Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some Hasty History and a Christmas blessing - Harris

I've been submerged in deadlines all week. The Word Guild blog slipped my mind as I immersed myself in research, writing and figuring out Christmas. But about four in the morning I was prodded awake by a nagging thought: The Word Guild Blog. The Word Guild Blog, I thought? Is it the 17th? Oh my, what will I write?

Then the thought came to me. Share what you've found out. So, here it is.

Let me begin with a verse from scripture: Prove all things, hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Now let me share a couple of historical facts that I've discovered that run counter to what you hear on the news. First, Michael Ignatieff's, promotion to Leader of the Opposition, without an election, is nothing new in our democratic tradition. Both Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, in Alberta, became Premiers without an election in their first terms. This has happened several times at the federal level as well.

As loyal members of their parties, the caucus members (MLAs and MPs) of our political parties normally accept their memberships' choice about who should be their leader in the Legislative Assembly or House of Commons.

That is convention. It is not law, although some parties do have by-laws, within their organizations, to require members of the party sitting in the legislature or Parliament (which includes the Crown, Senate, and House of Commons) to follow the party's instruction about who to choose as First Minister or Leader of the Opposition.

But, rarely, a party's caucus (MLAs or MPs who sit as members of that party) chooses a leader without a party vote. That too is acceptable in our system of Parliamentary Democracy.

For example, when Alberta Premier William Aberhart died suddenly in 1943, there was no party convention or consultation. Instead, the Social Credit Members of the Legislature got together at a caucus meeting and made Ernest Manning the Premier. The voters and the Opposition had no say in this decision. This is a perfectly acceptable way of becoming Premier in our system of government.

We are a Constitutional Monarchy. It is the role of the Crown to ensure that there is always a stable government in Canada and the Crown has several options to ensure it. The Crown can also deny unconstitional laws as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta did when William Aberhart tried to deny Freedom of the Press in the Province of Alberta. His decision was backed up by both the Governor General, the Provincial Courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committe of the Privy of Westminster . I assure you that Albertans are very glad Lieutenant Governor, John Bowan, a Baptist Minister, took his job seriously enough in 1935 not to sign away our Freedom of Speech because the Premier, also a Christian Pastor, asked him to. (Interestingly, this episode is not usually discussed by the popular media, although Lord Byng's decision to deny Mackenzie King an election is.)

Why? Because first ministers (Premiers, Prime Ministers - these words literally mean first minister- are elected as members of an assembly (legislature, House of Commons) for a particular riding (sometimes called 'constituency'). Canadians, like Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, and other Commonwealth Realms elect members of assemblies (Legislatures, Parliaments). They do not elect First Ministers.

It is convention that the head of the largest party becomes First Minister. The leader of the second largest party usually becomes Leader of the Official (or Loyal) Opposition (Also sometimes called Leader of Her Majesty's Official --or loyal- Opposition.

But coalitions are also acceptable: one coalition was between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Georges Etienne Cartier. It led to Confederation.

In the 1950s, the parties of British Columbia formed a coalition to deny the Commonwealth Cooperative Federation power. In a rather dramatic story, typical of British Columbia's colourful political scene, the plan led to the election of W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit Party.

O.K. Now you have proof that I am a nerd who immerses herself in history and the constitution. But may this nerd make one comment?

Learning one's history and constitutional framework helps us discern what is being said to us by our 'leaders' and, with prayer, leads us to where we need to go.

Sorry this is so hastily written. I'd be happy to discuss this history with any of you, but give me until tomorrow. I have to get this last deadline met. Blessings. Happy Christmas.

Jane Harris

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Thanks, Jane, for this interesting and informative piece.
It very much helps lend perspective to help us view our current federal political dynamics through the lense of history.

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