Exciting Canadian Politics is a Sign of the End of Times

with 41 comments

governor general flag

Did you ever read the Canadian constitution?  It’s a very curious document.  It describes a political system that bears very little resemblance to the one we think we have.

An immigrant from Utar Pradesh reading the constitution of Canada would learn about a country ruled by an all powerful monarch counselled by a popular assembly of the common people.  A country with a very primitive form of democracy and scarcely a check or balance.

Such is the British parliamentary system.  A system that evolves slowly with time and with foundations made of traditions instead of words.

The idea that the leader of the party that wins the most votes in the election becomes Prime Minister and he forms a government out of elected members of his own party is not in the constitution.  You can ctrl+f the constitution all you want, you won’t find the words “political party” in there.

Political parties were a sort of spontaneous  formations – kind of like the alliances in the TV show Survivor – that were never intended by the designers of the game, but became a fundamental part of it nonetheless.  The original intent was that any combination of elected (white males who owned land in the original version) members of parliament could get together to form, or support, a government.

That is the government’s only claim to legitimacy vis-à-vis the governor and the Queen: it has the support of a majority of the elected members of the House.  According to the letter of the law – if you are to read the actual words of the constitution – the Governor General, and ultimately the Queen, can make her cat Minister of Finance.

In 1999 the British kicked the hereditary lords out of their own house, the House of Lords, ending the centuries old right of blue bloods to oversee the Empires affairs without so much as a vigorous debate. Such is the beauty of the British political system: it can turn revolutions into incredibly boring affairs.

Real power slowly but inevitably is transfered from the Throne, to the Parliament, to the democratically elected members of the House.  Without any drama or bloodshed.  That is how Britain can have one of the most democratic regimes in the world without having to get rid of it’s hereditary head of state.  It is how it can have one of the oldest and most stable political systems in the world, without even having a written constitution.

Change is slow, but it moves in one direction: toward more democracy and accountability.

It works because all the players: the Queen, the governors, the MPs, the Senators, the Lords, the Judges, etc… agree on a few unwritten rules: the House of Commons and it’s elected members hold, not the ultimate legal power, but the only legitimate power and the government must have the support of the House.

Last week the Governor-General of Canada prorogued the session of Parliament to keep a government that it knew did not have the confidence of the majority of the elected members of the House of Commons from losing a vote.

The unelected representative of the Queen disregarded the opinion of the House.

Last week was awesome for Call-centre workers (i.e. Poli Sci majors) across Canada and Québec.  We had excitement, drama and intrigue in Parliament.  We saw our Head of State act like a Head of State and use her constitutional powers.

That, in our system, is not a good sign for democracy.

Written by angryfrenchguy

December 7, 2008 at 11:17 pm

41 Responses

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  1. “That, in our system, is not a good sign for democracy.”

    I can’t think of anything recent that is more beneficial for our democracy. I’ve heard more opinions about politics in the last week then I heard during the last election. Democracy is only valued when felt at stake, and the recent events have people paying attention again. These little democratic hiccups are essential to keeping it going, especially in populations well accustomed to democracy and are susceptible to voter apathy.

    As for the other topic of culture and economy, it is more then chance that the last two Quebec referendums occurred during a financial down turn. Just look at the recent american election to show how a poor economy can influence the national mind set. Culture and economy are dependent on each other, and what happens during the next few years may be accompanied by some very interesting culture swings, I just hope in a good direction.

    Also, AFG, I first found your blog when I moved to Quebec this summer. Always entertaining to read and quite informing in terms of some aspects of the Quebec psyche. I moved from out west, where I remember school political debates on Quebec sovereignty were often solely based around how ‘pretty’ Quebec was and how it would be a shame to lose it.


    December 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm





    December 12, 2008 at 1:08 am

  3. Leaving aside the obvious (and now documented in this blog) inaccuracy of the statement:

    “The fact that Canadians have whitewashed all the uglier and embarrassing parts out of their history is, typical” —

    It’s worth noting that every country/nation/people has elements in its past that were unsavory. Canada is no exception. Neither is Quebec, neither are French-Canadians.

    Canada has gone further than many countries – and not as far as some – to recognize some of these. I am not an expert French-Canadian, or Quebec, history (one of the reasons I read this blog, among others), but I would imagine Quebec’s record is not wildly different in this regard. Perhaps other commenters can educate me better on this subject if so.

    In any case, bringing up that the Canadian political system in the mid-19th century was based on the suffrage of land-owning white males means that it was entirely typical (and actually quite more inclusive) of mid-19th century developing societies. The relevance of that to the issue under consideration is negligible, and, thus, a cheap shot. Well, I suppose it’s as relevant as pointing out that the French-Canadian society (including that part of it which has formed the greater part of Quebec) tended around the same time to concentrate power in the hands of white males who owned land.

    None of this is to take away from my enjoyment of this blog and my appreciation to AFG for operating it. Even when I don’t agree with AFG, he is often thought-provoking. And even when he is not thought-provoking, he is entertaining. Thanks!

    I am Jack's Comment

    December 12, 2008 at 1:24 am

  4. “Well, I suppose it’s as relevant as pointing out that the French-Canadian society (including that part of it which has formed the greater part of Quebec) tended around the same time to concentrate power in the hands of white males who owned land.”

    Not excatly,
    during the regime of the Constitutional Act of 1791 till 1840, women were elected in the legislative assembly, because they were land owners. The Union act in 1840 stoped that.


    December 12, 2008 at 11:33 am

  5. I am Jack:

    Oui, je suis d’accord que the comment about whitewashing things can be considered a cheap shot, given that all political elites pretty much are given to trying the big “whitewash when it comes to things that they have done that history and society have later judged shameful. Slavery etc.

    On the other hand Marc Anthony tells us (in Julius Caesar)
    ” the evil men do lives after them, the good is enterred* with their bones”

    (*enterred — enseveli –“buried”)

    Not everything that every single one of our ancesters, French and English had done in life was evil. In even own own single lives, all of us have done some bad things that it is important to acknowledge.

    Separatists like taking cheap shots and alienated Westerners like taking cheap shots, Harper likes taking cheap shots (big time) and bloggers who are often fanatically partisan also like this disingenuous practice .

    However, consider here, those who commented on it:

    <> –AFG (ci-dessus.)

    This part of AFG’s post was NOT a cheap shot, just a statement of fact, not a slur on white anglos (or on French ‘colons’)

    It is discouraging that committed separatists do not see the evolution of civility and civilisation within the Canadian ‘duality’ and the Canadian mosaic, the same mosaic that exists in Montréal and other urban centres in Québec.

    Each single wrangle in politics is seen as more proof that the country doesn’t function. But that view is not the reality.

    Canada functions almost as well as la Suisse, ou la Scandinavie. Quebec itself functions enormously well within the present arrangement. You guys are not “oppressed” de nos jours!

    Oui, on devrait avoir — we should have — proportional representation, but Quebec itself does not have it, and the PQ never brought it in either when it was in office. Yes democracy in this country of ours should be refined and improved big time, but there is no need for a Révolution suivi par une Terreur sanglante.

    How to protect Québec culture? From anglos?? How does ROC protect our values vis à vis the USA.??

    Canada is ALREADY separate from the USA and it doesn’t make it ANY easier to protect our values, which are far closer to Quebec values than to USA on the social and cultural aspect. WE are bombarded by American pop culture, music books, films, dog eat dog social relationships. But WAKE UP everybody — the Americans themselves seem to be on the cusp of wrenching changes in their society led by the Obama view of “getting along together”. Lessons Stephen Harpur is NOT learning.

    One thing Canada does is provide a certain fraternal solidarity for French in Canada which is protective of your interests.

    No, the second official language is NOT for everyone in Canada. Not everyone is smart enough to acquire and appreciate French in ROC. But the desire and the will is there in the leadership and opinion makers in the society, amongst the educated and those priviledged to have global cultural views.

    Many of you insist you are social democrats, well… there is the NDP. Environmentalists, well… there is the Green. Culture and language are most important well… you have both PLQ and PQ. You already have all the tools necessary to make French flourish in a new “golden age”, une renaissance française in Quebec.

    If you are truly inclusive, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

    If large proportions of Québecois “de souche” insisted on each making 5 personal anglo and allo friends and THEN over time insisted more and more on interacting with them 85 to 95% en français, (instead of using them to practice their own English and if you made it fun for them to speak with you in French each and every time, then you would get committment of all groups to living and working in French.

    In fact I imagine at least 50% of Québecois are already doing this, and with good results! But the separatist minded persons tend to do otherwise, just like Alberta rednecks, (by a long shot they are not all ‘rednecks”). Governance does not have all the answers to one’s needs and happiness in life!

    Deep down a lot of separatist sentiment has to be seen through the optic of a tribu/ tribe thing that has to do with some type of “racial” cohesion that is other than just cultural or linguistic. (J’aime <>, à propos en radio-canada, le soir)

    And from another aspect separatism exemplifies the romanticism and exuberance of youth — why are all the soldiers, so young to sacrifice and die in war in the fervent bloom of their youth??

    Hard line separatists can be seen as dreamers, but many of them still angry about long ago in the past. Or about perceived “injures” ou “jurons” insults and epithets from anglos of low self-esteem. I mean if you have to lay into someone like that, it has to self something about self-esteem. I’m talking here of anglos who do “trash talk” But most of the anglos who don’t do the trash talk thing aren’t blogging either.

    I represent the millions of others of anglos, humbly enough.

    It is clear enough to me that Québec can certainly made the grade all by itself, but why is that even desireable?

    Will your culture be that much richer, your self-esteem that much greater, and the bonheur générale tant mieux qu’auparavant? Will you then get Montréal, et les autres allos, et anglos to “commit” avec plein coeur?

    Dans les régions il y un peu de la paranoïgue, de la xénophobie, je pense, que n’existe plus dans les métropoles. C’est pourquoi les PLQ a remporté dans les grandes villes et les lieux bilingue comme L’estrie, la Beauce et la rive sud au-délà de la région suburbaine de Montréal.

    But there is nothing wrong with the solidarity and warmth of small town and village life. There is the same cultural conservatism in rural Ontario.

    As ABP has observed elsewhere we are in la crise économique la plus grande depuis la depression mondiale des années trente.

    Let’s not talk about the quintessential sadness of Canadian separation.

    ( As opposed to the “joy” hard nationalists dream about!)

    Lets instead make a “coalition of the willing” to embrace one another as concitoyens who are indeed linguistically challenged on both sides of the “frontière”

    Ce matin, je viens de passer un examen sur le siècle des Lumières en France (1685 -1799) (en 1759 la rupture entre la France et La Nouvelle France à peine trente années avant la révolution) mais Voltaire, Rousseau, Olympe de Gouges, Bernardin de St. Pierre, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Françoise de Graffigny étaient ouverte au monde entièr. Ces philosophes français étaient tellement bons et bonnes, même pour nos jours.

    I don’t speak ta belle langue avec tant l’efficacité que je voudrais mais je continue de l’apprendre peu à peu.

    The world is already too divided. We have something “pas si mal” ici au Canada. Lets not lose each other!

    Meilleurs voeux de Guelph, Ontario. Et Joyeux Noël à tous, et a toutes.



    December 12, 2008 at 12:43 pm

  6. @ bruce

    A sensible post…tres bien …mon ami.

    Nous besoin chaque autre…maintenaut. por certaimaute. a’ le temps diffficule comme leur sont.

    J’ aimer les gens du quebec..des gens sont beacoup incroyable avec leur coutoire riche.

    J’ustment pour le dossier.

    je suis desole pour ma paurve francais a tous.



    December 13, 2008 at 1:06 am

  7. ABP: you create words – coutoir – very good!
    That’s culture for me!


    December 13, 2008 at 2:02 am

  8. “As ABP has observed elsewhere we are in la crise économique la plus grande depuis la depression mondiale des années trente.

    Let’s not talk about the quintessential sadness of Canadian separation.

    ( As opposed to the “joy” hard nationalists dream about!)

    Lets instead make a “coalition of the willing” to embrace one another as concitoyens who are indeed linguistically challenged on both sides of the “frontière””

    That’s nice, but only a dream, and a late one. I prefer not having any unrealistic optimism fot the future.
    I believe Canada as we know it has but a few years to go.

    No future for Canada’s dreaming!

    This crisis is not “la plus grande depuis la depression mondiale des années trente”.
    The worst is to come and it wont be merely economical, but political as well. Borders are not eternal.


    December 13, 2008 at 2:09 am

  9. I have an idea….let the Queen just be the queen of CAnada, at the FEDERAL level…but introduce flexibility to allow each province to come up with how it wants things to run at the provincial level, there were brief worries recently that Quebec would just be “Canada on a smaller scale” in terms of unstable minority….and the right to request the lieutenant governor to “prorogue.” What do you think things should be like in the Quebec government? How to make it more…accountable to the people who should matter?


    December 13, 2008 at 9:19 am

  10. “ABP: you create words – coutoir – very good!
    That’s culture for me!”

    I think maybe a bit too much wine….makes one very creative.



    December 13, 2008 at 2:09 pm

  11. Good post. I think that the governor Generals role is one that can be important in partisan times like these.
    An unclouded (supposing you can find mind pressing the pause button can be a good thing. Ditch the Queen part and just call her an “Umpire” or “Referee” or something. And we do have a check and balance in place, It’s called the senate, where good policy goes when it needs to gather dust and old person smell..


    December 14, 2008 at 12:33 pm

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