By Ryan McGreal
Published December 03, 2008
Given the paucity of Prime Minister Stephen Harpers options as Monday's confidence vote draws closer, pundits and analysts are coalescing around the conclusion that he will ask Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament until his government tables their budget on January 27, 2009.
Here's where it gets interesting. Generally, the Prime Minister will ask the GG to prorogue Parliament - i.e. to discontinue a Parliamentary session - after completing a busy legislative agenda so that the MPs can go back to their constituency offices and get caught up on local matters before the next session starts.
The Governor General, officially the Head of State's representative in Canada, has long served as a figurehead who formally approves the decisions of the government, i.e. the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet, on behalf of the Queen. However, that rubberstamping function is predicated on the Prime Minister having the confidence of of the House of Commons.
Since re-forming the government after the October election, Harper has not yet demonstrated the confidence of the House, and the three opposition parties representing a majority of MPs have publicly stated that he has lost their confidence.
As a result, it is possible that the GG will refuse to grant Harper's prorogue request until he first survives a confidence motion. If so, that gives the coalition an opportunity to vote no confidence in Harper and ask the GG for a chance to form the government before dissolving Parliament and calling an election.
Harper's desperate hope is that the GG will grant his prorogue, giving the deep-pocketed Conservative Party almost two months to run a negative PR campaign aimed at discrediting the coalition and breaking it up so that he can survive a confidence motion when Parliament resumes.
He may argue that under such extraordinary circumstances, the House of Commons and the Canadian public need a chance to cool down and think through the options before rushing into the Constitutionally sound but politically tenebrous alternative of allowing the three also-rans of last October's election to form a government.
No matter what happens next Monday, the outcome will be a trip into uncharted waters. No GG has ever refused to accept a Prime Minister's prorogue request; but no Prime Minister has ever asked for a prorogue before facing any confidence votes - even the Speech from the Throne that opens a Parliamentary session.
At the same time, no party coalition has ever formed a government without running as such in an election.
On the other hand, if the GG forces a confidence vote and then dissolves Parliament without allowing the coalition a chance to govern, Harper will be the first Prime Minister to win an election but lose his very first confidence matter.
The nearest cases may be Charles Tupper (69 days in office), John Turner (79 days in office) and Kim Campbell (140 days in office). The difference is that they all became Prime Minister at the end of a Parliament and almost immediately called an election (in fact, Tupper became Prime Minister in 1896 after Parliament had already dissolved).
Even poor Joe Clark managed to last for nine months in office before losing a confidence vote on his first budget.