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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 clear which party will try governing first, 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 the rules, and then first bill passed by legislature should make the rules a law (as many other countries have)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on federal political party leaders to learn the lesson of the post-Sept. 2018 election chaos in New Brunswick and agree this week on eight public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. Even if Canada does not have a minority government after next week’s election, agreeing on the rules now will help ensure the legislature runs fairly and democratically through to the next election.

The rules should make clear: which party will get to try governing first; 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. (See Backgrounder below for the eight rules)

The current rules are unclear because they are unwritten constitutional conventions – even constitutional scholars disagree what lines they draw. 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 (too vague) 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.

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.

The Governor General also said last August in an interview with the Hill Times that he thought these unwritten constitutional conventions should be written down.

“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 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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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179   Cell: 416-546-3443
info@democracywatch.ca

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BACKGROUNDER

8 Key Rules for Minority Government

  1. Until the Governor General has communicated directly with all the party leaders, the Governor General will not make a decision about which party or parties (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) will be given the opportunity to govern first (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in Parliament);
  2. The party that wins the most seats in the election will be given the first opportunity to govern, including in partnership or coalition with another party, unless the leaders of other parties representing a majority of members of the legislature indicate clearly to the Governor General that they will not support that party and that they have agreed to form a coalition government or have agreed on a common legislative agenda;
  3. Within 30 days after the Governor General decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the Governor General and the governing party/parties will open Parliament with a Speech from the Throne;
  4. Even if the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the House of Commons do not indicate lack of support for the party that wins the most seats before that party’s Speech from the Throne, if they subsequently indicate lack of support for the Speech, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister-designate to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the House of Commons;
  5. If a majority of members in the House of Commons vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Governor General will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister’s to call an election;
  6. After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in House of Commons that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The House of Commons does not have confidence in the government.”
  7. If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day, the Governor General will not allow the Prime Minister to prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the House of Commons, and;
  8. If a majority in the House of Commons votes to approve a motion of non-confidence in the governing party before the next fixed-election date, the Governor General will give the opposition parties an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agenda agreement) before agreeing to any request by the Prime Minister that the Governor General call an election.