Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Maple leaf putsch?

Tomorrow or next week, the Speaker of the House of Commons will issue perhaps the most important ruling in Canadian history: he will effectively uphold or demolish responsible government at a stroke.

Our system of governance is based upon one powerful premise: that Parliament, not government, is supreme. Canadians go to the polls to elect Members of Parliament, not a government, and not a Prime Minister. The Executive has, since the founding of our country, been accountable to the legislature.

All this could literally change overnight.

Should Speaker Peter Milliken rule against the Opposition parties that have each raised a question of privilege over the open defiance of Parliament by the Harper government, our system of government will be effectively overthrown. The Executive--that is, the Prime Minister and his appointed Cabinet--will be responsible to no higher authority than itself between elections: it will be able to govern virtually by decree.

This is no longer about Afghan detainee documents. It's about democracy, however limited it might be, from Magna Carta to the present day.

People across the political spectrum ought to be breaking into a sweat right about now. The new order, if Milliken rules in favour of the government, will combine the very worst of the Westminster and presidential systems: an unelected chief magistrate, untrammeled by constitutional checks and balances, who already chooses his Cabinet and the Supreme Court judiciary as well. And how Canadian this would be--no blood in the streets, no mass arrests, no executions, just a ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

In this eventuality the odious Steven Fletcher, Minister for Democratic Renewal, may have to be reassigned. And I trust that even my more conservative readers would no longer object to my description of Canada's New Government™ as the "Harper regime."

Stay tuned. As one constitutional lawyer put it, this is huge.

UPDATE: (April 24) Either great minds think alike, or the Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner is a Dawg's Blawg fan.


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