Canadian Dopers, how big a deal is "suspending Parliament"?

As we all know by now, Prime Minister Harper has suspended Parliament to avert a no confidence vote which he would have been certain to lose. As I understand it, he is within his rights and everything has been done according to the rules. But how extraordinary is this? Is it a tactic commonly used by unpopular PMs, or is this an earthshaking event?

Suspending Parliament happens all the time. In that sense, it’s no big deal. However, it’s never been suspended in order to avoid a confidence vote. In that sense, it is a big deal. It is also highly unusual to suspend Parliament just weeks after a Throne Speech. This is a desperate tactic of a desperate government.

As for being within his rights, it’s the PM’s right to ask the Governor General to suspend Parliament. That much is unquestionable. The GG is by custom obliged to act on the advice of the PM, but is strictly speaking not legally required to. In this case, the GG could have responded that without the confidence of the House the PM couldn’t do anything but resign or ask for Parliament to be dissolved for a new election, and she likely would have gotten away with it. I kind of lean to the view that she should have done just that - it’s a horrible, horrible precedent that Harper has set. The very foundation of the Westminster system is that Parliament is supreme. The Crown rules, on the advice of the Prime Minister, who is that person who holds the confidence of Parliament. The authority all comes from Parliament (who in turn have their authority from the voters).

But, as I said in the GD thread, the GG refusing the PM would also have set a bad precedent, so Jean had no good options available.

can the Canadian PM sack the GG?

Only if he’s an MP acting with the RCMP on the QT. Then he’ll give ECT to the GG and an EKG will be O-U-T.

OK, I do have a question: Does the Canadian system have any equivalent to our impeachment proceedings? It seems the current PM is making a power grab on par with what Chavez is attempting and ought to be removed ASAP.

The short answer is yes, sort of.

The Governor General is the Crown’s representative in Canada, when the Queen (or King, as it sometimes happens to be) is not in the country, which is in reality, almost all of the time. But the GG is appointed by the Crown, on the advise of the Prime Minister, by convention.

So constitutionally speaking, yes, a sitting PM could advise the Crown to appoint a new GG (there are some limitations here; a Governor General is expected to hold the position for about five years, but the term is not fixed.)

The GG’s duties are largely ceremonial, but do include powers outlined broadly as ensuring responsible government. Or, as many Canadians grew up learning, POGGE (Peace, Order, Good Government, Eh)

So, in a f’rinstance, Harper could have Jean replaced with a Governor General more politically in line with his own goals. But, in doing so, he would be tearing down a large part of the constitutional framework that has been built over the past 140 years in this country, and attacking even centuries older traditions that are the Westminster model we base our system of governing on.

And the Crown still has the theoretical power to say no to a Prime Minister. Maybe. It’s complicated.

Harper is not grabbing more power. At least directly. He’s suspended Parliament, which means he gets to stay in power a little longer, until he decides to bring Parliament back in session. Constitutionally, he has a year. Practically, he has two months.

Now, it’s been said that a week in politics is like (name your version of long term here) in reality. So he may have saved his ass just for now, or possibly for longer than he normally would have had under other minority conditions. Hard to say from on the ground right now.

As far as equivalent to impeachment? Well, we just went through a spell of it, and Harper prorogued instead of facing it.

OK, I hoped there was a limit to this specific insanity. The Separation of Powers is so ingrained in me that this kind of stuff (like the Notwithstanding Clause) has always made me wonder just how stable the Canadian system is.

I love Freudian typos in the morning. :wink:

So, what if a Canadian PM was caught doing things similar to what Nixon was caught doing? Would he just lose a no confidence vote and be removed that way or is there any more severe way for Parliament to register its displeasure?

Prorogue is neither a typo, nor a slip of any kind. See: Prorogation
It is political hail-mary, in this particular case, because it was done to avoid a vote of non-confidence.

Most of the time, a PM prorogues Parliament 2 to 5 times between elections. Just never ever before merely a couple weeks into a session.

The PM still has to face the same House when Parliament returns. So Harper has not made his job any easier, in theory, by proroguing – he has only made it last longer.

But time does strange things in politics. So we wait, we watch, we react, and eventually, we’ll see.

He would just be removed by a non-confidence vote in the Commons. Impeachment is a much more cumbersome process. Although it originated in England, I think most parliamentary systems modelled on the Westminster system now use non-confidence rather than impeachment. No need to have a trial in the upper house, no need to prove high crimes or misdemeanours; just an up and down vote in the Commons on whether the Government retains the confidence of the House.

Bear in mind that this is simply a political dispute as to which group should hold power. The Opposition parties wanted the vote as quickly as possible, because they saw an opportunity based on a serious misstep by the government in its financial statement. The government wants to delay the vote, in hopes of winning popular support from the Canadian electorate, in case there is an election, and also may be hoping that the Opposition coalition is so fragile it will crack . Both sides’ view of the time issue is coloured by their political ambitions.

The GovGen has prorogued to a date certain, in late January, when Parliament will resume. The first order of business will be the confidence vote, when we’ll find out which grouping has the confidence of the Commons.

Well, sorta. Unless the opposition days are put off for a bit, and no money bills come up right away…
Parliament does not resume where it left off… unless motions are made in that effect, etc…

Northern Piper, Hap Shaughnessy: Thanks for all your explanations. All this is still quite alien to me, but I’m getting it and, hopefully, so are others reading this thread.

When a new session starts after prorogation, the first order of business is the Speech from the Throne, followed by the Debate on the Speech, which is then put to a vote - which is a confidence measure.

Plus the Government has indicated that it will introduce its budget, which is the issue that started this whole mess - another confidence measure.

Alternatively, any member can propose an emergency debate at any time. I would think that there would be a good argument for an emergency debate in these circumstances.

You’re welcome. If you want more info on the political implications of what’s going on, there are several threads in GD right now. If you’ve got more questions on what the rules are, I’d be pleased to try to answer them in this thread.

The Westminster system can be much more fluid than a congressional system, and relies on political conventions and understandings, so it can seem disconcerting to Americans, but in my opinion, nothing’s happened in the last few weeks that suggests a break-down in our system. Both sides are using the powers granted to them by the rules of Parliament and the Constitution to advance their own political interests.

I think that part of the reason you have this reaction is that the article cited in the OP uses the term “suspends Parliament” rather than the proper term, prorogation. When you hear about a leader suspending a legislature, it usually means some non-constitutional step has been taken.

The proper term, prorogation, should be used because it is a well-established constitutional power of the Crown, to be exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister, in accordance with the principles of responsible government.

Prorogation is also a power that is used on a regular basis, as Gorsnak pointed out. Its use in these circumstances is certainly unusual, but the Prime Minister’s argument is that there is a political crisis and he needs time to try to resolve it. As well, the prorogation is to a set date in January, not indefinitely.

Whether the Prime Minister’s argument for the prorogation is well-founded is a political question, to be judged in the short term by the members of the House of Commons, and in the long term by the voters.

This is very much the point right now. And nobody is 100% sure on any side of the issue. This will go on, in legal debates, I bet, for decades. Centuries, even.
*{ed} mine.
(I’m sure that after at least a couple thousand years, it might begin to fade from collective memory)

This point sounded familiar to me, and I just remembered why - there was a similar reaction from some American Dopers back in October, when the Prime Minister advised the GovGen to dissolve Parliament and call an election. See this thread: The Canadian PM dissolves Parliament. Now what?

The news media doesn’t do a particularly good job explaining parliamentary process.

Northern Piper: Right. Us Americans are beginning to wonder if Harper thinks PM somehow stands for Generalissimo. :wink:

When he starts stocking up on fatigues of indeterminate rank and taking an open-top jeep to major state events, we’ll begin to worry in earnest. :smiley:

open-top jeep? in Ottawa in December? no way. if he were to do that, it would be time for a Mental Health Act application.

As a Canadian, I should probably have some idea of the answer to these questions.

The government has prorogued parliament. My understanding is that the previous session is history and all unresolved issues will forever remain unresolved unless they are re-introduced. A new session will be launched with a new speech from the throne.

Given that we don’t know what the GG’s government intends on doing during the next session until she tells us next month, how is it that the opposition parties already know that they have no confidence in the government to the extent that they will vote to bring the government down?

If it is accepted that all things being equal a coalition will, at their earliest opportunity, begin the next session by advising the GG that the house has lost confidence in the government and has a coalition ready to form a new government, why go through the charade of prorogation? Conversely, why allow the leader of the opposition to continue to spout rhetoric about how they`re going to bring the government down before hearing the next speech from the throne? Why is this not treason?

It all leaves a bad taste in my mouth.