13 March 2006

The Crown and the constitution

The Queen is in Australia this week where, among other things, she will open the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Coincidentally, I have been reading Edward McWhinney's The Governor General and the Prime Ministers: The Making and Unmaking of Governments. Now that Canada is in a second minority government situation in nearly as many years, McWhinney's book is especially timely. His treatments of the King-Byng constitutional crisis of 1926, the Whitlam Dismissal of 1975, the defeat of Joe Clark's government in 1979 and other events of constitutional import are readable and informative. (On the other hand, the book appears to have been rushed into print. There are errors in his account, most notably in his treatment of the changes of government in Ontario between 1985 and 1990.)

Because I came of age in the US at precisely the moment when a presidency had become incapacitated, I can appreciate the value of a division of labour between head of state and head of government characteristic of many polities, including Canada. At the same time, I do tend to wonder whether the governor general's office here constitutes a sufficient check on the vast powers of the prime minister. It would not be a bad thing to see a governor general act somewhat more resolutely to keep the PM in line. However, as long as she or he is effectively appointed by the PM himself, this is not likely to occur.

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