Group launches letter-writing campaign for changes that will help stop abuses of power by the Prime Minister and premiers, and make legislatures much more fair and democratic
OTTAWA – Today, as Prince Charles celebrates his 65th birthday, Democracy Watch launched a letter-writing campaign for key changes to empower, democratize and Canadianize the Governor General and provincial lieutenant governors. All the changes can be made by simple resolutions in each legislature – no amendments needed to the written Constitution – and all will help stop abuses of power by the Prime Minister and provincial premiers and make every legislature more fair and democratic, and Canadian.
“The Governor General and provincial lieutenant governors are supposed to play a key role in checking abuses of power by the Prime Minister and premiers, but they are appointed lapdogs with no clear rules to enforce,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch. “The Governor General and lieutenant governors must be chosen democratically, and given clear, written rules to enforce, to ensure they can stop abuses of power by the Prime Minister and premiers.”
First, as the national legislatures in Britain, Australia and New Zealand have done, the federal and provincial legislatures should pass a law or resolution that sets out the following five clear rules concerning key processes that involve the Prime Minister (PM) and Governor General (GG), and a premier and the province’s Lieutenant Governor (LG) (processes which are currently regulated by very unclear, unwritten constitutional conventions):
- General election dates are fixed every four years (preferably on the last Monday in October), and the PM/premier may only ask the GG/LG to call an election in between the election dates if the legislature votes non-confidence in the government;
- The legislature must be opened within 30 days after each general election, and must be open at 120 days each year;
- After each election, the political party that obtains the most seats in the election shall be given the first opportunity to form a government and demonstrate that it has the confidence of the legislature, and if the legislature votes non-confidence in that government then the leading opposition party shall be given the same opportunity, or can refuse it and allow the GG/LG to call an election;
- A vote of non-confidence is only a vote on a resolution that reads “The legislature does not have confidence in the government” and after a government loses a non-confidence vote, the leading opposition party shall be given the opportunity to form a government and demonstrate that it has the confidence of the legislature, or it can refuse that opportunity allowing the GG/LG to call an election, and;
- The PM/premier may only request that the GG/LG prorogue the legislature during the regularly scheduled annual adjournment periods, and only until the scheduled end of any adjournment.
Secondly, given that the written Constitution does not require that the Governor General be selected in any specific way, the federal Parliament should pass a law establishing a new, democratic process for choosing the Governor General (GG). The law should create a new federal Cabinet appointments agency made up of five people chosen with the approval of the leaders of all federal political parties recognized in the House of Commons. That agency should conduct a public, advertised, merit-based search to come up with a shortlist of three qualified candidates for GG (this agency should also do similar searches for candidates for all other federal Cabinet appointments). Then, a convention should be held attended by the leaders of every party recognized in the federal, provincial and territorial legislatures, with the GG approved by at least two-thirds of the leaders. This will result in a democratically representative, non-partisan and qualified GG being chosen every time.
As well, currently each provincial lieutenant governor (LG) is chosen by the Prime Minister (usually after consulting only with the premier of the province) and approved by the Governor General. The federal Parliament should also pass a law that requires the appointments agency to search for qualified candidates, and requires the Prime Minister to have the approval of the leaders of all provincial parties recognized in the provincial legislature for the person chosen to be LG, to give each LG democratic legitimacy.
Finally, given that the written Constitution does not require that the Prime Minister request the Queen’s approval of the Governor General (GG), the Prime Minister should simply not request the Queen’s approval for the next person chosen to be GG. It is very likely that the Queen will still proclaim the person as Canada’s GG, thereby establishing a new constitutional convention that will Canadianize the GG.
– 30 –
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch
Democracy Watch’s Democratic Head Campaign