The Writ Is Over, the Writ Is Over

Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson once said in a letter to his first wife, Ellen Axson, two years before they got married,

The profession I chose was politics; the profession I entered was the law. I entered the one because I thought it would lead to the other. It was once the same road; and Congress is [s]till full of lawyers.

One-hundred and twenty-five years later, and across an international border, this quote still holds true. A quick search of current members of the House demonstrates that 45 of the 308 MPs have their occupation listed as “lawyer.”

Earlier this morning Prime Minister Harper dissolved parliament and called for an early election. The move was not without controversy.

Bill C-16, an amendment to the Canada Elections Act, was intended to fix the election date for the third Monday in October 2009, to prevent politically opportune moves to call an early election.

Detractors, including Michael Behiels, a constitutional political historian at the University of Ottawa (but not a lawyer), claim Harper has done exactly that.

Some claim that it is good for the Party, and for the country. Jack Granatstein of York University says that although the spirit of the new law might be violated, the letter is not.

Others indicate that the Governor-General’s position is purely ceremonial, and by convention she could not decline the request.

Most Canadians won’t care either way, as less than two-thirds begrudgingly trek to the polls.

Those peripherally interested in keeping score might be interested in the new Ekos Election Poll website launched today. But Ipsos-Reid says these polls, like all polls, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Just weeks after the Olympic games close in China, the political games will begin here in Canada. Let the games begin.


  1. I am a regular reader of the blog, but I am not a lawyer. I am wondering if any Canadian Lawyers can comment on what happens now that Mr. Harper and the Governor General have breached the law according to the Elections Canada Act, an ammendement that Mr. Harper himself put in place I believe. Mr. Harper has even acknowledged that he is breaching it and will explain why he is.

    Can the RCMP charge Mr. Harper and the Governor General today? Who has to initiate this legal action, the oppostion governments? How does one go about doing it?

    If he actually gets away with it and without being charged it might be a good thing for Canadians. I mean it is nice to know that as a Canadian you can breach a law when it is inconvenient and as long as you can explain it, you won’t get charged. Great message to give.

  2. I am just a law student, so I won’t even try to answer your question from a legal perspective.
    What I can report back via the media is that Errol Mendes of University of Ottawa Law has contemplated a court injuction, but Patrick Monahan, Dean of Osgoode Hall has said questioned whether this could work.

  3. Well, Mr Harper cleared used a loophole. The provision about the GG’s discretion was clearly intended to be used if there was a vote of non-confidence. Indeed one could not leave that out, without amending the constitution fundamentally, since it is a first principle of our constitution that the government must have the confidence of the House.

    But it was not contemplated – either federally or in the provinces like BC and Ontario that have similar provisions – that the PM could personally decide that the House did not have sufficient confidence for his purposes, and thus ask for a dissolution.

    If I had been GG, I would have been very much inclined to refuse dissolution. It’s different from King-Byng in 1926 because of the fixed term statute. OTOH if Mr Harper actually resigned, it is a bit hard to know who the GG might call on to form a government in his place, i.e. one who might have some hope of getting the confidence of the House.

    In 1926 GG Byng called on Mr Meighen, but when his govt was shortly defeated, King made his political hay with the ‘foreign’ interference. Another point of difference – it would not have been an Imperial imposition to refuse (though Mr Harper appears to be no fan of Ms Jean, perhaps as a Liberal appointee or perhaps as too cosmopolitan for Tory tastes.)

    The mischievous spirit says “Call on another Conservative, like David Emerson, whose political career is going to be short anyway…” but no sane Conservative who wanted public office or public employment in the current century would accept such a call. If there were folks already out for Mr Harper’s blood, it might have been different, but he seems to have his party behind him (and since he’s about their only hope of appearing electable, one can understand them.)

  4. As a follow-up Devin Johnston did an interview on the subject with Dr. Gerald Heckman, a Professor at the Robson Hall Faculty of Law, for Episode 15 of Law is Cool.