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Federal party leaders should agree on eight key rules for minority government to ensure fair post-election decisions

Rules should make it clear when the legislature will open, what a vote of non-confidence is, what will trigger next election etc.

Should issue public statement of agreement on rules before Monday, and then first bill passed by Parliament should make the rules law (as many other countries have)

Thursday, September 16, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, with all surveys pointing to another minority government, Democracy Watch called on federal party leaders to learn the lessons of past minority governments and reach an agreement this week on eight public, written rules for a fair, democratic minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want, and as the former Governor General called for in August 2016 in an interview with the Hill Times. Agreeing on the rules now will help ensure everything runs fairly, democratically and transparently in the days after the election, and through to the next election.

The rules should make clear: when the legislature will open; when it can be closed; what a vote of non-confidence is; when and how the opposition parties may get a chance to govern and; when and how the next election can be called before the fixed election date; which party will get to try governing first after the next election. (Click here to see Background listing the 8 rules)

The current rules are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw. A large majority (78%) of constitutional scholars surveyed in fall 2012 supported writing down the conventions. The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Prime Minister and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Governor General to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Prime Minister from doing what they want.

The Governor General, and lieutenant governors in several provinces, have almost never stopped a Prime Minister or Premier from doing whatever they want, and have allowed premiers to abuse their powers by not opening the legislature after an election, shutting it down arbitrarily for months, and calling snap elections in violation of fixed-election-date laws. The Governor General allowed Prime Minister Harper to call a snap election in 2008 in violation of the fixed-election-date law, to prorogue Parliament in a very questionable minority government situation, and to declare many votes in Parliament as confidence votes even though they were clearly not confidence votes. The Governor General also allowed Prime Minister Trudeau to call a snap election in August in violation of the fixed-election-date law.

In England, Australia and New Zealand, political party leaders and MPs agreed years ago to clear, public rules so what happens after an election is fair for all the parties, and for voters. Most countries in the world also have clear, public post-election rules.

As well, a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians by Harris-Decima in November-December 2012 showed that 84% of adult Canadians want enforceable rules to restrict key powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers.

“There are no legal or other justifiable reasons for Canada’s political party leaders and the Governor General to fail to approve eight key rules for a fair, democratic minority government,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It is clearly in the public interest that the rules be approved to stop unfair abuses of power by the Prime Minister and ruling party that violate the rights of Parliament and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”

After the eight rules are enacted into law, Parliament should, as the legislatures in England, Australia and New Zealand have, examine and enact other fairness rules to ensure the legislature and MLAs can hold the government accountable. The rules should cover the following key areas: what can be included in omnibus bills; the freedom and powers of individual politicians to vote how they want on resolutions and bills; how members of legislature committees are chosen, and; what a Cabinet can do during an election campaign period until the next Cabinet is chosen.

“As long as the federal rules for Parliament are unwritten and unclear, the Prime Minister and ruling party will be able to abuse their powers and Parliament’s ability to hold the government accountable will be undemocratically restricted,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign