Canada’s Prime Minister Wins Nod to Close Parliament; Averts Crisis ‘For Now’

By Pete Winn | December 4, 2008 | 4:34 PM EST

Ceremonial mace removed, as Canadian House of Commons suspends action until January. (Canadian Press photo)

( - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won approval Thursday from Canada’s governor general to suspend the Canadian Parliament until January – averting for the moment a constitutional crisis that could have led to rebellious opposition parties forming their own coalition and taking power into their own hands to topple his government. 

Harper told reporters that Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, the representative to British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, agreed to his request to close Parliament until Jan. 26.
Experts on Canadian government say the crisis was caused because the prime minister tried to privatize public financing of political parties.

On Wednesday night, Harper told Canadians in a televised address that the opposition parties had engaged in a “back-room deal” to cause his government to fail – even though Canadians overwhelmingly gave Conservative Party candidates a near majority in elections held just two months ago. 

Wore, the opposition coalition would give power to Quebec separatists, who want to remove French-speaking Quebec from the rest of Canada.

"The opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition with the separatists they promised voters would never happen," Harper said. "The opposition is attempting to impose this deal without your say, without your consent, and without your vote." 

Harper's government had been scheduled to face a “No confidence” vote on Monday, Dec. 8, but that has been placed on hold until he can “table” – or present -- a budget in January that will address Canada’s difficult economy.
Canada’s Liberal Party had joined with the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois to form a coalition to undermine Harper’s government. The Bloc Quebecois is the official Quebec separatist party. 

Liberal leader Stephane Dion had predicted Wednesday night that closing the nation’s legislature would only “delay the inevitable.”
"If Mr. Harper wants to suspend Parliament he must face a vote of confidence," Dion said in an address.
"The Harper Conservatives have lost the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Commons. In our democracy, in our parliamentary system, in our constitution this means that they have lost the right to govern," he added.
But Stephen Scott, an emeritus professor of law at McGill University in Montreal, told that the unprecedented crisis in Canada didn’t come about because Canadians were tired of the Tories – it came about because Harper decided to get rid of public financing of political parties.
Unlike in the U.S., campaign money from labor unions and corporations was banned in 2003 under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Scott said, and public money was substituted. Harper proposed ending the hand-out of public funding to political parties.
“Since the Conservatives do have a good fund-raising machine but the other parties get about two-thirds of their money from the public sector – from public financing -- this was going to bankrupt the other parties,” he added.
“So what Harper did was move from a position where no one would have believed he could be defeated in the House, with 143 seats (out of 308), into a situation where he put the knife to everybody’s throat and was threatening to bankrupt them.”
The Hon. Jim Hnatiuk, leader of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, told that Harper had “gone a bit too far” – but predicted the Liberal-Bloc Quebecois-New Democrat coalition could fall apart soon.
Hnatiuk said there are plenty of Canadians who feel that the Quebec separatist party shouldn’t be allowed into the House of Commons at all.
“There is some hope, if the coalition cracks between now and January, that this whole thing (ouster attempt) will fail, that it will crumble,” Hnatiuk said.
The government will have to present the nation’s budget on Jan. 27, and Harper called on the opposition to work with his administration to help the country’s ailing economy.
In the Canadian system, the leader of the party with the most members in Parliament gets an opportunity to form a government – and must frequently form coalitions with other parties to have enough votes to form a majority.
Under the Canadian constitution, McGill’s Scott said, if a sitting government loses a no-confidence vote – or loses its majority -- opposition parties must be formally invited by the governor general to try to form a government.