Saturday, March 26, 2011

Prime Minister Harper uses Coalition framing to deny voters' rights

Stephen Harper (the prime minister who has just been turfed out of office after the majority of MPs voted that they found his government in contempt of our Parliament, and for that reason voted that they did not have confidence in his government) is once again showing his contempt for the democratic rights of Canadians by his description of coalitions under our Parliamentary traditions.

The Problem:

Harper is deliberately distorting the true meaning of the legal position by claiming that the three opposition parties formed a coalition in their 2008 agreement. 

He is trying to inflame voters against the right of any party other than the Conservative Party to enter into agreements with the duly elected MPs of other parties, to arrange for the governance of the country.

He is also deliberately distorting our constitutional law by claiming that our tradition is that the leader of the party with the most seats (but not a majority) after the coming election in May has the right to form the next government. That is just not so.

His argument is that any agreement between the three opposition parties which would deny him the right to govern should the Conservative Party win the most seats of any party (but not a majority), is an illegitimate attempt to launch what amounts to a coup in Canada.

It is almost beyond belief that the Prime Minister, having just been voted out of power due to a finding of contempt of Parliament, should still use his office as prime minister to foster such incorrect impressions of our constitutional laws.

It is as if this prime minister believes that the end (his retention of power as the next minority government), justifies the dissemination of incorrect information about our constitutional  laws.

This is unseemly, and totally inappropriate.

The Result of such Coalition Framing:

By using these arguments, the prime minister is in effect trying to deny the voters who vote for the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberal Party of their legal  rights to have the MPs of the parties they chose, exercise the rights those MPs enjoy under our Parliamentary system.

His argument effectively strips duly elected MPs of their rights to govern the country in accordance with our constitutional conventions.

The True Legal Position:

How is this stripping of rights done?

Consider the true legal facts: if Harper's Tories should gain the most votes after this election, but not a majority, this does NOT give the Tories the legal right to become the next government. The law simply says that Harper, as prime minister, will in such a case have the right to ask  the House if it has confidence in his government. This is usually done at the time of the vote on the Throne Speech, which sets out the main government  programs.

If the majority of the House (that is, the majority of MPs from all 4 parties) vote that they have confidence in the government, ONLY THEN, AS A RESULT OF THAT VOTE, does the minority government of Harper have the right to continue as our government.

What Harper's statement of the constitutional position does is to attempt to deprive the majority of the MPs in the House of their right to vote their confidence in the prime minister and his government. This is something that Harper has no right to do, something that is legally incorrect, and something that reeks of contempt for the rights of the House to vote for or against our governments during confidence motions - all confidence motions, starting with the very first one.


One  would have thought that having been found in contempt of Parliament just yesterday, the Conservative government and party would be gunshy about trying yet again to strip our MPs of their legal rights in our Parliament.

Every time that the Conservative Party states the law incorrectly, we as citizens are in danger of being robbed of our rights through incorrect understandings, simply repeated by an ignorant media.

An Example:

An example of what might well happen will illustrate exactly why Harper is pushing this incorrect line.

Let's assume (despite the erosion of trust in Harper and his Tories shown by recent polls), that Harper's Tories gain the most seats after the election, but not the majority of seats.

Now let's assume that Harper then through the Throne Speech indicates that his government's policy is to introduce exactly the same budget as the one that all three opposition parties had said they would vote against, and that he had, for good measure, included the elimination of the funding of political parties, and also, given the right wing nature of his greatest supporters, decided to deny women the right to decide on abortion, and then, as a cherry on top of it all, his government would decrease the amounts paid to seniors and increase the corporate tax reductions by yet another $5 billion or so.

Does anyone in their right mind think that just because Harper's Tories gained the most seats (but not a majority), that the other three parties have to sit mutely in the House and allow Harper's minority government to govern as they deem fit?

It is obvious that the correct Parliamentary procedure – that any prime minister governs only with the confidence of the House, as indicated by a vote of confidence passed by the majority of the MPs – has been arrived at over the centuries for precisely the reasons shown by the example I have given. 

It is designed to prevent a prime minister trying an end run around the rights of citizens and their MPs. Harper's claim that a coalition of losers does not have the right to rule is simply another statement of the same power grab by the Harper Tories.

Harper does NOT have an Automatic Right to Rule:

Harper is distorting the legal position and trying to claim an automatic right to govern just because his party might gain the most seats, but not a majority. This amounts to a unilateral power grab by the Tories, which is akin to a stealth coup d'etat.

No citizen is giving up the right to have his or her MP of choice being given the right to show confidence in or lack of confidence in a Harper minority government after the May election simply because it suits Harper and the Tories to claim this right.

We are governed by laws, and our MPs have rights in our Parliament.

We should not let the Harper Coalition Question framing diminish through the backdoor our rights.

This is our parliament, and I for one wish to retain the right of my MP to vote  for or against any Harper government if we unfortunately end up with one after the May election.

Let us be very careful about the distortions in our public dialogue that such stealth claims can bring about. We have seen this kind of tactic used countless times in the US, but it is alien to the Canadian way.

O, Canada, we stand on guard for thee!


  1. Very well said! Hopefully people will actually pay attention and not let Harper yet again pull the wool over their eyes.

  2. Its too late. I watched Ignatiefs press conference last night after the vote and, unless he answers that question firmly this thing is over already. The MSM smells blood. Why doesnt he just lie and say "no coaltion". Worked for Trudeau, Chretien and Harper on the campaign trails, and, they told some whoppers.

  3. Prof.NedFranks said he would do the same as Michael and ignore it.


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