In 2008, Stephen Harper went one step too far in his minority government and the opposition parties decided it was time to take him down. While the Liberals and New Democrats discussed a possible governing coalition, the Conservatives attacked with everything they had. When Canadians started protesting for both sides and the talks got more heated, Harper went to the Governor General and asked her to prorogue (temporarily shut down) Parliament.
All of this happened just weeks after the October election.
What exactly happened that morning between Stephen Harper and Governor General MichaŽlle Jean is a privileged matter between the two of them, with no record of what was said. In the end, after two hours of discussion with Harper and various advisers, Jean granted the prorogation, and Parliament would come back to a new session, a new Speech from the Throne and a new budget on January 26, 2009.
Traditionally, the Governor General doesn’t say no to the Prime Minister, but there was precedent Ė in 1926, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King asked the GG to dissolve Parliament, but Lord Byng saw an option to have Arthur Meighen and the Conservatives form a government and avoid an election.
In 2008, Jean could see a similar situation, a government failing to retain the confidence of the House, and an opposition ready and willing to work together to form a government.
Now it seems, according to one of the advisers to Jean at the time, she also took into consideration the damage that the Conservative Party could do to Canadian democracy if she did not do what Harper asked.
Since being elected in their first minority in 2006, the Harper Tories have been in attack mode constantly. At the time of the prorogation request, the Conservative Party was already trying to convince Canadians that the coalition would be illegitimate Ė actually lying to Canadians about the way the parliamentary system works.
Stephen Harper and his PR machine told Canadians that they had elected a Conservative government and that the other parties forming government would reverse the results of that election. Canada does not elect a government. We do not elect a Prime Minister. We elect Members of Parliament who form a parliament and the party with the most MPs forms government. The parties elect their own leaders, and the leader of the party forming government becomes Prime Minister.
The government has to hold the confidence of the house, and the Harper Conservatives didn’t. The coalition had guaranteed to the Governor General that they would maintain confidence for a certain length of time.
Worse than the lies the Conservatives spread, was the fact that many Canadians Ė voting Canadians Ė believed it, and still do.
Photo Credit: US Mission Canada
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