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December 1, 2008

Our Exciting Neighbor to the North
Posted by Patrick at 06:18 PM *

Yes, while you were stuffing yourself with tryptophan and stumbling around in the traditional subsequent haze, Canadians (who did all that a month earlier) suddenly decided to have the most astounding, death-defying, exhilarating national power struggle imaginable. Incompetence! Payback! Mortal enemies making coalition deals! Illicit taping of phone calls! Cats and dogs living together! Stéphane Dion returning from the dead!

People laugh at me when I say I’m interested in Canadian politics. No, really, actual laughter, the out-loud in-person kind. But every so often, after long stretches of preternatural boringness, Canadian politics becomes, for brief periods, the greatest show on earth.

Comments on Our Exciting Neighbor to the North:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 06:40 PM:

I love the "mortal enemies" photo.

#2 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 06:44 PM:

It's even funnier considering during the federal election there was all sorts of whining about how uninteresting it was compared to the US.

#3 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 06:51 PM:

Quickly skimming an article a Canadian friend sent me a Globe and Mail article this morning, I nearly fell out of my chair with laughter, because for a shining moment I thought the Liberal Party was proposing to make Céline Dion the new PM.

Now that would make for good political theater. Or theatre, I suppose.

#4 ::: Aaron Lemur Mintz ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 07:13 PM:

I'd be willing to call our struggle 'death-defying' only in the strictest parsing, that of "there is no chance that anyone will die over this."

But it still is exciting times. It's always nice to see situations where the Governor General plays a non-ceremonial role.

#5 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 07:29 PM:

And your current Governor-General is a pretty darn interesting person: journalist, filmmaker, refugee from Haiti's Duvalier regime. Here she is.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 07:37 PM:

Well, Andrew@3, keep in mind that the "enemies" picture is, from left to right, the socialist, the environmentalist, and the separatist. There are plenty of folks who would have less trouble with Celine Dion.

Me, well, if they pull this off, it will fill my soul with joy.

#7 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 07:46 PM:

Have the Bloc Quebecois ever been in the majority before?

#8 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:01 PM:

Up here, several friends have opined that Obama's victory has made them less desperate about Harper's. A leftish coalition would be such an extra special goodie with which to start the new year.

And yes, our GG is quite a woman.

#9 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:18 PM:

Fast-moving, as well. I checked first thing this morning and they were saying Ignatieff, and six hours later I read that Dion is staying on and is the coalition's choice for PM.

I can tell the players without a scorecard, as long as I remind myself that Bob Rae is no longer with the NDP and Charest is no longer with the Tories (my default Canadian paper is the Montreal Gazette, which has another election to deal with next week).

#10 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:44 PM:

It's just nice to see a major fuss around policies and economics, rather than cigars and dresses...

#11 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:44 PM:

From the Winnipeg Sun:

The Conservatives say they dialed into the call after receiving an e-mail that apparently was sent mistakenly to a Tory.
They say that amounted to an invitation, and thus absolved them of any legal liability for listening in and recording the session.
The letter sent by the NDP to the Mounties identifies Conservative MP John Duncan as the person who "apparently" listened in on the call without authorization.

The Criminal Code of Canada states:

Interception of Communications


184. (1) Every one who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, wilfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

Saving provision

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to

(a) a person who has the consent to intercept, express or implied, of the originator of the private communication or of the person intended by the originator thereof to receive it;

If the Conservatives were aware that the message was sent to them by mistake, I don't think that would be construed as an "invitation", nor would they be "the person intended by the originator" to hear nor to record the discussion.

#12 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Katha Pollitt, August 9, 2007:

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there was no more effective intellectual spokesperson for war than then-Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff. Not for him the contemptuous brawling of Christopher Hitchens or the smooth triumphalism of William Kristol. Pained, sensitive, with the star professor's gift of seeming to wrestle with his thoughts right there in front of you, Ignatieff made the case for war as a humanitarian and human-rights mission: We had to save the Iraqis from Saddam. For supporters of democracy and idealists of all stripes, this was a very persuasive argument.
Four years, four months and seventeen days after bombs began falling on Baghdad, Ignatieff, who left Harvard to become deputy leader of Canada's Liberal Party, has finally joined the long parade of prowar commentators who've publicly acknowledged their mistake. On August 5 the New York Times Magazine carried his long, woolly, pompous pseudo-confession "Getting Iraq Wrong: What the War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment." Wandering among references to Isaiah Berlin, Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Beckett, Burke and Kant, Ignatieff distinguishes between the experimental, enthusiastic mindset natural to academics (himself then) and the "good judgment" and "prudence" required of political leaders (himself now). He thought politics was about all that high-minded stuff he taught at Harvard and let himself get carried away by his sympathy for Iraqi exiles. In other words, Michael Ignatieff supported the war because he was just too smart and too good for this fallen world.
(1) Really, don't annoy Katha Pollitt. (2) Not Ignatieff, please.

#13 ::: Stef ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:05 PM:

Have the Bloc Quebecois ever been in the majority before?

No, they only run candidates in Quebec which doesn't have enough seats to form a majority.

#14 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:06 PM:


As a U.S. citizen and newly minted Canadian, I bridle at the idea of paying money to join a political party. What's more, the Liberal Party isn't an easy fit for me. But I just may join the Grits in order to vote against Iggy.

#15 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:23 PM:

You may be on to something, Kat. But when the champion of the anti-Iggy forces is Bob Rae, I'm just not sure he can pull it off.

That said, when Ed Broadbent of all people appears on TV as a kingmaker, perhaps anything is possible. The best Prime Minister we never had. I have no idea what a US analogy to that would be. A figure from the Ford or Carter era, maybe.

#16 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:27 PM:

Great. We had ten locals over (all right, nine locals and an Ottawan) for an "American-style Thanksgiving" and have been seeing and speaking with people all weekend and today, and I have to find out about this not from our NDP-Rabble Rousing neighbor, but from a dude in Brooklyn.

Cool, I think. And there really was a large ABC (Anyone But Conservatives) rallying point in last month's elections, so it makes sense.

If not Ignatieff (or Bob Rae), then possibly another name very familiar to some Americans--Ken Dryden.

#17 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:38 PM:

It wouldn't have been necessary if the Tories or more specifically Harperites themselves hadn't been such corrupt 2 faced skeevy twits. But yes unlike Americans we do not have to wait four years to change leadership. If the collation works then Mr. SweaterVest is going to get eaten alive by his own party.

#18 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Ed Broadbent! What's he up to? I knew he was having a kind of political Indian summer, but kingmaker?

I always liked him a lot. You're right, the best PM Canada never had.

#19 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:55 PM:

Patrick @18 --

Some reports have it that, when the text of the finance update became available, Ed Broadbent and Jean Chretien more or less did lunch and agreed to go back and have the appropriate words with their respective parties about seizing nettles, striking when the iron was hot, necessity and the greater good, and so on.

So maybe not quite king maker, but definitely the guy throwing the first pebble or six.

Also, probably, the one guy who could have told Jack Layton "Jack, it's time to eat your ego" and been obeyed. So yay! for Ed.

#20 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 09:56 PM:

Wrye: although I, too, am skeptical that Rae can pull it off, I'd sure rather have him than Iggy.

I kind of don't know what else to do. In some ways, I feel more impotent here in Canada than I did/do in the States.

#21 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Patrick @12 quoting Hollitt: In other words, Michael Ignatieff supported the war because he was just too smart and too good for this fallen world.

I'm too rushed to grab a reference, but we've seen this line of thinking from US hawks, with an uglier racism running through it: they supported the war because they thought the Iraqis were ready for democracy, but it turns out they're a bunch of ungrateful savages. I actually saw the word "ungrateful" used to describe the Iraqi population recently, which I cannot explain except by a racist mindset to rival the British Empire.

#22 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:31 PM:

Keep in mind that Iggy is the candidate of the business wing of the Liberal Party; they're not in good shape just now.

By all means, write your Liberal MP, if you've got one, and your local Liberal Party office if you don't, and point out that making a supporter of torture and aggressive war party leader means no more votes for any liberals, ever. But his position is relatively weak just now. Best gauge of how weak would be his cabinet appointment, should that take place.

Rae is the patronage-and-policy wing candidate; he'd be a disaster. (Still hasn't managed to admit he demonstrated negative executive ability as premier; therefor no learning experience has taken place.) He's a smart guy and a substantial figure as a policy guru, but as a leader he's horrible.

There are other candidates; Dominic LeBlanc is an entire generation younger than the other two, Acadian, and something of a populist. I would certainly prefer him to either Rae or Iggy.

It's not procedurally impossible for the convention to just grab someone off the floor and vote for them, either. It's really a very free-form process.

#23 ::: steve muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:43 PM:

I despise Ig. For the reasons given above, and because sometime in the last two years he gave us an excuse for his support of the war that he had forgotten as an academic that ideas have consequences. So add to his sins that he has betrayed his profession, by making his fault the responsibility of academia as such. Don't forget that this guy has spent almost his entire adult life in other countries. What does he know about the Canada of today? Canadian undergraduates hardly recognize the country that existed before 1980 as being their own. And these are history majors.

#24 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Re 12,&c, perhaps he should symbolically change his name to Ignotieff?

SeanH @21: I wonder how 'grateful' the US population would be if democratic countries like, say, Russia, India, & a coalition of South & Central American republics, decided to invade to 'restore democracy' if the recent elections had been postponed by some declared emergency? Or if Mr McCain had slipped & hit his head walking off the inauguration dais, gone into a coma & Ms Palin had taken over? [Was that subjunctive?]

#25 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:59 PM:

Well, that led to an interesting couple of hours detour all through Wikipedia. Is the King-Byng Affair of 1926 a precedent of any kind? But it was only two clicks from Michaelle Jean to the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, so I don't expect to retain any coherent understanding of what I read. And the next time I hear of them, I'll have to learn the difference between William Lyon Mackenzie and William Lyon Mackenzie King all over again.

#26 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:13 PM:

William Lyon MacKenzie King chatted with Julius Caesar in his shaving cream. William Lyon MacKenzie, to the best of my knowledge, did not.

Persons with actual knowledge of Canadian history (Steve Muhlberger! Yo! Dude!) are welcome to correct me on this.

#27 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:20 PM:

What's most fun for many of us is the bleating of the conservatives who say this is undemocratic. It's obvious these people are completely unfamiliar with the parliamentary system that they grew up with, and lean to the small-r republican style of government. Sorry folks, but you vote for a parliament that then establishes a government. You don't vote for Prime Minister.

I'm also astonished by all the people who think that taking away the public funds for political parties is a good idea, when the reason it was established in the first place was to keep the parties from being beholden to special interests (corporate, union) in the first place.

Harper is done. I await the long knives.


#28 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:29 PM:

You've omitted one of my favourite details of this imbroglio: that when asked on Friday for a comment on the rumours of a coalition, Chretien promptly responded "Je ne comprends pas anglais."

#29 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:41 PM:

Betty@28 --

You must admit that as a response it has many subtle resonances. :)

I am told that while he was working on Bay Street (the Canadian equivalent of Wall St.) as a lawyer, a remarkably fraction of the metaphorical bleached bones littering the place were those of people who believed Jean Chretien when said things like that.

#30 ::: Turtle Wexler ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:56 PM:

No, no, no Bob Rae: he will never get support from Ontario. Ignatieff is too much lord on high deigning to return from the US to lead us all into whatever his policies are (just a little torture and only sort of indefinite imprisonment). I was a fan of Gerard Kennedy, but Dominic LeBlanc is interesting, especially what with him not being an MP from Toronto or Quebec. He is another lawyer, though.

It would be interesting to see what if any restrictions were put on the choice of a new leader of the Liberals by the (much more left wing) NDP and BQ.

It's about time, really. Harper governed as if he had a majority for the entire first parliament, playing chicken, and he won. Despite massive vote splitting in left(er) wing parties, he still didn't get a majority, and he still decided to pretend he had. I'm just relieved that the rest of the government finally stood up to him.

#31 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:56 PM:

I too am a fan of Canadian poltics (if I spoke spanish I'd probably follow Mexico better too).

My favorite bit is the letter published from 2004, when Harper was asking the GG to do precisely what so many are saying is unconstitutional.

How he expected to get away with the things the put out last week, not only the defunding of parties, but three strikes laws, forbidding strikes, "crimes against the unborn," repreallig parts of the Canadian Human Rights Act, etc.

What did he think was going to happen, the opposition in Canada was going to make like US Democrats and roll over?

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:58 PM:

"Je ne comprends pas anglais"

Excuse me, Teresa and I are now laughing so hard that it's difficult to type.

#33 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:58 PM:

I recall making a post about Ignatieff and torture, and having someone come in and tell me I was all wet, with comments that boiled down to, "you didn't really believe what he said, did you?"

#34 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:01 AM:

Patrick @ 18: Ed gave up his seat in the '05 election, when it became clear that his wife Lucille didn't have long to live.

She died in '06, and he's been quietly getting more involved again since. I don't think he'll ever stand for a seat again - I could be wrong - but he's not a young man, and her death hit him hard.

He really is one of the good ones - I had the pleasure of working on his '04 campaign and having him as my MP for a year, and he actually is that incredibly decent and kind man he seems to be.

#35 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:05 AM:

Patrick @ 32: That was my reaction!

Sometimes I really miss that having that twisty old son-of-a-bitch around, you know?

#37 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:16 AM:

... for some value of "done," of course; I have no doubt there will be further twists.

#38 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:19 AM:

Alex @ 36

It's not really over 'till the thin lady sings.

And knowing Canada, probably not then either.

#39 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Harper just set a record for the Shortest Gov't in Canadian History, yes?

#40 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:29 AM:

There's talk that Harper might decide to be a dirty cheat and try to prorogue Parliament.
This could get nasty.

#41 ::: Kristen Chew ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:48 AM:

Patrick @ 26: While I hadn't heard about Caesar and the shaving cream, I know that Mackenzie King did talk with his dead mother on a regular basis through seances, mediums, crystal balls, and ouija boards, and he spoke with his dead dogs (all named Pat) in the same way. We the people didn't find this out until after, of course...

That said, Harper is one mean son of a bitch, and unusually vicious even compared to bare-knuckle brawlers like Jean Chretien. Parliament will be a much better place without an ideologue who can't play with others, like him.

#42 ::: Kristen Chew ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:52 AM:

tw @ 40: He needs the Governor General's assent to prorogue Parliament, and it remains to be seen what she'll do when she comes back from her trip. Do you know if she is on her way back now?

I'm laying 10-1 odds that he tries it in some fashion.

#43 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:05 AM:

Betty, #28: It made me laugh, too. I can just hear him saying it, and I'm not even Canadian!

Parenthetically, this is why I love getting my political news here at ML. Not only do I get more and better in-depth analysis than I'm likely to get from the MSM (including links to people who are genuinely qualified to comment on the issues rather than to political blowhards), I also get the street-corner reaction, plus there's always someone who links the funny bits.

#44 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:09 AM:

Turtle Wexler @30, it's nice you're a fan of
Gerard Kennedy all the way over there, but how does the creator of memorable tough guy Frank Banner, villainous Kraag, and dozens of other characters, up to the late (real life)"Munster" Kinniburgh in Underbelly relate to Canadian politics?

#45 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:17 AM:

I could probably dig this information out of Wikipedia, but it's quicker to ask the Canadians here. Is the GG considered a head of state in his or her own right, or only the official liaison to Her Majesty, or something in between? (Other Commonwealth representatives, such as Aussies, please also feel free to chime in.)

#46 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:19 AM:

Terry @39 --

That Depends. If he goes for prorogation, it's a full up constitutional crisis if Michaelle Jean tells him no. That could take some time to resolve. (Especially since there are lots of people not happy with the degree to which power is concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office. Done right, there could be some support for a stronger role for the Governor General.)

She's way better at both giving speeches and reassuring people than he is. This is likely to matter.

But if the current government falls next Monday, yes, that's a record.

Harper has to want elections if he loses a confidence vote; I don't think he's at all likely to get them. The Governor General telling him no about that is the thing that has sound precedent. (That's the Byng precedent.)

The way the coalition agreements are emerging make me think there are a lot of phone calls being made from banks and Bay Street and so on; as Prime Minister one can get away with an awful lot, but budgets made of stupid pretty much require a strong majority and no sense of history. With a strong minority and a full-blown sense of fiscal panic coming off of Bay Street, not so much.

A lot of the fiscal update was equivalent to declaring victory in the culture war, too, which
seems to have done the seed-crystal-in-the-solution thing. (Duceppe is an honest, committed, actual socialist, remember. He's used language that includes the good of Canada when talking about the coalition, too, which under other circumstances would be one of the political signs of the apocalypse. It makes me really wonder what the financial numbers that the party leaders are seeing look like.)

How general -- certainly shouldn't generalize from my reaction! -- the feeling is that anything the Bloc, Liberals, and NDP can agree on has to be a better idea during a major global depression's start phases than "there's nothing wrong and we don't have a deficit if we get what we expect as sale prices for the following couple billion in Crown assets" I don't know, but it's certainly not going to be non-existent.

#47 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:28 AM:

"Je ne comprends pas anglais," is classic, classic Chretien. Never afraid to tell the media to FOAD, which can be a worrying thing in a politician, but which Chretien managed to do with enough wit and twisty-bastard style that he got away with it. Does "Pepper? I puts it on my steak." ring any bells?

Our Canuckistani politics just got interesting again, after the-election-we-didn't-need resulted in another government-not-many-of-us-actually-wanted.

SweaterVest vs Everyone Else, with Ol' Twisty Bastard and other Elder Statespersons (self-described) in supporting roles, and the GovGen getting to do something non-ceremonial for once!

#48 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:32 AM:

Prorogue (I saw it in one of the news stories in the original post and guessed, but I thought I'd better look it up):

Inflected Form(s):
pro·rogued; pro·rogu·ing
Middle English prorogen, from Anglo-French proroger, from Latin prorogare, from pro- before + rogare to ask — more at pro-, right
15th century

transitive verb
1 : defer , postpone
2 : to terminate a session of (as a British parliament) by royal prerogative

intransitive verb : to suspend or end a legislative session

From Merriam-Webster.

So how can an elected Prime Minister claim royal prerogative? Surely only the Queen's representative (the GG) can do that?

#49 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:37 AM:

Wirelizard @ 47

I've always been saddened that Shawinigan handshake never caught on as vocabulary, although obviously the opportunities to use it in conversation are limited.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Lee @45 --

In Canada -- all the Commonwealths are different, at least somewhat, about this -- the Governor General is for purposes of government the sovereign unless the sovereign is present.

So she's not, strictly, the head of state and she's not, strictly, the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, but is treated as though she is unless Her Majesty shows up. (Governor Generals get the full royal salute on ceremonial occasions, for example.)

You can think of it as a distributed head of state protocol.

The problem is that whether the GG or the Queen, Head of State is supposed to be a ceremonial position; lots of ribbon-cutting, wreath-laying, and visitation of remote regions, but no actual power. The ability to offer someone else the opportunity to form a government rather than having an election called is the last actual bit of political power either the governor general or the Queen have. (If we don't count the refusal of royal assent, which is technically possible but wildly unlikely.)

The thing with prorogation is there's a ceremonial requirement to get permission from the Crown, in the person of the Governor General; it is one of those things that is not optional but is completely pro forma. (It's a holdover from former days and stronger kings.) The question of whether the governor general has the technical right to refuse is easy; she does. It just hasn't been exercised ever, so far as I know; the last actual fight over this kind of thing predates the Glorious Revolution.

So if Harper requests prorogation to give him a month to think of something/try to crack the coalition, and Michaelle Jean says no, we'd be in that interesting place with no precedents and an ambiguous status of parliament. Which Harper might think is a good deal, if he's trying to minimize the coalition's legitimacy by avoiding the vote.

On the third hand, the government is who parliament says it is, and we elect MPs to go to parliament and form a government. So there's real legitimacy issues around refusing the vote in Parliament here, too. Even some of his own back benchers would have considerable trouble with that.

Linkmeister @48 --

The PM can't prorogue Parliament. He has to ask the Crown, in the person of the Governor General, to do that for him.

All the bills in a (Canadian!) prorogued parliament die; it's not in session and does not legislative business. This is supposed to provide the members time to go home and communicate with their constituents after the legislative agenda set out in the throne speech has been achieved.

(Throne speeches open parliament and set an agenda; bill 1 of a particular parliament is a pro-forma bill to enable the house to deviate from the agenda in the speech. Bill C-2 is the first actual business of any parliament.)

So Harper is asking to shut down Parliament cold two weeks after a Throne Speech, to avoid a confidence vote, and with the intention of introducing a budget in less than 2 months. This is something of an abuse of prorogation.

#51 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:47 AM:

I'm wondering if the provincial premiers are gonna get their fingers involved in this.

#52 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:53 AM:

Graydon, thanks.

We get the CBC's As It Happens on the public radio station out here, and I was startled to hear some of the politicians they had on today (presumably of Harper's party) calling the coalition's actions a coup.

#53 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:05 AM:

They're calling it a coup, yes.

Which indicates that they don't know how Parliament actually works. Many of them are pseudo-republican in conviction and think the PM is the directly-elected head of state. They were also convinced they'd won and were going to get their social agenda, and are probably feeling seriously freaked out about that.

They're also presumably running on the official talking points, in an attempt to de-legitimize the whole thing. Putting Harper's 2004 letter asking for the same thing if the Martin government fell ought to be getting heavy air time tomorrow, but I'm taking no bets.

This is one of the reasons I do hope Harper doesn't get his month.

Oh, and keep in mind that he, personally, is in a very different position if he's not PM when the Cadwal bribery defamation trial goes ahead. He may have some personal reasons to panic.

#54 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:14 AM:

Well Tories or their supporters are already started the divide and conquer phase with comments in discussions that the coalition will steal away and squander Alberta's oil wealth. Predictable in their tantrums.

#55 ::: Darryl Rosin ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:51 AM:

Graydon @50: "The question of whether the governor general has the technical right to refuse is easy; she does. It just hasn't been exercised ever, so far as I know; the last actual fight over this kind of thing predates the Glorious Revolution."

More recent Crown v Parliament struggles: William IV and the Reform Acts in the early 1830s, and his appointment of Peel as PM in 1834 against the wishes of the Commons majority.

In the Australian State of Queensland in 1989 the then Premier was facing a leadership challenge in his party room during a Parliamentry recess and he went to the Governor asking for/recommending the dismissal of some of his 'disloyal' ministers. The Governor refused because he was not certain the 'new' Government would have the confidence of the House (that is, that the governing Party would not split) and he threatened to recall Parliament to test it.

There's also the famous events of 1975 where a Government that enjoyed confidence was dismissed by the GG.

I do recall something about the Crown moving against Provincial minority Governments in Canada, but I cannot locate where I read that.


#56 ::: Lyli ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 06:58 AM:

This is probably the only moments that make me wish I had a tv, if only to have learned of this earlier.

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:24 AM:

steve muhlberger #23: Curiously, as an academic, I keep plugging the concept to my students that ideas have consequences.

#58 ::: Graham Blake ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:29 AM:

Those interested enough to get some perspective on how this narrative is playing out inside Canada, you can watch last night's The National, CBC's nightly news broadcast.

Pretty much the entire broadcast is dedicated to events as they are unfolding, with some fairly intelligent analysis.

As someone who was fairly actively promoting an Anything But Conservative voting strategy back in October, I am watching this unfold with absolute glee and delight. It is not only delicious as purely a spectator sport, but when you are someone who has been fighting against destructive Conservative policies for....well...ever, the word schadenfreude doesn't even begin to cover it.

Imagine what have been like five years ago, to walk into The White House, toss Bush's belongings out on to the lawn, and post a notice giving him thirty days to vacate the place. It is a lot like that.

I am assuming Harper's plans to renovate 24 Sussex Drive are now on hold...

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:36 AM:

PNH #32 I am reminded of the Romanian foreign minister in the 1970s who, asked by journalists about a contentious meeting with Andrei Gromyko promptly replied 'Je regrette seulement ma jeunesse'.

#60 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:52 AM:

If Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae becomes PM, I swear I'm going to find a way to leave the country. Doesn't anyone remember the last time Rae was in charge?

Aside from that, I'm terribly excited about all of this, despite having to follow it from abroad. The only way this could get better is if, in a gesture of goodwill, CTV returned the Hockey Night in Canada theme to the Ceeb.

#61 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:09 AM:

Parliamentary democracy is just delightful. I'm a big fan of it.

Also, apart from the separatism thing, the Bloc are pleasant mild socialists with an economic clue, they are, apart from the separatism thing, a party I'd be quite happy to support. They opposed the computer copyright thing when almost nobody else did, for instance.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:14 AM:

I presume that, given his manoeuvres of the past few weeks, there would be general consensus in Canada for sending Stephen Harper to Stornoway. I don't mean by that the official residence of the leader of the opposition, I mean the town in the Hebrides.

#63 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:25 AM:

Lee @45, I've always thought of it this way.

The sovereignty of Canada is a sort of supernatural spirit. It exists at all times, having been conjured up in 1867 from the depths of wherever such things are conjured from, but is only on rare occasions actually present in the person of a charming elderly woman from London, and is cursed by the Statute of Westminster (a rather powerful spell cast in the early 30s) from ever escaping Canada's national borders.

Whenever Her Majesty is actually on Canadian soil, the sovereignty of Canada is vested in her person, and she is mystically transformed into the Queen of Canada. However, the moment her plane leaves Canadian national airspace, her Canadian sovereignness exits her body and proceeds instantly (through a sort of political version of quantum entaglement) to Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where it roams free, occasionally venturing out to scare Supreme Court justices whenever anyone sues the government, and from time to time taking possession of the body of the Governor General to compel her to sign bills, read throne speeches, and call elections.

While for most Americans, this all sounds terribly silly, it makes perfect sense to most Discworld readers.

It also makes it a lot easier to explain Canadian constitutional law, since the Queen is also, independent of her role as Queen of Canada, Queen of each of the 10 provinces. Thus, Her Majesty in Right of, say, Alberta, can take legal action against Her Majesty in Right of Canada, before Her Majesty's Supreme Court, without anyone in London having to miss a night's sleep.

#64 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:39 AM:

OK, I should probably do a blog post about the critical paths involved in an unplanned change of government in a Westminster-type constitution. Because it's complicated.

Regarding prorogation, in normal working prorogation is just the precondition to dissolution, which ends one parliament. Dissolution causes the writ of election to be served, which requires a general election to be held within two months. The general election creates the new parliament, which then convenes to hear the Queen's speech, which contains the legislative programme for the next year, and take a vote. Formally, this vote is what prevents a PM with no majority governing, but in practice it never gets that far.

(Told you it had a flavour of telecoms engineering, if not a biological signalling cascade:-)

If the prime minister wants to call an election, he or she has to ask their local distributed queenship node for prorogation and therefore dissolution. Once (year - year_lastelection)== 5, the prorogation subroutine executes automatically.

Things get interesting, though, in the case of event-driven prorogation. The PM, and the Government, serve at the pleasure of their local queenship node and during the confidence of a majority in the lower house of Parliament. In the event they lose one of certain types of parliamentary votes (either an explicit vote of confidence, or one on the budget or on the use of already-committed public funds), this condition is no longer satisfied and signal NOCONFIDENCE is raised.

At this point it gets complicated! Not much after that is set down in the documentation for the Westminster API, and it is left up to the implementation. In practice, the canonical version (Westminster 1.0) works like this:

The PM stays PM until he resigns or is ordered out by the local queenship node, thus guaranteeing continuous government.

This means that a PM who trips a NOCONF signal can have a second attempt to form a coalition government (Ted Heath tried this in 1974) or talk the rebel MPs round (John Major did this in 1993). It is necessary to successfully call a confidence vote in this case.

If this fails, however, the Leader of the Opposition is called by the local queenship node to try to form a government FIRST, if it thinks it is possible. If not, or if the Opposition tries and fails, we go to the prorogation subroutine. It is also possible for the PM to ask for a new election, but this is only granted if the PM has attempted to govern with the existing parliament.

As a general rule in all other cases, the largest party is called first.

The Australian implementation differed substantially until its LDQN experienced a partisanship segmentation fault in 1975 and refused PM Gough Whitlam a dissolution after the upper house blocked a supply bill, choosing instead to call Malcolm Fraser, whom it promptly granted the dissolution to. The Australians later legislated to disconnect the malfunctioning LDQN and fix the bug.

I would think that if Harper thinks he can just prorogue and then dis-prorogue without initiating the election process, he's deluded, and is suggesting a grossly unconstitutional act. I would hope the LDQN functions correctly:-)

#65 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 09:38 AM:

Citing the Revolution of 1688 here is apposite: in my own opinion any attempt to prorogue Parliament to allow a government not only without the consent of Parliament but against the will of Parliament to continue for any period of time is reminiscent of the period leading up to the Civil War -- especially given the very large powers now available to a government without Parliament via regulations and other Orders-in-Council. In terms of parliamentary democracy, it's that which is "undemocratic", not having a perfectly legitimate arrangement between MPS who collectively represent over 60% of the popular vote.

#66 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Fragano @62, the westerners (in particular, Albertans) seem to be upset at the idea that under the coalition government they would have effectively no representation in the government, so they aren't happy. On the other hand, they chose, collectively, to vote monolithically for the Conservatives, so it seems to me to be a case of what goes around, comes around. They also seem to be really fuzzy on the principles of parliamentary democracy.

#67 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:19 AM:

Graydon @ 53: They're calling it a coup, yes. Which indicates that they don't know how Parliament actually works.

In the cases of John Baird and Pierre Poilievre, I suspect that it's more that they're hoping that a significant proportion of Canadians don't know how Parliament actually works. That is, their statements are coming from some combination of bluster, malice, and authoritarianism, rather than ignorance.

#68 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:22 AM:

The Governor-General is essentially to the Queen [1] Billy Batson/Rick Jones to Captains Marvel. You get one or the other.

If that's too obscure, imagine Ms. Jean chanting

Gone, Gone
Form of Governor General
Arise the Monarch

There was a World War Two commemoration where our GG appeared next to the Queen and I believe that this was a first.

1: Or king but the Dominion of Canada's monarch has generally been a woman. Given that the male monarchs managed to fit in a world war, a depression and another world war in the short time they were monarch, it's probably best to strike all male heirs off the list, or it would be if it didn't require a constitutional amendment.

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:26 AM:

Wrye #15: That said, when Ed Broadbent of all people appears on TV as a kingmaker, perhaps anything is possible. The best Prime Minister we never had.

Is he related to actor Jim Broadbent? The surname doesn't seem too common to me.

#70 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ 69 ...
Broadbent's not an especially unusual name from where I sit... but from here, I'd think that Cooley was a comparatively rare name...

#71 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:50 AM:

Darryl@55 --

Right on William IV; thank you!

I was thinking of the Canadian Governors General; they have typically had extremely boring jobs, constitutionally. Unlike their much livelier Australian counterparts, about whom I know very little.

Joel @67 --

Oh, very probably. Fortunately, "the government is whomever a majority of parliament says it is" is a simple concept, easily repeated. Hopefully those with access to microphones will be repeating that.

Alex @64 --

Harper desperately wants an election, rather than the coalition to govern. (The CPC (non-communist) has money for an election; the other three parties, not so much.) He might well be seeking prorogration on those grounds; oh, well, have to call an election? Oh, how awful!

On the up side, Michaelle Jean is quoted by the CBC as saying:

"The role of the Governor General is to ensure that our governance is on the right path, so as soon as I'm back I will fulfil my duties in total sound judgment."

Which sounds auspicious somehow.

#72 ::: Lyli ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:16 AM:

Someone was wondering if the GG was rushing home, I'm not sure they were answered but she is :

#73 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:18 AM:

James #66: Since the basic principle of the Westminster model is whichever party or coalition of parties can hold a majority in the lower house forms the government, it should be crystal clear. On the other hand, as J.S. Mill observed 'stupid people are generally Conservative'.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:35 AM:

The GG? Has Agatha Heterodyne, aka the Girl Genius, moved to Canada?

#75 ::: Lyli ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Ah my apologies, the GG = the Governor General.

#76 ::: Beable ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:03 PM:

But think of the possibilities if we did put Agatha in charge!

#77 ::: Steve Roby ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:25 PM:

It's interesting watching the way the Conservatives have been screaming about the separatists being in the coalition, for a number of reasons.

First, the Bloc Quebecois is a direct result of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's attempt in the 1980s to take Quebec from federal Liberal domination by getting a lot of popular nationalist politicians to join the party. When they didn't get everything they wanted, they left the PCs and started the Bloc.

Second, if the Bloc has a real enemy in Parliament, it's the Liberals, not the Conservatives. Mulroney and Harper, if either could get away with it, would give Quebec pretty much anything it wanted, because the Conservatives tend to be against a strong, central, federal government. The Liberals were the ones who passed the Clarity Act, which makes it clear that Quebec can't just walk out of Canada when it feels like it. The Progressive Conservatives and NDP initially criticized it.

Third, the Bloc has been in the House of Commons for 18 years. Unlike Sinn Fein members getting elected to the British Parliament and refusing to take a seat there, they're very comfortable in Ottawa and in no apparent rush to leave. They're basically a regional party, just as the western-based Reform Party was before it merged with the Progressive Conservatives. And it's Reform territory that's talking about separating now, particularly Alberta.

#78 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:42 PM:

And Jeb Bush has called for the gops to form a "Shadow Government" to combat the Obama administration, and to, he says, govern, from there. So very, well, Parlimentarian of him.

It's funny though -- this development was the first thing the Spouse started talking to me about when we got up this AM.

Love, C.

#79 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:57 PM:

It's so weird; all the parliamentary stuff is entirely familiar to me, and all the people, parties and so forth are completely alien.

Prorogation isn't *normally* abnormal; in fact, the UK parliament is currently prorogued because the Queen's Speech is tomorrow; the previous session ended last week.

But the notion that you could prorogue Parliament without dissolving it as a means of avoiding a vote of no confidence; that's innovative. I should think the Erskine May experts are having a field day. It seems implausible; unless you keep it prorogued forever, there's a vote of no confidence on the first day of return.

And all these people bleating about the minority government representing 'the will of the people' -- that's so not how it works.

#80 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Obviously PNH has here assembled a whole bunch of people who don't laugh at his interest in Canadian politics. I'm another fan of the subject, and I don't even have any personal connections with that country beyond visits and some friends there.

I like the article that described Harper's behavior as a combination of Joe Clark, Richard Nixon, and the Emperor Nero. This is exactly the kind of arrogance that sank Clark's short-lived government in 1979. Clark eventually learned better, and was much less arrogant in later years. When will his successors get a clue?

(Clark's government lasted 66 days from call of Parliament to dissolution. If Harper's falls next week, his post-'06 election government will have been only 3 weeks. I can't find offhand how long the Meighen government lasted in 1926; he was PM for 88 days, but that includes the post-dissolution election campaign.)

Linkmeister @48 has gotten some long and informative answers to the question about proroguing Parliament, but the one-line answer is: Only the Gov-Gen formally has that power, but most of her functions are carried out at the PM's behest. The question is, if he tries this blatantly anti-democratic move, will she balk?

Earl Cooley III @69: I don't know if Jim Broadbent is related to Ed Broadbent, but it is true that Leslie Nielsen's brother, who died recently, was a major Canadian politician.

#81 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:43 PM:

And all these people bleating about the minority government representing 'the will of the people' -- that's so not how it works.

It's the will of the people who matter, which would not include either degenerate Ontarian or degenerate Quebecker urbanites.

#82 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:45 PM:

Ahem. Cats and dogs living together has never been a problem, as long as it's strictly in a civil partnership. It's this crazy getting-married notion that's causing all of the trouble.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Lyli @ 75... Heheheh. Beable @ 76... Ice skates with miniature snowblowers in the front, which feed tiny furnaces that fuel steam-exhaust rockets?

#84 ::: Troy ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:34 PM:

Since Alberta has been mentioned a few times already, I would like to reassure everyone that not all Albertans are bleating about the possible coalition government. There are a bunch of progressives here, but our first-past-the-post electoral system tends to send Tories to Ottawa.
I expect Edmonton-Strathcona voters are enjoying the schadenfreude, having been excoriated for their temerity in electing an NDP MP (Alberta's lone non-Conservative representative). Linda Duncan is likely in the running for a cabinet seat. Quite a quick journey from "useless gesture" to "Alberta's voice in government" if it happens :)

#85 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:48 PM:

I managed, stupidly, to fall asleep last night as Barbara Budd interviewed the Liberal Labour and Finance Critic about the economic projection that took the critical Janga out of the coalition last Thursday, so I'm still a bit short on my understanding of the situation at the moment. I suppose I'll have to watch The National instead of Olberman tonight.

It's taking me back to the great days of the late 80s and 90s when BC provincial politics were better than soap operas for cliffhangers and accidental (metaphorical) bigamy.

#86 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:53 PM:

Betty @28, Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun does a twenty-mnute Canadian news wrap up every Wednesday Morning on KUOW (94.5 FM Seattle, NPR, streaming online at; his memorable description of Jean Chretien is that he's "equally influent in English and French."

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:57 PM:

in fact, the UK parliament is currently prorogued because the Queen's Speech is tomorrow;

So she's in Canada, pre-empting the GG? What happens if Harper takes the opportunity to ask her? ;-)

From the descriptions given here, the (potential) coup here would be by Harper....

#88 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Whoops, never mind... UK parliament awaiting the speech. My bad.

Constance #78: Scary: So, they're basically not recognizing the validity of the elected government?

#89 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 03:12 PM:

David Harmon @88 --

They didn't last time, either. "The only legitimate office holder is a Republican" is something they've been pushing for just ages.

#90 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 03:19 PM:

I don't pretend to be an expert on our Parliamentary system, but I've made the mistake of reading some of the comments posted on the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, and CBC, and I'm frankly horrified by the number of people who seem to be unaware of how the Canadian Parliament works. I'm sure that the Conservatives do know and are pretending they don't, but they're sure working hard to fan the flames for the people who do think that forming a coalition amounts to a seizure of power by a dictatorial triumvirate.

Also, I'm pleased to see that the comment at 64 has been put on the front page. I'm never going to refer to the Governor General again, except as our LDQN. (Or kingship node, eventually, I suppose.)

#91 ::: glaurung_quena ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 03:28 PM:

@90: I'm never going to refer to the Governor General again, except as our LDQN. (Or kingship node, eventually, I suppose.)

Prince Charles is going to have a while longer to wait. Considering how old the Queen Mother was before she died, Elizabeth is good for another 20 years, easily.

I suspect that the House of Windsor may be part of our universe's version of the Howard Families.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Mary Dell, #82: That analogy never has made sense to me. It's similarity, not difference, that they're complaining about; this would seem to indicate that dogs marrying cats would be fine, but dogs marrying dogs or cats marrying cats would be immoral!

#93 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:05 PM:

I just re-read Patrick's posting, including his description of Canadian politics as being characterized by 'long stretches of preternatural boringness.'

In defense of boring politics, I would like to say that they tend to be a result of people who are pretty happy with the government, in a reasonably wealthy country. Good places to live make for really dull narratives; there's a reason why all the Culture novels are set at the edges.

(as a Canadian who's been living in the US since 2001, I'm a little tired of 'exciting' politics)

#94 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:19 PM:

Fragano Ledgister (#62): ...consensus in Canada for sending Stephen Harper to Stornoway. I don't mean by that the official residence of the leader of the opposition, I mean the town in the Hebrides.

I was going to say that was a little unfair to Scotland, but I seem to recall Ken MacLeod being fairly scathing about his hometown (no link, sorry), so maybe it would be fitting.

#95 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:37 PM:

"In defense of boring politics, I would like to say that they tend to be a result of people who are pretty happy with the government, in a reasonably wealthy country."

I completely agree. I am a huge admirer of Canada, a country in which I spent three years of my life.

#96 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:11 PM:

I just came across another term that might come up in this, withdrawing supply. Commons can close the purse to Harper.

#97 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:15 PM:

From my point of view - I work at a large Canadian public university that's been on strike for a month, and my own union is entering its bargaining period soon - the key issue in the budget speech other than the defunding of political parties was the denial of the right to strike to public employees. That certainly got Broadbent's attention as well: he's a labor guy.

It is a sign of Canada's robust political health that Iggy could be a viable candidate for national political office after having spent, essentially, his whole adult life in another country working as a university professor. Not that I support him, but it's still kind of great. Having the recent election require less than six weeks start to finish, with the only issue anyone noticed for the first three weeks being an argument over how public funding for the arts should be spent (Harper expressed some anti-gala sentiment that les francophones et les Quebecois took amiss) was another sign that this is a lucky country.

Now if only we had our own Nate Silver ...

#98 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Lola - I wish you luck with your union; my dad's union at the university settled, but I'm told they came very close to striking. I'm in the environmental studies faculty and seriously hope that the province intervenes in soon, if the union and university can't start talking. I've been trying to keep up my classwork but it's tough to work to write a paper when it isn't clear that it will ever come due at all.

#99 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:28 PM:

Heck, Lola, write Nate a note suggesting he cover it; he may need a new fix.

#100 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:36 PM:

tariquata@98, hello! I'm sure the strike will end someday and your paper will be due. I'm also sure that there is no way on earth that my union will strike next year, not even if management threatens a salary cut and taking away our parking spots. And if your dad's union is at the same institution, then I am deeply grateful that they didn't strike at the same time as that other union, because wow, that would have been an insoluble mess.

But I don't think that the province is likely to intervene, do you? It's hard to argue that university classes are "essential services" in the same sense as sanitation workers or nurses.

#101 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:44 PM:

We're all at the same institution, Lola, unless there's another large public university in Canada that's been on strike for a month! I believe my dad is also grateful not to be on strike at the moment, as November/December are really not pleasant times to be walking a picket line, aside from anything else. If your union isn't prone to striking, I'm glad to hear it, because it sure does seem like it's a rather frequent occurrence on the part of some of the other unions.

I believe the argument for provincial intervention would rest on the fact that it's a public university; if the province can intervene in negotiations with elementary and secondary teachers, than presumably they can in the case of a post-secondary institution as well. It may not be an essential service, but it does represent a considerable amount of lost work time, and a considerable burden on a large student population, so I think it's possible, if the strike drags on longer. (I just hope that it isn't allowed to get to the point of an 11-week strike again, although I don't see that as likely.)

#102 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 05:56 PM:

linkmeister@99, okay, good idea, I will! someone on the CBC was just bemoaning the lack of polling data outside of Quebec. I bet Nate could fix us right up.

tariqata@101, oh, I figured we are both affiliated with The University With the Name That Rhymes With Spork. I just wasn't sure that your dad was as well. And my union has struck in the past - out for five weeks in 1997, which was way before my time - but we're not going to do it again this next time, because we're all much too upset about this strike. Or so I hope.

But I think that there is every chance of this strike dragging out into January or even February, even though it makes everyone miserable (or everyone except the negotiators, apparently.)

#103 ::: Giorgio ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 06:07 PM:

'stupid people are generally Conservative': how true!

In 1994 the first Berlusconi government was a coalition of Berlusconi's own Forza Italia (own as in "I'm paying you, so you do what I want, no questions or you're out"), the neo/post/always-fascist National Alliance and the separatist Northern League.

(Aside: the Italian Constitution requires the would-be government to win votes of confidence in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic: the coalition had a majority in the Chamber but only a plurality in the Senate, and managed to win only with the help of a couple of senators for life and by bribing a few opposition senators. But that's not relevant here, even though Berlusconi complained for two years that the last Prodi government won its own Senate's vote of confidence thanks to the senators for life.)

Anyway, after 9 months the Northern League left the coalition, and Berlusconi visited the President of the Italian Republic asking for new elections; the President had to explain him that there was something called Constitution ("are you sure?", Berlusconi asked, "yes, of course," the President answered, "since 1948") and it explicitly provided that given the current condition the President had to consult all the parties' leaders to see if another majority could be found before he could dissolve Parliament.

Well, another majority WAS found so the elections were postponed to 1996, and 14 years later the conservatives are still complaining that the elections weren't called immediately, no matter how long you try to explain to them that IT IS THE FUCKING CONSTITUTION, you can't just do whatever you want.

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 06:17 PM:

Giorgio 103: you can't just do whatever you want.

Fascists just hate that, don't they? It's sure too bad there was no one to stand up to our disgusting President when he did unConstitutional things.

#105 ::: Giorgio ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 06:24 PM:

It's sure too bad there was no one to stand up to our disgusting President when he did unConstitutional things.

Well, today Berlusconi said something like "I won the elections, why the opposition keeps opposing me? They lost, they should just go home and be quiet. The newspapers as well, I'm the Prime Minister, they should all shut up."

#106 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:04 PM:

Perhaps the GG ought to be called the LDRN (i.e. Locally Distributed Royalty Node) to avoid such shifts. Then again, the God Save the Queen will someday change, as will whose English is spoken, so I don't suppose it's really that important in the scheme of things.

#107 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:17 PM:

#7, #13 We did have the Bloc as Official Opposition one time; I recall minor worries about having an Opposition that could not/would not form a government if called on. As I recall, they saved us from Reform's first term showboating.

I've never been able to substantiate that Harper ever was a western separatist, in the Western Canada Concept. But he and other Reformers were certainly close to some of those people.

#96 - they can proceed by Orders in Council, bug again, that's traditionally not done.

#108 ::: Sundre ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:19 PM:

Derryl@#27 -- I've had to explain this to a lot of people lately. I didn't vote for Harper, or for Layton or Dion. I voted for Megan Leslie.

I have to call my mother later and get her opinion on this. This election was her first since she got her citizenship, and I hope that she's still following the news. She and I both admire the GG and deplore the current PM.

The most miserable and uninspiring thing about our election was the turnout. I'm hopeful that the US election and the current situation are getting the attention of those who didn't vote because they thought it wouldn't matter.

I am increasingly delighted with the whole mess.

#109 ::: Brett Dunbar ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 09:16 PM:

David Harmon @88

Not really. Having a shadow cabinet is normal in a parliamentary system, the shadow cabinet members are their party's spokesmen on those areas and would normally expect to become the minister if their party wins power. Having a full time opposition spokesman concentrating on holding the minister to account in their area of responsibility rather increases the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny. The ill-advised separation of the cabinet from the legislature in the US severely limits scrutiny of the executive. The proposal goes some way towards addressing a major weakness in the US system, as demonstrated over the last eight years. A shadow cabinet also gives the electorate a much better idea of what a government formed by the current opposition would be like.

#110 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 09:30 PM:

tw @96: I just came across another term that might come up in this, withdrawing supply. Commons can close the purse to Harper.

And Congress could have shut down Bush by refusing to fund his impulses, but that never happened (well, I'm not informed enough to assert never; but it didn't happen on anything I noticed).

Regarding Commons, is there precedence for this?

#111 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:04 PM:

I have to say that everyone I know in Ontario is quite happy with the idea of a coalition, and about half the people I know in Alberta like the idea. I've been invited to rallies to support it, have been inundated with emails and updates about what's happening and have been given many ideas on how to argue against Conservative 'talking points.' This is a lot of fun. Much better than the election. Of course it helps that I'm in the Arts and everyone I know hates Stephen Harper. He's just been pilloried on Rick Mercer and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I think the cast had trouble not smirking the entire time.

#112 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:31 PM:

Rob @110 --

No, because if you've lost the confidence of Parliament and they are voting on a money bill you are done like dinner. Creamed like spinach. Joined the choir celestial.

The Prime Minister is not the head of state; they're the head of government. Despite an unfortunate degree of convergence in the role, this really does matter.

#113 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Regarding Commons, is there precedence for this?

Yes. It is The Precedent of Parliamentary democracy -- the Government must enjoy the confidence* of the lower House.

That is what being the Government means. If ever Harper were to lose supply, he'd no longer be the PM, by definition. That's why Harper is desperately trying to avoid that.

*Confidence includes the Budget, and supply in general in New Zealand, I think.

#114 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Lola Raincoat (#102): I figured we are both affiliated with The University With the Name That Rhymes With Spork.

You realize that from now on I'm going to refer to it as Spork University, right? Also the Duchess of Spork, Sporkshire pudding, and New Spork City.

(U of T grad here...)

#115 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Sorry, to rephrase: there is precedent for the Commons to deny a Government supply; this causes them to stop being the Government.

#116 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:09 PM:

debcha@114: I also went to U of T, but the Spork sucked me in (terrible timing; I started on #2 of my degree collection this September). I wonder if the bookstore still sells the Schmork T-shirts?

Lola@102: Very glad to hear that you won't be going on strike, in that case!

Noelle@111: I like the idea of a coalition too, but I'm not sure what the outcome will be for the Liberals and NDP (in the event they form a government) once the coalition ends. If they don't hold together long enough, or if there is no major turn-around in economic outlook while they are in power, I wouldn't be surprised if both parties are seriously damaged in the next election. They're going to be walking a thin line.

I did appreciate the Star's editorial cartoon today though.

#117 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 12:56 AM:

taiqata's link is munged. I think this is the cartoon meant. (Devil in armchair in Hell, icicles forming.)

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 12:59 AM:

Brett, #109: Unfortunately, I very seriously doubt that what Jeb Bush meant by a "shadow government" is anything remotely resembling what you've described here. You have to remember that one of the standard Republican tricks is to use words and phrases that have a commonly-understood meaning elsewhere, but use them to describe something else entirely.

#119 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 01:11 AM:


I also went to U of T, but the Spork sucked me in (terrible timing;

& of course i read that as "terrible tining," which is probably what would happen if you were literally sucked in by a spork.

#120 ::: Lola Raincoat ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 01:58 AM:

tariqata@114, oh, boy, that is rotten timing, I'm sorry. Hard to avoid though - we seem to have a major labor disruption every four or five years, which would be once in every PhD's career here except for the truly dilatory. MAs may hope for better luck of course.

debchan@116, hee! believe me, there is *nothing* the U of T folks can say about our beloved Spork U. that we didn't think of first.

#121 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:17 AM:

You would think by now that Harper would be a-studying on parliamentary regs. This is not the first time he's been waltzed around.

That time led to this, so I'm hoping for more great things. Meantime, it's whole puppy-baskets of glee to watch.

#122 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 07:01 AM:

James Nicoll@68: Wait, what? Are you seriously asserting that Etrigan the Demon is less obscure than Captain Marvel?

#123 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 09:23 AM:

I assume the collected works of Jack Kirby are required reading for American school children these days, like Will Eisner's work.

#124 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 09:26 AM:

That Star cartoon is here today

#125 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 10:12 AM:

I realize too late I should have typed something like

Gone Gone
The form of Jean
Arise the Monarch
(something) Queen

#126 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 10:59 AM:

"UK Queen" kind of stutters, doesn't it.

The important question, of course: is she one of the rhymers?

#127 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:10 AM:


I'm not so sure that the Liberals and NDP would be hurt by this move. I'm hearing a lot of people being happy that something was done and that some parts of the government are able to work together. The people who dislike it the most are those who already voted Conservative and would like do so again.

Of course, an interesting side effect of this is the level of discontent that is growing in the Conservative party. Harper has alienated a lot of people in his party and they are starting to quietly call for him to step down. The calls will only get louder.

Hope everyone is off the picket line soon.

#128 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Lee #92: The argument is that God done decreed that cats and dogs can't be getting married or having no kuppies or nippens, because that just ain't right. Analogously, God done decreed that we ain't going to have no gay marriage, abortions, or women's suffrage.

I haven't really heard of "cats marrying dogs" specifically in the context of gay marriage, but I've heard it a lot in the context of society falling apart, shocking things happening, "whatever next?" In fact I use it myself when people propose morally wrong engineering arrangements at work, like running solaris in a vm session on a windows system.

#129 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:59 AM:

How about:

Gone gone
Michaëlle's breath
Arise the monarch


#130 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 03:02 PM:

But every so often, after long stretches of preternatural boringness, Canadian politics becomes, for brief periods, the greatest show on earth.

And those periods are when I look back longingly to the early 1990s, when CBC was available on the big dish. Or up until a couple of years ago, when The National was still available on the little dish as part of an all-news channel that was the joint project of CBC, Deutsche Welle, and the Australian BC. (Al Gore bought the channel for the useless CurrentTV.)

#131 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:24 PM:

This is probably the first and last time you will see "exciting" as a modifier for "Canada" in the absence of a negating term such as "not very".

#132 ::: jennie1ofmany ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:35 PM:

I am inclined to disagree with you, mythago.

#133 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Hey, that confidence vote where it all came down to which way Independent (but former Conservative) MP Chuck Cadman was going to vote was exciting and so was the way Belinda Stronach dumped her boyfriend.

#134 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:57 PM:

131: "Mostly harmless", indeed.

One of the reasons I like Canadian politicians is that they can do things like Ed Broadbent did many, many years ago on Air Farce (pre-TV, it's that many years ago).

As some may know, AF's game with Ed Broadbent was that he was omnipresent and ineffectual, so much so that his only phrase ever was "Hi, I'm Ed Broadbent!" So, (reason 1) when Mr. Broadbent accepted a guest spot on the show (this is starting to happen in the U.S. with Jon and Stephen, but it's still not the same thing - see what happened with the "say something that would kill your campaign if you weren't going to be elected by acclimation" thread), he started with "Hi, I'm Ed Broadbent!" and took the house down. They then (reason 2) gave him lots of real snipe lines that fit his real agenda (but were funny), rather than the "try go get them off their talking points and say something real" attitude towards the political interviews on Comedy Central.

Note this is not unique - I remember seeing Mike Harris (who got in on the back of the first two years of Bob Rae, before he learned that "party policy is all well and good, but compromise has to happen in practise or the world caves in". Funny how nobody remembers that the last three years of Rae's government were actually good. I described Harris as "Ralph Klein without a brain" just after he was elected, and boy was I right) assisting "Jean Chretien" on his golf game inside the PMO (Harris was a former golf pro), Deborah Gray riding onstage on her Harley (she was known as the rather butch bitch of the Reform Party), and so on down the chain.

In other words, the politicians feel comfortable taking a joke or two at their own expense, dishing out the same, and generally having a good time assuming the voters can tell the difference between Air Farce and 22 Minutes and The National. In other, other words, that they're human and not just puppets with strings, and that they think their constituents have a brain.

Stephen Harper doesn't seem to work that way, or let his people work that way. Reason #1000X why I don't vote Conservative...

#135 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Holy Cats! And now Stephen Harper's fate lies in the hands of the man who he hates and despises, Joe Clark? This really is like the final act of a Jacobean Revenge play...

#136 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 07:46 PM:

"Cats and dogs living together!" is specifically a Ghostbusters reference:

"Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

One of my old office-mates was fond of busting out that passage whenever it seemed appropriate.

#137 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 08:55 PM:

This article from the Toronto Star has lots of useful links in the middle sidebar (can a page have a middle sidebar?).

This is fascinating. The Conservative's Enviro Minister was on As It Happens this afternoon firing such terms as "non-democratic" towards the coalition partners, fulminating about the "separatists" in the Bloc, and on and on. I kinda hoped he had one of those plastic hoods on; you know the kind you put on dogs so they won't chew their bandages off? The spittle must have been flying around, he was so angry.

#138 ::: Lars ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 09:17 PM:

I described Harris as "Ralph Klein without a brain"

Actually, it's charisma that Kelin has, and a certain boozy, curb-side wiliness, not intelligence.

Having him as premier - well, we were all Nortons to his Ralph. Nobody ever seemed to notice the degradation.

#139 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 09:45 PM:

My personal rule of thumb viz a viz Canuckian politicians and Air Farce/22 Minutes: No Canadian politician deserves to be taken seriously until they have appeared on AF/22M. None of them.

Note that PM SweaterVest has never appeared on either, AFAIK. Martin & Chretien both did; Joe Clark & Presto! Manning did; I think Stockboy
Day finally had the guts to appear; SweaterVest never has.

I don't own a TV anymore, but I understand Air Farce is finishing/has finished. This is terrible news - how will we know which politicians to take seriously now?

#140 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 10:03 PM:

Mycroft W @ 133: I was in the audience at the National Arts Centre when that Air Farce show was recorded. Broadbent's appearing on stage was a complete surprise -- there was a general reaction of "Is that -- my god, it is!", followed by a good round of applause and laughter. And I remember thinking, as he waited for it to die down so he could speak, "So, how is the real Broadbent going to introduce himself? Would he really say that line?" And yes, he did, and the audience went wild.

#141 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:23 PM:

The only thing that would make this brouhaha perfect would be the arrival of Zombie William Lyon Mackenzie King*. Hey, if we can have Zombie Patrick Henry....

*reference point for Americans from the Great Lakes and New England states: he is the guy who you can pencil in to look like Spock on the old Canadian $5 bill.

#142 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:27 PM:

Harper talked down to the country for five minutes tonight. He seems to have confused "patriotism" with "patronizing", and kept on the same tack as before. GG is expected to meet him tomorrow.

#143 ::: Sundre ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:49 PM:

mythago @ 140 - I thought Laurier was on the five?

#144 ::: Penn ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:50 PM:

Without the Air Farce, we have to resort to the Rick Mercer Report.
And this is one Ontarian that would be happy to see Bob Rae in charge. He was hamstrung by the economy last time, but he's a smart guy.

#145 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 11:56 PM:

#142 - Laurier/Spock is on the $5. Wrong Willy. Mackenzie King's unlovely physog is on the $50. I think that portrait makes WLMK look like Arthur Petrelli.

#146 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 02:06 AM:

Good gravy, you're right, it IS Laurier. See, this is what happens when you get old: first your knees give out, then you forget your Latin, and the next thing you know you get your distinguished Canadian historical figures mixed up.

He still looks like Spock though.

#148 ::: jennie1ofmany ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 09:22 AM:

Wirelizard, AF is Boomerific, and 22Min is so genX.* All the cool men and women in pinstripes are appearing on Rick Mercer these days.

*Is AirFarce still around, even?

#149 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 09:32 AM:

jennie1ofmany -- The Air Farce is about to do their last show. As with some other CBC shows ("Double Exposure", "The Frantics"), I thought their radio incarnations were excellent but their TV versions much weaker.

#150 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 11:23 AM:

That Globe & Mail story is great - I wasn't aware that as well as King/Byng there was a provincial precedent. It's probably time to introduce the only constitutional document that exists only as a letter to The Times - the Lascelles principles, which lay down the conditions under which ldqn.prorogue() or ldqn.dissolve_parliament() return False.

I don't know about this "qualified prorogation" lark, but it seems to me that the LDQN has a strong case to refuse prorogation, both on the basis of Canadian (King Byng, and provincial) and UK (Lascelles, 1924 election, and February 1974) practice. There's also a reference in Lascelles to a refusal of dissolution in South Africa in 1939.

Is it possible that in future a blog post will form part of the constitution?

#151 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 12:04 PM:

Harper's dodged that bullet. CBC says Jean agreed to suspend parliament till end of January.

#152 ::: tariqata ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 12:06 PM:

I thought before that the Liberals and NDP - though perhaps not the Bloc - were going to be hurt by the attempt to form a coalition because of how many people seem to perceive it as undemocratic. That will cost them votes despite being an incorrect perception.

Now I think we may have the same situation, plus Harper appears to be getting a do-over and time to further vilify the opposition, which is going to make it difficult for them to do their job and hold the government to account.

(Hope I manage to post that link correctly this time!)

#153 ::: Turtle Wexler ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 12:11 PM:

Harper now claims that he has the mandate to govern like normal during this intermediate time, and it's the responsibility of everyone (else) to play along and try to work with each other. I assume this means Harper intends to do exactly what he intended to do before and continue to blame other parties for not rolling over. He further claims that he never depended on the Bloc for support. I am very disappointed.

#154 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 12:31 PM:

In other words, he's taking yet another page from the Republican Handbook: "anything we want is Right, and anything we do to get it is Right, because we are the Natural Governing Party*. Note: NGP in power is Right (see above) and therefore..."

* with apologies to Dr. Foth, who defined that term as the Liberals. But at least they were the NGP because they kept getting elected after we experimented with Other Parties and found them lacking, not because of these kind of shenanigans.

#155 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Whatever happened to this?

#156 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Harper got parliament prorogued (that is, suspended, without predjudice), and in the intermediate month the urge to throw the bums out abated some.

Dion left the leadership, Ignatieff took over. Iggie isn't so keen on a coalition, and it all sort of threatened to wither away.

Two weeks ago they reconvened (and we discovered one isn't allowed, as a member of the public, to see Throne Speeches), a budget was offered (which was much like such a budget might have looked, were it being presented by more liberal parties), and Ignatieff said he was fine with it (well, more he said he was too lazy to try to manage a coalition; and absent some sort of enthusiasm for one, the Governer General was likely to insist on an election in the event of the parliament returning a no-confidence on the budget; which would have hurt everyone but the conservatives, because of how much money was spent in the last election), and so Harper has survived.

But the return of Parliament did, effectively, end the 54 day bus-strike in Ottawa.

That, at least, is how it looks to an outisider visiting Ottawa.

#157 ::: Chris W. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2011, 05:39 AM:

@158 above

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