JURIST Guest Columnist Dr. Charles Lugosi of Crease Harman, LLP, discusses how Canadian prime ministers’ evasive answers during the Question Period expose deeper constitutional issues…
All Canadian citizens, regardless of personal political preferences, are the heartbeat of parliamentary democracy. Together we vote to choose the political party that will exercise the powers of the executive branch of the federal government. A caring electorate can only make an informed vote when the people know about the mistakes the Prime Minister has made, that are exposed by the Opposition during Question Period in the House of Commons. Public accountability is achieved by truthful responsive answers communicated by journalists and is fundamental to achieving a check and balance between the power of the executive and the legislative branches of government to prevent executive corruption and contempt of Parliament, and ultimately contempt of the people of Canada.
Giving direct, frank, candid answers that are responsive meets the government’s constitutional duty. Public denunciation of the platitudes and political rhetoric uttered as nonsensical answers to legitimate questions has failed to reverse the threat to democracy from Prime Ministers Harper and Justin Trudeau, who have refused to engage in meaningful dialogue. The result is that important role of Question Period has been trivialized and rendered powerless [PDF], reduced to a disgraceful display of arrogance, incivility, and absurdity. The legitimacy of Parliament is at stake, as Speakers of the House, such as Mr. Scheer and Mr. Regan, have claimed that the lack of specific rules makes them helpless and so have failed to resolve this constitutional crisis contributed to by both the Conservative and Liberal parties. It is pathetic to excuse this lack of leadership by Speakers and say, “That is why it is called question period, not answer period.” Canada deserves national and international ridicule for the constant display of buffoonery during Question Period.
Fortunately Canada is also a constitutional monarchy, which means that Governor General Julie Payette has the constitutional and legal authority as Canada’s Head of State, and as Commander-in -Chief, to restore balance, ethics and integrity to the government, by asking these simple questions of the Supreme Court of Canada, “Is it unconstitutional and contempt of Parliament anytime the Prime Minister or any Minister of the Crown, or a delegate, gives an unresponsive answer to a question in Question Period?” “If yes, may the Governor General, then dissolve Parliament and call a general election?” Sections 53(2) and (3) of the Supreme Court Act permits the Governor in Council to refer to the Supreme Court an important question of law or fact for an advisory opinion. Normally the Governor General will act upon the advice of the Privy Council, which is comprised of the cabinet members of the ruling party. It is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister would order the cabinet to oppose the proposed reference, since the root of the current problem lies with Prime Minister Trudeau. There may be different legal opinions whether the Governor General may act unilaterally contrary to the advice of the Privy Council and submit the Reference on her own motion. I think she can, since the entire Privy Council would need to abstain from the reference issue because of an inherent conflict of interest.
It may be that the Liberal party will come to its senses. After all, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau made a campaign promise [PDF] to reform the disgraceful abuses of Question Period by Conservatives like Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra. Trudeau promised: “…the Prime Minister represents all Canadians and should be directly accountable to all Canadians.” But Trudeau has failed to keep his promise.
A glaring illustration is his repeated refusal on May 10, 2017 during Question Period to answer a simple question about how many times he met with the Ethics Commissioner. Instead of demonstrating accountability, Trudeau feebly clung to “consistency”, weakly claiming, “That is what Canadians expect.” Last week, outside the House, Trudeau was asked by a journalist about President Trump’s decision to put trade barriers on the imports of Canadian steel and aluminium. Trudeau fumbled an incoherent answer that has been mocked on social media as a national embarrassment for Canadians who wanted to hear a sophisticated thoughtful response. Perhaps that is why he avoids answering questions during Question Period because he is incapable of spontaneous responsive answers and can only deliver a scripted evasive answer extolling the virtues of the Liberal agenda.
It is impossible for Canadians to have confidence in a government that undermines democracy and the rule of law by repeatedly rejecting questions designed to hold the executive branch accountable to Parliament and the people of Canada. I agree with Michael Ignatieff that, “there can be no more profound cause for an election than the protection of democracy.” That is why the Governor General needs to obtain a responsive answer from the Supreme Court of Canada whether her office may dissolve Parliament if the Government refuses to submit to accountability during Question Period. In my opinion, this is what Canadians expect.
Dr. Charles Lugosi is an attorney with the Canadian law firm of Crease Harman, LLP. Throughout his varied career, Dr. Lugosi has been awarded numerous advanced degrees in law and related fields and has earned his license to practice in several U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions. Additionally, Dr. Lugosi is a noted scholar and researcher, regularly publishing for scholarly journals and amicus briefs.
Suggested citation:Charles Lugosi, Question Period and Constitutional Crisis, JURIST — Professional Commentary, Mar. 8, 2018, http://jurist.org/forum/2018/03/charles-lugosi-question-period.php
This article was prepared for publication by Sean Merritt, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org