UK Supreme Court set strong precedent by ruling in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was illegal because it unjustifiably prevented Parliament from fulfilling its constitutionally protected role
Snap election call illegal for same reason, and also because measure in election law fixes election date for every four years, a vote of non-confidence had not occurred, and because a large majority in Parliament voted against having an election
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
OTTAWA – Today, on the International Day of Democracy, Democracy Watch announced that it and Integrity B.C. founder Wayne Crookes have filed a case in Federal Court (PDF of application) challenging Prime Minister Trudeau’s request that the Governor General call a snap election. The case is not aimed at stopping the current federal election. Instead, it is aimed at winning a ruling that the Prime Minister violated the fixed election date measure in Canada’s election law, and that the PM is only allowed to ask the Governor General to call an election every four years on the fixed election date, with the only exception being if a vote of non-confidence in the government occurs before that date.
Democracy Watch filed a similar case against then-Prime Minister Harper’s snap election call in September 2008. The Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal both ruled that a constitutional convention had not been created when Parliament added section 56.1 to the Canada Elections Act in 2007, and that the measure was not specific enough to prohibit the Prime Minister from calling an early election.
Democracy Watch’s position, and the position of Andrew Heard, one of Canada’s foremost experts on constitutional conventions, is that the courts made an incorrect decision in that case because section 56.1 says “each” election “must be held” every four years, and adding the measure to the law created a rule and a convention that the PM is required to comply with, unless a non-confidence vote occurs.
Democracy Watch’s position is also that its current case is stronger because the situation when Trudeau called a snap election call is different from Harper’s snap election call in September 2008 in several key ways, especially because:
- In a 327-1 vote on May 25, 2021, MPs (including Trudeau) voted against holding an election, and all opposition party leaders clearly and publicly expressed their opposition in July-August to holding an election;
- As opposition parties made clear with public letters and statements before Trudeau’s election call, a majority of MPs voted in favour of everything the Trudeau Liberals have proposed since the last election, including the 2021 Liberal budget, or were in the process of reviewing proposed measures on the usual legislative timeline. Opposition parties clearly supported the Liberals continuing to govern, and the Trudeau government had the confidence of Parliament, when Trudeau called the election.
(Click here to see Backgrounder for details.)
The British Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2019 that PM Boris Johnson’s decision to advise the Queen to shut down Parliament was unlawful as it “ha[d] the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive” (para. 50 of the ruling). The same principle applies to Trudeau’s snap election call, which shut down Parliament for no good reason.
As well, the fixed election date rule in Canada’s election law, and the Prime Minister following the law for the past three elections, have created a constitutional convention rule that the PM is required to follow. In 2011, the Conservative government led by PM Harper called an election only after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament. In 2015, PM Harper called an election on the fixed date, as did PM Trudeau in 2019.
“Prime Minister Trudeau’s snap election call was illegal because Canada’s election law fixes election dates for every four years unless there is a vote of non-confidence in the government, which did not happen before his election call in August, said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “MPs from all parties, including Prime Minister Trudeau, voted against holding an election, all opposition party leaders were against it, and the Liberal government had the clear confidence of Parliament in every way except for calling an election.”
“In the same way the British Supreme Court rejected the British PM’s shutting down of Parliament as an illegal abuse of power that went against the will of Parliament, the courts should rule that Trudeau’s snap election was illegal because it violated the fixed election date law and convention, and the democratic will and constitutionally protected role of Parliament,” said Conacher.
“Two of the most important things Canadians want from their politicians is to obey the law and to tell the truth – Mr. Trudeau has done neither here,” said Wayne Crookes, founder of Integrity B.C. “To call an election during the Covid-19 health emergency which has cost 27,314 Canadians their lives at an unneeded expense of about $500 million reflects very poorly on Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party. He has put self-interest before his duty to Canadians.”
More than 20,000 voters signed Democracy Watch’s petition on Change.org calling on Governor General Mary Simon to say no to any snap election call by Prime Minister Trudeau before the next fixed election date. Snap elections are unfair to voters, people who want to run as candidates, and most parties. That’s why Parliament decided to fix the federal election date in Canada’s election law.
Because they are illegal, dishonest and unfair, Democracy Watch and Wayne Crookes also went to court to challenge the snap election calls last fall by the B.C. NDP Premier and the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Premier, both of which violated their provincial fixed election date laws. The New Brunswick case was heard in mid-March, and the B.C. case is scheduled to be heard in October.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]