Friday, December 05, 2008

Proroguing democracy

I haven't commented on Canada’s constitutional crisis so far because, to someone who lives in an MMP jurisdiction where coalition politics is becoming second-nature, it seems so simple. The government has clearly lost the confidence of the House. While that loss of confidence hasn't been crystallised yet through a formal vote, it is clear and unequivocal. In New Zealand, according to the Cabinet Manual, the incumbent government would be required to demonstrate confidence "within a short time frame (allowing a reasonable period for negotiation and reorganisation)" (and might not even be able to call an election, as this requires the confidence of the House). In Canada, they instead prorogue Parliament, delaying the vote - and allowing Harper's Ministers to collect their salaries - for almost two months.

This strikes at the very heart of the Westminster system. The fundamental rule of every UK-descended Parliament, dating from the days when we threatened to cut off the monarch's head rather than just their sock budget, is that the government must have the confidence of the House. Instead, in Canada, they are going to have a government for two months with no democratic mandate to rule. And that turns their constitution into a bad joke.

As for claims that a mid-term change of government is somehow undemocratic, piffle. The present opposition has a majority in the House. They also had the backing of 54.4% of Canadian voters at the last election, compared to the 37.7% gained by the Conservatives. A majority of votes, and a majority of the people. It would be undemocratic if they were not able to gain power.