Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Saturday, April 28, 2007

April 28, 2007

Gov. Gen. Has Power to Thwart an Election

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

Most Canadians are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of a third federal election in under four years.

But what if the following were to happen in the near future: the opposition parties gang up on the ruling Conservatives and defeat them, resulting in the fall of Stephen Harper's government?

However, rather than dissolve Parliament and force Canadians into another trip to the ballot box, Governor-General Michaelle Jean asks someone else – presumably Stephane Dion – to try to form another minority government, with support from other opposition parties.

After all, this kind of thing happens often in multi-party states such as Israel or Italy. One coalition government succeeds another, and parliamentary life goes on.

Though it is within her constitutional prerogative, could our governor-general get away with this in Canada? How much political, as opposed to symbolic, credibility does Jean really have? She was just a TV personality before being selected in 2005, almost on a whim, by then prime minister Paul Martin, to replace Adrienne Clarkson.

There was no oversight, consultation, confirmation by a legislature, or election by an electoral college or by the public at large, as is the case in most countries which have a ceremonial head of state above partisan politics.

Unlike many a monarch or president, Jean had no constitutional or political experience when selected. If she were to designate Dion as prime minister, it would amount to Martin strangling Harper from the political grave.

This whole scenario highlights the ridiculous constitutional limbo Canada finds itself in. Our recent governors-general have basically been patronage appointments made by the prime minister of the day.

Where else does a political leader get to choose his constitutional boss? Certainly not in Britain, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Norway, Sweden or numerous other nations with political systems similar to ours.

As a consequence, our governors-general no longer have the kind of political legitimacy afforded the monarchs and presidents of the aforementioned countries.

We should either go the whole way and become a republic with a formal head of state who is not picked out of a back pocket by a head of government or, at the least, institute a proper procedure, including input from a wide variety of sources, for selecting our “stand-in” for our British-domiciled head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

Yet when I called attention to this issue at a panel discussing Canadian politics at the annual convention of the Western Social Science Association, which met in Calgary last week, none of the political scientists seemed particularly perturbed. They feared the consequences of “opening up the constitution,” which would be the only way to solve the problem.

Has Canada become such a frail creature that no one wants to disturb it unduly, lest it expire altogether?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

April 6, 2007

Greens must keep focused on cause

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

The Green party clearly is riding the crest of the environmentalist wave in Canada. The debate about global warming, the arguments over the controversial Kyoto accord and the various proposals to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – these have been front row center in Canadian politics for the past year.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, derided by many as “climate change deniers,” have been playing catch-up on these issues.

But for obvious reasons, no party is better positioned to take advantage of the anxiety Canadians feel about our climate than Elizabeth May’s Green party – the Liberals and the New Democratic Party notwithstanding.

Some recent opinion polls show the Greens at close to 10 per cent of the national vote.

Still, the party must be careful to differentiate its policies from the Liberals and NDP, lest voters choose one of the latter two when going to the polls. After all, why bother with a “minor, one-issue” group, when Stephane Dion or Jack Layton can also deliver on climate change – along with many other matters of concern to the electorate?

So the Greens may be making a tactical error by focusing their fire mainly on Harper, even though he is ideologically the one furthest from their views.

For example, Vancouver environmentalist Briony Penn has taken Elizabeth May’s message that the Conservatives must be beaten to its logical conclusion. She recently left the Green party to become a Liberal.

May ran second to the Liberal candidate in a by-election in the Ontario riding of London North Centre last November, beating both the Conservatives and NDP and garnering more than a quarter of the vote.

But now she has decided to challenge Peter MacKay, the MP for the Central Nova riding and the last leader of the old Progressive Conservative party, in the next federal election. This smacks of political symbolism: Does she feel MacKay’s decision to merge the PCs with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance in 2003 was a form of ideological treason?

It is interesting to note that in the London by-election, May was endorsed by Mort Glanville, a former president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and by Halton MP Garth Turner, a former Progressive Conservative who had been expelled from Harper’s Conservative caucus a month earlier, and now sits as a Liberal.

All of this indicates to me that the Green party, perhaps not consciously, is filling the niche in Canadian politics left by the demise of the PCs, a party that was by the 1990s, following the exit of those who moved over to the Reform party in the West and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, a vague “feel good” place for people who found the Liberals too power-hungry and ambitious, and the NDP too left-of-centre and union-dominated. Have many of the old “Red Tories,” the followers of Joe Clark, now turned Green?

We once again have three parties that share, in a large sense, a similar vision of Canada, as a “kinder, gentler” country that cares for the environment and practices “soft power” abroad. Indeed, May hopes that the Liberals and NDP might stay out of the Central Nova race.

This informal Liberal/NDP/Green “coalition” will face the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, two parties with very different visions of the country, in the next election.

Will this result in vote splitting among environmentalists, allowing the Conservatives to win many ridings with small pluralities? If so, will the Greens and NDP eventually merge, as the parties on the right finally did? Or might many Greens even join the Liberals? We definitely live in interesting times.