A Complex Correction

The LA Times has done me the favor of cor­rect­ing my some­what innacu­rate descrip­tion of how a Prime Min­is­ter comes to pow­er in Canada:

A Nov. 25 com­men­tary incor­rect­ly stat­ed how the prime min­is­ter is select­ed in Cana­da. Under the Cana­di­an Con­sti­tu­tion, the gov­er­nor gen­er­al — the per­son­al rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the reign­ing monarch of the Com­mon­wealth Realm — appoints as prime min­is­ter the leader of the polit­i­cal par­ty that has the most seats in the House of Com­mons, the low­er house of Canada’s Parliament.

Thanks, but I’m still not sure I under­stand this com­plete­ly yet. So the Con­ser­v­a­tives got the most seats in the House of Com­mons? I thought we had a ‘Minor­i­ty Gov­ern­ment’, where Par­lia­ment could over­ride any of Harper’s ini­tia­tives (kind of like the some­what ten­u­ous major­i­ty that the US Democ­rats have in Con­gress, which was, of course, the sub­ject of that Op. Ed.). The Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is “per­son­al rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the reign­ing monarch of the Com­mon­wealth Realm”? Does that mean the Queen? I don’t believe that Her High­ness Queen Eliz­a­beth chose Michaëlle Jean to be her rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Who did, then? My fel­low Cana­di­an blog­gers, help me out here…

5 Replies to “A Complex Correction”

  1. a minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment only means that the par­ty with the most elect­ed seats has less than 50% of the total seats in the house. exam­ple: there are 301 seats, so a major­i­ty gov­ern­ment would have to have 151 or more elect­ed MPs. in the absence of that sim­ple major­i­ty, the par­ty with the most elect­ed MPs is declared the minor­i­ty winner.

    it’s clear as mud, really.

  2. Ready to be more confused?

    What you need to remem­ber is we aren’t a 2 par­ty coun­try like the US. They are cor­rect in that the Prime Min­is­ter is the leader of the par­ty with the most seats. How­ev­er, since there is more that 2 par­ties com­pet­ing in the elec­tions; they may not have 50% of the seats. If you have more than 50% of the seats, then you have a Major­i­ty Gov­ern­ment, and the oppo­si­tions par­ties can squawk all they want, but what you decide goes. This was the posi­tion that the Lib­er­als were in most of the past years, but not when they formed their last government.

    There can also be a sit­u­a­tion where the lead­ing par­ty has, let’s say, 40% of the seats, the sec­ond par­ty has 30%, the third has 20%, and the remain­ing 10% is oth­er par­ties and/or inde­pen­dents. In this case, the par­ty with 40% of the votes has the most seats, and their leader is appoint­ed Prime Min­is­ter; how­ev­er they have a Minor­i­ty Gov­ern­ment and must ensure that anoth­er par­ty will vote with them for each bill they wish to pass. This makes for a lot of nego­ti­a­tion, and allows the par­ty that agrees to work with them to get some of their views and poli­cies inject­ed into the legislation.

    In the mod­ern world, the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al is a fig­ure-head. Long ago, he would have actu­al­ly have been appoint­ed by the Monarch; as he would have had to be a true rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Monarch as com­mu­ni­ca­tion from Britain would have tak­en weeks or months. Today, even Britain is a democ­ra­cy, and the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al in each for­mer colony is actu­al­ly select­ed by the local gov­ern­ment. This is fine, as it is large­ly a fig­ure-head position.

    So when the cur­rent GGis to be replaced, the Prime Min­is­ter will tell the Queen who they want to be the replace­ment, and the Queen will rub­ber stamp it. Though select­ed by the cur­rent rul­ing par­ty, the GG does not answer to them. In the Queen’s place, the GG will accept a PM’s res­ig­na­tion, which he would be expect­ed to do if he suf­fered the embar­rass­ment of los­ing a vote of con­fi­dence in Par­lia­ment, as this is meant to indi­cate that he can no longer form a gov­ern­ment as Par­lia­ment will not accept his lead­er­ship. Addi­tion­al­ly, the GG asks the win­ning par­ty’s leader if he would be so kind as to form a gov­ern­ment and lead the nation. The Prime Min­is­ter then appoints the oth­er Min­is­ters, such as Min­is­ter of Defense, Min­is­ter of Finance, etc.

    Oh… and while the oppo­si­tion is all the peo­ple that aren’t part of the par­ty with the most seats, the “Leader of the Oppo­si­tion” is the leader of the par­ty with the sec­ond most seats. He/she then selects “Shad­ow Min­is­ters” from the oppo­si­tion; where a spe­cif­ic per­son is assigned to be the crit­ic of each Minister.

  3. Thanks, Heather and Gregg. Once I remem­bered that there are 3 par­ties (Con­ser­v­a­tives, Lib­er­als and the NDP) all jock­ey­ing for seats, it became eas­i­er to under­stand how one could have the largest slice of the pie but yet still be less than a 50% of all. I dare­say if the Greens get a stronger rep­re­sen­ta­tion this could get even more com­pli­cat­ed, with tem­po­rary alliances and con­sen­sus-build­ing being the order of the day in all cases.

    As for the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al — in ret­ro­spect, that por­tion of the ‘cor­rec­tion’ feels like a wonky dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion as a reac­tion to the more vague descrip­tion I gave.
    Reminds me of those peo­ple who argue about the fact that Nan­cy Pelosi will now be the third in line to run the US, should WPIUSH and Sharp­shoot­er Cheney be out of pow­er for some rea­son or anoth­er (where are the Mars Attacks Aliens when you need them!)

  4. There is more than 3 major par­ties, don’t for­get the Par­tie Québécois, who have actu­al­ly been the ones the minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment Con­ser­v­a­tives have relied upon a few times.

    Just as the Con­ser­v­a­tives brought down the minor­i­ty Lib­er­al gov­ern­ment as quick­ly as they could; don’t be sur­prised to see the same very soon now that the Lib­er­als have elect­ed a new leader. They will prob­a­bly make a move as soon as they fig­ure they stand a chance at win­ning an election.

    The pol­i­tics involved there are that when you lose a vote of con­fi­dence like the Lib­er­als did, you are expect­ed to dis­solve your gov­ern­ment and call an elec­tion. If you win, you’ve proven your­self; and even if you again only have a minor­i­ty, the oppo­si­tion will like­ly not chal­lenge you for a while as that would just enrage the vot­ers. How­ev­er, if you lose, then the par­ty leader is expect­ed to resign; which is why we have been watch­ing as the Lib­er­als elect a new leader. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Paul Mar­tin, as he had to resign because he did­n’t lead the Lib­er­als to a vic­to­ry; how­ev­er the loss is prob­a­bly much more his pre­de­ces­sor’s fault. His shot at glo­ry came at the wrong time.

  5. I share David’s con­fu­sion over the Cana­di­an sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, even though I’ve been sub­scrib­ing to Maclean’s mag­a­zine for near­ly two years. Read­ing Cana­di­an his­to­ry books has­n’t solved the prob­lem either.
    Can any­one sug­gest a book that explains it all? Per­haps some­thing like a high school textbook?

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