Tom Flanagan: Responsible government is merely a convention

When Stephen Harper tried to take advantage of Canadians ignorance on coalition governments in parliamentary systems it was not a healthy thing for he is the Prime Minister and as such his highest duty should have been to the constitution.

I disagree with much of Tom Flanagan’s values as I am sure he would abhor mine but being a political scientist I just assumed, given we all have the same basic training, that when it came to the subject of minority parliaments he and I and every other political scientist and constitutional expert would be on the same page.

My father did his graduate work at UBC, I did mine at York some 25 years later and we both learned the same thing: governments are formed in virtue of their capacity to receive the confidence of the house. Who gets the most votes in an election or most seats (short of a majority of seats) is entirely beside the point. This is not a hypothetical, it is not a theory, it is the rule. Anyone can pick up an introductory Canadian politics text book and regardless of the author or their political affiliations they will say just that. Sadly Tom Flanagan in the Globe and Mail had this to say:

There’s no point in discussing constitutional hypotheticals right now. We have to remember that constitutional conventions are formed by what office-holders such as the prime minister and governor-general do in concrete situations. That’s why conventions can evolve over time.

This is completely disingenuous and Tom must know it. It is very dangerous territory to suggest that the well established key-stone of democratic responsibility in parliamentary systems–that the government is formed by the party who can get and then retain the confidence of the peoples’ house–is merely a constitutional convention which can be changed at a whim for reasons of crass political expediency.

I would give Mr. Flanagan a lecture from Ed. Burke but I won’t bother. Save to say Canadian conservatives have gone bonkers. Let us hope Tom does not write an introductory text book for Canadian political science.