What shall we tell our children?

Apropos of not much, the Prime Minister offered the following interpretation of Parliamentary convention during QP yesterday.

Mr. Speaker, I gather it has been the will of the House to replace the government with an unelected coalition. If that is indeed the will of the House, they know that they have to get a mandate from the people of Canada, and they cannot tinker with the House rules to work around that reality.

Those who would like to attempt to put that in context can view the full exchange here.

Matters such as this are infinitely debatable, but, for the sake of argument and perhaps because it is worth taking seriously anything the Prime Minister says in this regard, we turn to How Canadians Govern Themselves, a guide written by the late senator Eugene Forsey, published by the Library of Parliament, approved by the Department of Canadian Heritage and posted to Parliament’s official website.

Specifically, we turn to the second section of the chapter entitled “Parliamentary Government.” There we find this particular paragraph.

In very exceptional circumstances, the Governor General could refuse a request for a fresh election. For instance, if an election gave no party a clear majority and the Prime Minister asked for a fresh election without even allowing the new Parliament to meet, the Governor General would have to say no. This is because, if “parliamentary government” is to mean anything, a newly elected House of Commons must at least be allowed to meet and see whether it can transact public business. Also, if a minority government is defeated on a motion of want of confidence very early in the first session of a new Parliament, and there is a reasonable possibility that a government of another party can be formed and get the support of the House of Commons, then the Governor General could refuse the request for a fresh election. The same is true for the Lieutenant-Governors of the provinces.

This all, of course, brings us back to the events of December 2008. Here is what constitutional scholar Peter H. Russell wrote at the time. Here (scroll down), for a counterpoint, is what author and academic Richard Van Loon argued. And here is a valuable overview of the competing visions from our Andrew Potter.

Granted, this is so 15 months ago. And there are obviously quite pressing matters demanding our attention at the moment. But Mr. Forsey’s guide is said to have “helped tens of thousands of students, teachers, legislators and ordinary citizens in Canada and around the world understand the Canadian system of government.” And the Prime Minister is, well, the Prime Minister. So perhaps we should not too loosely forget or neglect this point of contention.