Prorogue – How we do things in Canada.

By  | 


  • 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

Canada has been in the international headlines recently as Stephen Harper’s minority conservative government faces dissolution from a coalition of opposition parties.

The best overview I found is What Is Happening In Canada by yarnharlot.

To quickly summarize, a coalition government of the Liberals (center-left), the NDP (left-left) would become the government with a cabinet of about 2/3 Liberals, 1/3 NDP. The Bloc Quebecois (“devoted to both the protection of Quebec’s interests on a federal level as well as the promotion of its sovereignty”[1]) has agreed to support that government for 18 months.

Yarnharlot observed:

the Prime Minister has been rather aggressive, and instead of moderating his motions to the point where the opposition might vote for them anyway, he has instead taken to attaching a confidence motion to just about everything. This means that every time the house votes, they can either vote with him, or force an election. All last year, this strategy worked beautifully. The opposing parties (particularly the Liberals, who were having leadership troubles) didn’t want an election. Forcing the opposition to choose between forcing an election and agreeing with him rammed through a lot of legislation, but bred a lot of contempt. (Depending on whether you are a conservative or not, this strategy has alternately been called “being an aggressive parliamentarian who makes the most of the system” or “being a big fat bully”.)

It looks like this strategy has backfired. The opposition parties believe that the Conservatives haven’t done enough to address the economic crisis and are going to vote against the Conservatives, thus having a vote of no confidence. This is where it gets interesting…

Upon a vote of no confidence responsibility falls to the Governor General. The GG can either call an election (the last one was about 7 weeks ago – October 14th 2008) or ask the opposition to form a government.

But Harper had another option as well – ask the GG to prorogue parliament. This means parliament shuts down for a while. The GG decided to prorogue until January 26th.

I think this was a wise decision on the GG’s part. It allows her office some time to monitor public opinion over the next month or so and decide whether or not to favor a new election or the coalition’s government. In Harper’s favor, the coalition could break down during the time the parliament is prorogued.

The most realistic scenario is that at the first opportunity after parliament reconvenes, the Conservatives will be replaced by the coalition government. I doubt the GG will call a new election both because of the $300 million price tag during an economic crisis and because the results would be nearly the same (a Conservative minority).

Stay tuned for 2009, things should be interesting.

(Justin’s Note: In 2006, Gordon wrote about Canada in four great posts called:

Definitely try to check them out for even more insight into how Canadian politics works.)