NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is absolutely correct in his assessment that a federal election this year is wholly unnecessary. Singh, however, is very much mistaken in his belief that Canada’s new Governor General should do something about it.
And, frankly, he should know better.
Amid widespread speculation that a fall election is looming, Singh has formally asked newly sworn-in Governor General Mary Simon to deny any request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to dissolve Parliament and thrust the country into a campaign. He maintains that this minority Parliament is functioning just fine and that there is no reason for Canadians to go to the polls right now.
Again, that is a valid point but it’s hardly something worth promoting a constitutional crisis over. If indeed Trudeau and the Liberals are prepared to call an early election based solely on narrow partisan interests, then it is up to Canadian voters to decide whether that is deserving of punishment. This is a matter to be resolved democratically.
Singh also notes the fact that Canada has fixed election date legislation, and that an election two years after the last one would fly in the face of that legislation. It should be noted, however, that the legislation is rather specific on an important point: “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.”
Again, if Canadians feel as though the Liberals have wrongly flouted that law, then an election is an ideal opportunity to hold them accountable for that (as arguably happened to Alberta’s incumbent government in 2015).
It is true that the Governor General, as the Queen’s representative in Canada, holds the power to dissolve Parliament; hence the need for the prime minister to pay a visit to Rideau Hall in the first place. There is, however, a fairly well-established convention as to the circumstances under which a Governor General might use that discretion.
As Carleton University professor and noted Westminister system expert Philippe Lagassé notes in a blog post, “a dissolution can be refused if an election has recently taken place, say within the past 9-12 months, and there’s another viable government among the parties in the House of Commons.”
University of Waterloo professor and constitutional expert Emmett MacFarlane makes another important point in all of this: eroding the governor general’s neutrality and non-partisan nature would be “fundamentally undemocratic.”
It’s not just Singh who’s trying to advance this flawed narrative about the Governor General as the election referee. Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May went even further by suggesting that there’s some burden of proof here that the prime minister must demonstrate or evidence that he must present, as though the Governor General is the judge in some theoretical election call courtroom.
It’s absurd. There’s been more than enough in the last few years to tarnish and undermine the position of Governor General. It’s not helpful to have prominent national politicians demanding that our new Governor General — who hopefully can restore some dignity and prestige to the position — do something she really has no business doing.
Assuming the prime minister does call an election this year, we’ll have a significant number of Canadians who will be left with the impression that the Governor General somehow failed in her mythical duty to put him in his place.
Trudeau’s response to all of this was to simply regurgitate talking points about how the opposition parties are being difficult and uncooperative, arguments that seem pre-emptively aimed at blunting any criticism about an unnecessary election campaign.
Ultimately, Canadians will sort this all out whenever we eventually go to the polls. In the meantime, let’s leave the Governor General out of it.