Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fun With the Constitution

As the entire planet knows, the USA recently had an election. A few of you also know that Canada had an election too. The US race will result in a change of governing party, but the handover won't occur until January when the president-elect will become the first US president with recent African ancestry. (I say "recent" because current science suggests that all our ancestors were Africans. It's just that some walked out long before recorded history, some were abducted, and some voluntarily emigrated). Meanwhile the Canadian election resulted in no change of Prime Minister, but now the party in power has only a minority of seats in the House. This blog entry discusses the current constitutional wrangling with respect to the Canadian government, which is a bit of a joke, and then a joke relating to the US constitution and their recent "historic election."

Canada first: When the ruling party in Canada is defeated in the House of Commons on a money bill or in a specific non-confidence vote, the Prime Minister has to go cap-in-hand to the Governor-General (the Queen's representative in Canada and our titular head of state) and ask for a decision. She can ask another party to form the government, call an election, or give everyone a timeout (prorogue). The PM can recommend a decision, and the GG usually abides by his recommendation, but she doesn't have to.

Last week a coalition of two parties, aided by a written agreement with a third stated its intention to vote against an important bill. The coalition has informed the Governor-General that they are prepared to form the government but the vote has been delayed because the GG granted the PM a prorogue. Meanwhile the ruling party, the Conservatives is casting disparagement on the opposing Liberals and NDP because they are allying with the separatist Bloc Quebecois. The Conservatives have a secret tape recording of advance planning of the coup. How do they have it? A member of the Conservative party was accidentally invited to a conference call on the subject, on account of having the same last name and a similar e-mail address to a Liberal MP. Meanwhile the Liberals have found an even older document proving that the Conservatives planned to do exactly the same thing if they were in the same position. Pundits are calling it a constitutional crisis, but it makes me laugh.

Politicians everywhere try to make their opponents look bad, and that's the theme of the US joke, a way that the Republicans could really tick off the Democrats. If George Bush were to resign before the inauguration, VP Dick Cheney would become president. Now that would annoy a lot of people, but here's the funny part. If Dick Cheney were to make Condolezza Rice his VP, and then resign himself, the Republicans could lay claim to the first African-American President of the United States.

By the way, the United States will be the third and last country on the continent to have a head of state who can trace ancestory to Africa. Mexico had the first in 1829 and Canada's Governor-General Michaëlle Jean is a first generation Haïtian immigrant.

I know I can trust you guys to comment on this blog entry without disparaging any of the candidates or the people who voted for them.


Emil said...

If that happened in the US it would also give the Republicans the first female President... two birds with one stone...

N6349C said...

You forgot Greenland, which is in North America, and became independant from Denmark in 1979, and fully self governing in 1981. I don't think it has ever had a government led by a RAA ("Recently African American"). Nice term, by the way :)

Sarah said...

Thank you for the news report on the Canadian election!

I am not happy, perhaps, but relieved to hear other countries have trouble getting a goverment elected. Recall 2000, when it took an entire month for the US Supreme Court to step in and pick president Bush. Here in Minnesota, we still don't have a Senator. They're recounting with a 300 vote difference of 3 million votes. When did democracy get so hard to to? And what does it mean to have such close elections?

The misplaced e-mail and conference call was hilarious! I have to admit the machinations in an actual 3-party parliamentary system make our 2-way fights seem simple. Pass the popcorn.

About Obama, the 'content of his character' ( to misquote Martin Luter King ) are what matter to me, not his ancestry. It's nice, in that electing a non-white marks a maturation of the culture, but secondary.

paul said...

This clip may presuppose a bit of knowledge about US politics, but it is hilarious:

If the other party wins

Best of luck with the new government up north -- I gotta confess I just don't get the parliamentary system. Is the US government equally opaque to our Canadian neighbors?


Audrid said...

Just pointing out that, while the Governor-General does not need to accept the advice of the Prime Minister, failure to do so might well provoke a real constitutional crisis - as in the King-Byng Affair.

dpierce said...

I didn't realize the GG really could choose to ignore the recommendation of the PM. Canadians repeatedly tell me that the GG is simply a ceremonial proxy and will "do as she's told by the PM". If for some reason she didn't the Queen might return or there would be a tear in the fabric of space-time or something.

And what does it mean to have such close elections?

It means the parties' marketing is highly effective. It's unnatural for significantly sized voting bodies to so frequently split nearly 50-50. That's purely the result of polling, and the marketing of candidates in response to the poll results. We pick politicians as we pick soap or TV shows.

Soaring Student said...

This little poof-up has the political parties highly excited, but they like to use the word crisis to describe any event which is not of their creation.

The reality is that Canadians don't elect our Prime Minister, or even Her majesty's Government - we just send a MP to Ottawa, they count up the numbers of politicians by party, and whichever party has the most members is asked by the GG to form the government. In other words, we elect MPs, and the government just sorta happens.

Politicians, being the self-centred power-hungry sluts that they are, are either positioning this as a consitutional crisis, or as an exercise in supporting democracy since we the coalition have more seats than they the current government do. Neither, of course, have the interests of Canadians' interests at heart, they're just trying to create a facade in front of the reality that for both sets of politicians it is nothing more than a chance to be in power.

So what will happen? The sun will still come up tomorrow and it will likely be in the east, it will all get settled out with much wailing by the losers but with no bloodshed, the whole event will have the rapt attention of the politicians and the talking heads on the news channels, and the next bunch of bums won't be much better - or worse - than the last set.

And the average Canadian will only care that we don't want another election so will you get this all figured out so you can go back to work. Tomorrow's weather will affect us much more than this clash of wills.

Sarah said...

Quite so, dpierce.
What was in my mind in the rhetorical question is that there is little difference between the candidates.

Either little in reality, or as perceived by the advertising saturated voters. I hope the latter, but suspect the former... we'll see.

>And what does it mean to have such
>close elections?
>It means the parties' marketing is >highly effective. It's unnatural for >significantly sized voting bodies to so >frequently split nearly 50-50.

dpierce said...


Oh, I'm in your boat. It's like going to the car dealership to buy a zippy little spyder, and the salesguy offering you a 'choice' between the only two cars left on the lot: a red SUV and a blue SUV.

In that scenario, I'm guessing 100 people polled would evenly split between the red and blue SUVs. (I love bad analogies.)