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 law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, September 28, 2018
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on Quebec’s political party leaders and the Lieutenant Governor to learn the lesson of the post-election chaos in New Brunswick and agree this weekend on eight public, written rules for a minority government, as more than 80% of Canadians want. Even if Quebec 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 (but a large majority of scholars do agree the conventions should be written down). The vagueness in the rules effectively allows the elected Premier and ruling party to abuse their powers and violate the rules, as the only way to stop violations is for the unelected, unaccountable Lieutenant Governor as the representative of the British monarchy to decide that a violation has occurred and to try to stop the elected Premier from doing what they want.
Lieutenant governors in several provinces have almost never stopped a 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 Quebec’s political party leaders and Lieutenant Governor 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 ruling party that violate the rights of the legislature and the democratic will of the majority of voters.”
After the eight rules are enacted into law, the Quebec legislature 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 rules for the legislature are unwritten and unclear in Quebec, the premier and ruling party will be able to abuse their powers and the legislature’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
Democracy Watch’s Stop PM/Premier Power Abuses Campaign
8 Key Rules for Minority Government
- After the election, the former Premier shall resign as Premier and is prohibited from requesting that the Lieutenant Governor give him/her and his party an opportunity to govern (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in the legislature) unless his/her party has won the most seats in the election or s/he can show the Lieutenant Governor that his/her party, (either a formal coalition or a legislative agenda agreement) will be supported by a majority of politicians in the legislature;
- If the former Premier’s party has not won the most seats in the election or cannot show that it has a coalition/agreement supported by a majority of politicians in the legislature, the leader of the party that won the most seats in the election shall have the right to request the Lieutenant Governor give it an opportunity to govern (i.e. to appoint a Cabinet and introduce a Speech from the Throne in the legislature);
- Within 30 days after the Lieutenant Governor decides which party or parties will be given the first opportunity to govern, the governing party/parties will open the legislature with a Speech from the Throne;
- If the leaders of parties that represent a majority of members of the legislature indicate that they will vote against the Speech from the Throne of the governing party/parties, the Premier is prohibited from asking the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the legislature before the Speech from the Throne is voted on by members of the legislature;
- If a majority of members in the legislature vote against the Speech from the Throne, the Premier shall resign as Premier and is prohibited from requesting that the Lieutenant Governor call an election until the Lieutenant Governor has heard from the opposition parties whether they want an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement);
- After the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the only vote in the legislature that shall be a vote of non-confidence is a vote on a motion that states: “The legislature does not have confidence in the government.”
- If opposition parties introduce a motion of non-confidence in the governing party at any time after election day and before the next fixed-election date, the Premier is prohibited from requesting the Lieutenant Governor prorogue the legislature before the motion is voted on by the legislature, and if the motion passes the legislature may pass another motion within one week that reverses the non-confidence vote;
- If the legislature does not vote to reverse the non-confidence vote, the Premier shall resign and is prohibited from requesting the Lieutenant Governor call an election until the Lieutenant Governor has heard from the opposition parties whether they want an opportunity to govern (through either a formal coalition or legislative agreement). The Premier is also prohibited from requesting the Lieutenant Governor call an election in between the fixed-election dates unless a non-confidence vote has been confirmed (and no opposition parties have requested an opportunity to govern) or two-thirds of the politicians in the legislature vote in favour of holding an early election.