A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Canada facing constitutional crisis over potential coalition government

[JURIST] Canada took a step towards constitutional crisis Monday as the three federal opposition parties signed a landmark accord [text, PDF] to defeat the Conservative minority government and form a new coalition government without an intervening election. If the Conservative government is defeated in a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons that could come as early as next Monday, Michaëlle Jean [official profile], the country's Governor-General [official website] and the nominal representative of the Queen, could be faced with an awkward choice between granting a likely request by Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website] to dissolve parliament and send Canadians back to the polls just weeks after the last federal election on October 14, and using her extraordinary reserve power to accept the opposition parties' offer to immediately form a new government under the leadership of Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion [campaign website]. Dion's Liberals were drubbed in the October 14 vote [results], going down from 95 to 77 seats in the House of Commons. In combination with the leftist New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Quebecois [party websites] they would, however, command a total of 163 seats, easily allowing them to outvote the 143 Conservative MPs. The crisis and the coalition deal were triggered by a Conservative economic policy statement [press release] delivered last week that offered no economic stimulus package and outlined plans to cut public funding for political parties and eliminate the right to strike for federal public servants. The Conservatives have since backed away from the latter measures and have pledged to move up the date of the next federal budget. Jean's office said Tuesday that "in light of the current political situation in Canada" she was cutting short a European state visit [press release] and returning to Ottawa to address the crisis. Harper and other Conservative spokesmen are challenging the coalition deal as fundamentally undemocratic and insist that the opposition parties have been given no mandate to govern [press release].

The last time a Canadian government was replaced without an election was in 1926. Now known as the King-Byng affair [backgrounder] the Governor-General of the time, Lord Byng, refused a request by Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to call an election after King was defeated in the House, and instead called on Conservative leader Arthur Meighen to form a new government. Meighen, however, was quickly defeated in the House in turn. King won the subsequent election and afterwards pressed for a redefinition of the office of Governor-General which ended its status as agent of the British government, as opposed to the monarch. The last coalition government in Canada was formed during World War I under the leadership of Conservative Party Prime Minister Robert Borden as it struggled to push through national conscription. The so-called Union Government [backgrounder] of Conservatives and some Liberals and independents ended in 1920.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.