed Fixed-Date Election Bills, 2007-2014

No province has agonized over fixed-date elections like Nova Scotia. Its House of Assembly has debated several private members’ bills to establish fixed-date elections and almost joined in the first wave of legislation back in 2007 and then almost joined the second wave of fixed-date legislation in 2013. But three successive ministries of the three main Canadian parties between 2007 and 2015 – those of Conservative Rodney MacDonald (February 2006 to June 2009), New Democrat Darrell Dexter (June 2009 to October 2013), and Liberal Stephen McNeil (October 2013 to February 2021) – all declined to table such legislation. More extraordinarily still, a Liberal backbencher named Stephen McNeil introduced the first bill in 2007 yet ultimately decided as Premier in 2013 and 2014 not to support two Conservative private members’ bills ostensibly because he had not decided upon establishing the schedule in spring versus fall.[1] But on 8 April 2015, Premier McNeil announced that his government would not table legislation to enact fixed-date elections in Nova Scotia because they were not fit for purpose.[2] He said:

“What we are seeing is the fixed dates haven’t been working, so when we amended the legislation we didn’t put one in. Legislation across the country hasn’t resulted in fixed election dates, that’s the issue. We’re not in the business of creating legislation that people don’t adhere to or wouldn’t be adhered to in this province.”

McNeil abruptly shifted course on 8 April because of what two of his opposite numbers had just done. Alberta enacted its fixed-date election law in 2012, and Prince Edward Island’s dates back to 2008, yet these laws did not prevent Wade MacLaughlan, Liberal Premier of Prince Edward Island, from obtaining a snap election on 6 April and Jim Prentice, Conservative Premier of Alberta, from doing the same on 7 April.[3] This double act also marked the first two occasions where Premiers obtained snap elections in majority legislatures – the very scenario which the modern incarnation of fixed-date election laws would supposedly always prevent after Chretien’s successive snap elections in 1997 and 2000. The previous early dissolutions and snap elections under fixed-date election laws in Canada in 2008 and Ontario and Quebec in 2014 occurred in minority parliaments.

But Nova Scotia, which had long stood as the last redoubt of the old ways, became the last jurisdiction in Canada to enact a fixed-date election law on the Fifth of November 2021. After twenty years, fixed-date election laws have now completed their long march through the legislatures. It began with British Columbia in 2001 and ended with Nova Scotia in 2021.

Continue reading

Posted in Dissolution, Fixed-Date Elections | 1 Comment

Yukon’s Fixed-Date Elections Law


Between 2001 and 2021, all the federal parliament and the legislatures in all provinces and territories enacted fixed-date election laws. British Columbia started the trend in 2001. Yukon held out to December 2020, and Nova Scotia fell on 5 November 2021. These laws have now completed their long march through the institutions of power. The Fog of the Pandemic that many of us have experienced over the last 21 months shrouded these last two sets of debates and concealed them from my limited attention, which I now turn to them in retrospect and examine them in chronological order.  Continue reading

Posted in Fixed-Date Elections | Leave a comment