The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Reserve Powers of the Crown


On How to Convert a Political Crisis into a Constitutional Crisis.

CTV is reporting that even if defeated in an obvious non-confidence motion, the Liberal government will ignore the result and continue to govern.
On Thursday, the Speaker of the House endorsed a Conservative Party effort to hold a vote of confidence in the government by May 18.

The Tory-sponsored motion asked the Commons Finance committee "to recommend that the government resign."

But House Leader Tony Valeri shrugged it off, saying the motion is only a procedural matter that has no binding effect on the government and that the Liberals would not step down from power if it should pass.
The pundits are baffled. What is to be done? Can the Liberals actually get away with this?

Of course not. They have simply fogotten their Eugene Forsey. The answer lies in two words:reserve powers. In the reserve powers of the Crown lie the final line of defense against tyranny in the Westminster system. Ultimately, if a government goes rogue, the Crown's reserve powers allow the Queen, or her Governer-General in the Canadian case, to dismiss the Prime Minister. All she has to do is find a caretaker Prime Minister who is willing to agree to request a dissolution and I'm sure Stephan Harper would be willing to go along with this scenario.

The situation is not so far-fetched. The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis provides an example of just this mechanism in action. G-G Sir John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed Malcolm Fraser in his place, provided Fraser would pass supply (the trigger to the crisis) and request a dissolution. This he did, and went on to win a handsome majority.

UPDATE: The Speaker's ruling (including a summary of the arguments on the point of order) is now online.


Blogger Hungry Valley said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:48 a.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger Shaken said...

All very interesting, but let us not forget about the pedigree of our illustrious GG. Her husband was Maurice Strong's assistant at Petrocan. Maurice Strong is Paul Martin's mentor. She was a longtime wonk at the CBC.

Now, with Martin suddenly willing to send Canadian troops into harm's way in Darfour in order to secure Kilgour's vote, a most vile and repugnant political arabesque if ever I have seen one, the Liberal hegemony in Canada has demonstrated that their ambitions of power are unbridled.

Expect, in such a scenario, the GG to close ranks with the Liberals, and the Party to simply weather the storm, shielded by their lapdog media spin machine.

11:22 a.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Angry in T.O. said...

Here's another twist. Remember that the Queen might be in country when all this happens...

11:32 a.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger Hungry Valley said...

I have deleted my previous comment since it has been asked and answered. I queried one of my many Canadian relatives, oddly enough, another Political Scientist w/ a specialty in Canadian Con Law and he is now burying me in citations.

As a California Yank I am worried about the possible secession of the Western Provinces and the impact this could have on the US. There is precedent for bringing an independent "country" into the Union; Texas. Granted, it is, at the current time, politically unlikely for any number of reasons that I understand and which I can sympathize with.

I hope this can be resolved without a constitutional crisis.

I am standing down from this discussion, to observe and continue reading about the relationship of the Lieutenants-General to the GG and the Crown.

Good Luck.

12:25 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger Svolich said...

Hungry, there's another example of an independent country becoming a state in the US.

The Republic of California.

OK, it wasn't much of a republic, and it only lasted a month, but the William Ide did raise the bear flag.

1:29 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an American political scientist with minimal background in Canadian Gov't but have traveled extensively in Western Canada. I don't think Western Canada will join the U.S. in the end. The population is too sparse for adequate representation in the House of Representatives. If all four Provinces joined, they would get 8 Senators, and likely less than 10 Congressmen (I'm guessing). Canadians would worry about being swallowed up in the U.S. and lose control over their destiny. I also think their "First Nations" people would oppose this idea as well. Just casual thoughts about this.

1:43 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous BillyBoy said...

As a Californian and an American, if western Canada did secede I wouldn't see why the USA would say no.

If the states could establish low/no tax models the 150 million west of the Mississippi would migrate.

The USA could always reevaluate immigration policy (i.e. open it up, securely), which a new expanse of land could easily accommodate.

I like the idea!

So I say to British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and all of the territories to the north, it is your choice.

As one American I would welcome you with open arms.

2:21 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger jc said...

Delightful as being welcomed would be there is no reason to assume that Western Canada - if it came to a breakup - would want to join anyone.

Why should we? There is a rather unique culture in BC/Alberta. There are plenty of resources and enough people to make an interesting nation.

In the absense of transfer payments we would be rolling in cash. A BC/Alberta dollar would likely trade at par with the US dollar.

Better still, we could embrace free trade in a very big way. Not having any significant industrial age manufacturing to protect there is no reason BC/Alberta could not effectively become one large duty free area.

3:05 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to point out - it is British Columbia, not "Colombia" although with all the pot they grow in BC it might well revert to the latter description.

3:40 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this talk of a constitutional crisis is very premature.

Firstly, as someone pointed out above, the Governor General represents the Crown, and the GG will not take down this government.

Secondly, in the Canadian system it's pretty hard for a constitutional crisis to arise over an issue that's of little concern to the majority of voters (which is probably as it should be). If you talk to the right people in Canada I expect you'll get a sense of outrage at what has happened. But I think if it were possible to genuinely determine how most Canadians feel about Adscam we'd find that it's just not inciting much passion. My circle of friends and associates may or may not be representative of Canadians generally but, for what it's worth, I have yet to hear anyone even discuss the issue, let alone have a strong opinion about it, except in blogs.

My guess is that it will play itself out, perhaps resulting in an election, perhaps not, but in the end it will have little effect. The Liberals will weather the storm and be back in power, with a majority, within two to three years. People in Ontario are NOT going to support someone other than the Liberals, and people it Quebec aren't going to support a party not led by a Quebecer.

3:56 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Tedd McHenry said...

That last comment was mine. Sorry, I meant to enter it as "Other," no "Anonymous."

Tedd McHenry

3:58 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

As a Californian and an American, if western Canada did secede I wouldn't see why the USA would say no.

Why would the current administration want to add several million voters who would consider the Democrats a center-right party, and the Republicans a far-right party?

Not gonna happen, folks. The US is content with it's borders, and is happy to trade for whatever resources are needed- whatever happens to Canada is up to the Canadians, which is as it should be.

3:58 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would assume that the Albertans especially would do quite well as an independent country, and that a BC-Albertan country, with open trade relations with the US would do very very well.

I doubt they would want or need to join to the US.

4:10 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger lindsey said...

If Western Canada secedes, we'll be begging them to join! Helllooooooooooooooooooo! Oil sands of Alberta!

4:10 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 'shaken'. The consolidation of Liberal (leftist) power in Canada is pretty much a fact of life here. The appointed Senate, the appointed Supreme Court, the appointed Governor General and much of the opposition is leftist to one degree or another. Any meddling by The Crown in Canadian politics would more likely lead to a constitutional crisis that would result in Canada becoming a republic rather than a constitutional crisis that would see the dissolution of the present corrupt government. You have to live here to understand what a grip the left has on the country.

4:26 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

Lindsey, Mexico has real oil- not oil sands- and the US isn't begging them to join. Quite the contrary.

Why buy the entire store when they're happy to sell us the stuff we want?

4:29 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Canada's political system is stuck in the 60s, which is why political correctness rides high, as do its nanny-state corrolaries such as hate speech laws and arrogating to the government the right to decide what the public should be told about the malfeasances of the political class. The other big problem is Ottawa is so terrified that Quebec will decide to go it alone that it is government policy to accede to whatever the Francophone community wants. In a virtual one-party state, what could be more natural than ignoring a vote which in truly democratic countries would cause the government to fall?

4:39 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a US citizen who grew up in Albert and have two comments. First, were I still living in Alberta, I would be 100% for separation of Alberta by herself or with any/all of the other western provinces. I see no reason why that portion of Canada could not very nicely exist as its own sovereign entity, and it gains precisely nothing from being part of Canada. My second comment is to disagree with the assumption that the US would entertain the notion of admiting any portion of Canada to the US. The US is an anomaly -- by rights, it shouldn't exist and only does because of its federalist structure, the wisdom of the founding fathers, and the shared belief in self reliance and the idea that all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Canada does not share the same set of values and ..... well, that'll do. My prediction is that after much gnashing of teeth, nothing will change.

4:44 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, don't forget about Hawaii: an internationaly recognized independant kingdom, though it didn't go directly to statehood.

4:56 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Dan H. said...

As an Albertan, I can say that there is currently very little sentiment for secession in Alberta. It's simply something you never hear talked about.

That said, Alberta's patience with the east is not unlimited. We currently send almost $3500 annually per person in equalization payments to Eastern Canada, and for that we are condescended to and ignored, or worse treated like redneck hicks and exploited. The political power structure in Canada is so thoroughly tied up in the East and influenced by an oligarchy of a few power brokers that Western Canadians are almost completely shut out.

There has been some talk in Alberta about creating a 'firewall' similar to Quebec, in which we create our own Alberta Pension Plan, our own provincial police force, and in other ways replacing federal programs and services with provincial ones. If this takes place, then you might make a credible claim that Alberta could seperate. Until then, we are just too tied to the rest of Canada.

If we did seperate, however, we could form an amazingly strong country. With Saskatchewan farmlands and resources, and British Columbia's resources and ports, Western Canada would have all the infrastructure a country needs to be self-sufficient. Alberta currently has perhaps the strongest economy in the world. If we opened our borders to immigration, people from the rest of Canada and the U.S. would flock here. In fact, they already are. Our population is growing like mad, and yet our unemployment rate is below 4%. Our taxes are far lower than any other province in Canada, and lower than half the states in the U.S.

If we kept our 4 billion a year we ship east and used it along with what we now send to the feds to build infrastructure and fund our own health care and military, I think we'd wind up a very rich, very nice country.

5:33 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an American, I would approach the idea of adding Western provinces with EXTREME caution.

Mainly because for nations to suddenly grow can be just as destabilizing as for them to shrink.

Granted, the US has added territory numerous times, but consider that the adding of Mexican territories basically lit the stove that caused the slavery kettle to overflow into civil war. The two sides were dealing with each other reasonably well in the 1840's, but when we added so much land at once, the slavery question suddenly became a zero-sum game. ANY gain in slave territory became a loss for abolitionism, and vice-versa, and Southerners who had contributed so much to the Mexican victory certainly felt entitled to transplant slavery to it's spoils, an idea which abolitionists of course regarded with horror.

Now that may be simplistic, but for the present day, I've got issues with adding a state, where, let's say, a majority is in favor, but say just 10% is MILITANTLY pissed-off, un-American, hostile, even enough to blow stuff up or put secession on the political map in Alberta, say, and then Hawaii, Vermont, and South Carolina, all which have fringe movements advocating that, do the same, and thus a question that was buried forever under the corpses of 600,000 Americans is now back to the fore for the first time in a hundred and forty years.

No thanks. I won't rule anything out, but we'd better be damn careful, on all sides.

6:12 p.m., May 08, 2005  
Blogger John Hawkins said...

Western Canada as an independant nation sounds fantastic. They could do just fine on their own. Besides, disaggregation is the direction things are going these days, and it's a good thing.

I doubt very many folks are agitating for separation, but if the current government snubs it's nose at the rest of the country by remaining in power when they shouldn't, well, that's the sort of thing that sparks revolutions.

I doubt the current Canadian government has the willpower or manpower to stop the separation if it happened.

1:15 a.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger The Observer said...

shaken & the anonymous respondent:
The G-G's Liberal ties are certainly something to take into account and it would be interesting to see if she can separate herself from partisanship and maintain the duties of the Crown. If not, Canada's descent into one-party despotism will be complete.

As for republicanism, not a chance. That would require unanimous consent for a constitutional amendment, and that just isn't going to happen.

angry in t.o.:
While some may want to appeal to the Queen to interfere, I strongly doubt she'd do anything. In 1975 the Australian Speaker tried this and got this response from the Queen.

The rest of you:
What is it with Canadian politics that immediately starts discussusions of succession and merger with the U.S.? What's going on here is nowhere near critical enough to break up the country. In any case, as long as the Republicans control congress, there won't be any Canadian Democrats flooding into Washington.

1:19 a.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger Bithead said...

Look, let's face it... The Liberals trying to maintain their grip on the offices are the smaller of the two concerns insofar as a Constitutional Crisis are concerned.

The bigger of the two in my view is the PQ who has already made it clear they're all bent out of shape for what they see as being cheated out of a fair vote on Quebec and it's pullout of the federation. As a result of this, we'll see them calling yet again, for Quebec's withdrawal, which would result in the Federal government trying to buy them off to keep htem in the federation. They may or may not go with such buy-offs, but regardless, the western provinces won't put up with it... and will pull out of the federation on the basis of hte deals having even been offered, regardless of their being consumated or not.

So, either way this goes, it's the end of Canada as we know it.

3:53 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello all,
Just sitting here reading all the absolutely fascinating comments.. and I have a few comments to make as an American.
Let me just start by pointing that I am an amateur in the field of Canadian government, however I do have several Canadian friends and I have discussed this with some of them.
First although many have written that there is little separation sentiment in the western provinces, I think that might change if Quebec secedes. The pro-independence party in Quebec will be bolstered by the setback to the liberal party, and may call for another referendum. Even if it fails, how long can they keep calling for referendums before one finally succeeds? It's bound to happen sooner or later (much to their economic detriment).
As I understand it, (and please Canadians correct me if I'm wrong), Quebec is seen as a bit of a political counterweight to populous Ontario. With this gone Canada will need to either undergo a dramatic constitutional change or splinter. Personally I thing the former is far more likely.
But IF the western provinces secede, I think they would do much better to go it alone than to join the US. Western Canada (or whatever they choose to be called) would be absolutely prosperous, and could really be a model state of sorts. If anything I think I might move there myself!
There is no chance of these provinces joining the US, although if Canada implodes there would be a chance that some of the maritime provinces might join the US in my opinion, since it makes more economic sense.

A troubling thought to close out my statement: Everyone who speculated that certain provinces would join the US as states, always mentions the negative effect of adding new "red" or "slue" states. There is talk of the need to maintain a balance.
Anyone who has any versing in US history could draw a clear parallel between the pre-1860 admittance of "free" and "slave" states. It's just disturbing. I'm not claiming that the US is anywhere near any sort o civil discord, but it's just disturbing.
-M. A. Olivo

4:31 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Anonymous Jason said...

If Western Canada did seperate I'm not entirely sure that they would be that against joining the US...after a little while that is. I think the anti-American sentiment that the rest of the world is currently luxuriating in is only a temporary fad. Once it wears off —and especially once the US economy picks back up— I think there could be tremedous pressure on any independent Canadian provinces to join the US...maybe broken up into more than one state each so they have adequate representation.

If Western Canada approched the US government about joining the Union there would also be tremendous pressure for us to accept the offer. After all, Canada is rich in natural resources and has close cultural and linguistic ties with the US...unlike say, Sicily, which offered to join the US after WWII.

Even given this, I'm not sure the US govt would accept the offer. Obviously doing so would destroy relations with what is left of Canada as well as the rest of the British Commonwealth —currently our most steadfast allies. People don't remember anymore but the United Kingdom seriously considered preventing the annexation of the Republic of Texas by force...and Texas wasn't even part of former British Claims. They were only dissuaded by fears of comprimising their relationship with France —then very pro-US— as well as the possibility of losing Canada if the war should go bad.

7:16 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

I think there could be tremedous pressure on any independent Canadian provinces to join the US...maybe broken up into more than one state each so they have adequate representation.

Adequate representation? Are you kidding?

Look, there are around 30M Canadians, about 18M of which are in Ontario and Quebec.

There are almost 300M Americans.

Western Canadians fantasizing about fiddling with borders to get 'adequate representation' are delusional- there's ~12M of you, 300M of us. Do the math.

Oh, and this is just hilarious: People don't remember anymore but the United Kingdom seriously considered preventing the annexation of the Republic of Texas by force...

Yeah, intervening in a war on the other side of an ocean to prevent the annexation of people who want to be annexed. Yeah, that's a fantastic idea.

8:02 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger lindsey said...

"Granted, the US has added territory numerous times, but consider that the adding of Mexican territories basically lit the stove that caused the slavery kettle to overflow into civil war."

Uh, Kansas wasn't a Mexican territory. If you'd blamed it on expansion, then I'd agree with you.

11:56 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger lindsey said...

Does being a member of the Commonwealth necessitate acknowledging the Queen as your ultimate leader? I ask this because I'd love it if the US joined but there's no way we'd accept any royalty. Maybe accepting such should be optional?

11:57 p.m., May 09, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

No. The Brits have allowed a nation or two in Africa to join that weren't even colonies. It's basically a trade association these days... and I suspect the current US/UK deals are better than what you get for being a member of the Commonwealth.

12:48 a.m., May 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would concur with "rosignol", why become just another 6 senators in a field of 106? There's no reason for joining the US at all. They would still enjoy perfectly open trade with the US, and perfectly secure military links if they so desired it, and plus they'd get their own Olympic team :-)!
I'm of the belief that national borders are fairly meaningless in this day and age, and becoming increasingly less important. Take a look at Europe. The nation-state is becoming a thing of the past, and "communities of interest" bound by loose constitutional means are the way of the future.
-M. A. Olivo

11:08 a.m., May 10, 2005  
Anonymous Jason said...

Well there aren't even 1 million people in the state of Wyoming and yet they have 2 Senators and 3 Congressmen representing them in DC...if anything that is gross over-representation. So I guess I don't get your point at all rosignol...though I do like your skis.

"The nation-state is becoming a thing of the past, and "communities of interest" bound by loose constitutional means are the way of the future."

Wasn't that Napoleon's viewpoint on the matter? It is certainly the viewpoint of the modern Napoleonic Empire, the EU, which is but one reason I'm glad I don't live in Europe.

6:09 p.m., May 10, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

Wyoming has 2 Senators, and 1 Representative. Is my point clearer now?

2:27 a.m., May 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wasn't that Napoleon's viewpoint on the matter? It is certainly the viewpoint of the modern Napoleonic Empire, the EU, which is but one reason I'm glad I don't live in Europe"

Wha?!? Napoleon was all about international commerce? Man he must have had some really bad press! Where exactly did you study history?

A little clarification about my point, I am an economist by trade and not a military despot. My thought therefore towards the real source of international power, money.
I am not suggesting that we abandon having a country and a flag but rather that "international borders" as we know them are becoming more and more meaningless with regards to commerce and the mobility of capital. I'm suggesting that this is the trend of the future, and we ought to get ourselves ahead of the curve.
Besides, the US is not a traditional "nation state" on the European modeal anyway. Never was.

-M. A. Olivo

12:15 p.m., May 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also wanted to mention that we seem to be drifting off topic a bit.
To get us back on topic, let me just repeat that I think a theoretical Western Canada (or whatver they choose to call themselves) would be just fine on their own. If they want to join the US great, but it's not likely.
-M. A. Olivo

PS to all- Sorry for posting as "anonymous". That's why I keep siging the end of my posts, so that you can tell who I am

12:24 p.m., May 11, 2005  
Blogger rosignol said...

"international borders" as we know them are becoming more and more meaningless with regards to commerce and the mobility of capital.

...because of a concerted effort by those who control international borders to make it easier to conduct commerce and move capital. The idea is to improve the national economy, which would increase the power of those controllign the international borders... or at least keep them from falling too far behind.

Besides, the US is not a traditional "nation state" on the European modeal anyway. Never was.

Quite right.

9:58 p.m., May 11, 2005  

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