How not to accept defeat gracefully

Michael Johansen
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Once again, what this country needs right now is a good dictionary.
Canada's prime minister - Stephen Harper, that is - has been claiming that the proposed Liberal-New Democrat coalition would be "illegitimate" and "undemocratic."
However, with apparently rare restraint, he has never actually claimed that the opposition leaders are staging a coup d'État. He's left that to his ministers, minions and supporters. According to them, the Liberals, NDPers and members of the Bloc Quebecois - all duly elected to the House of Commons on Oct. 14 - are "immoral," "pirates," "bandits," a "Third World goon squad," not to mention being treasonous seditionists on par with the infamous Guy Fawkes (who tried unsuccessfully to blow up the British House of Parliament in 1605).
Those ministers, minions and supporters, however, reflect hypocrisy in every point of their argument.
"The coup may be constitutionally legitimate, but the leaders of this bunch of bandits were rejected by the people of Canada," says one. "That makes it illegitimate without an election."
That intentional or unintentional ignorance of Canada's parliamentary system appears to be the main plank in the Conservatives' platform in the party's public relations campaign against the proposed coalition (the separatist issue notwithstanding), one that seeks not to honour the results of the last federal election, but to subvert them.
"If we desire proportional representation as a country, we should be allowed to vote upon it. It should not be forced upon us by a coup d'État."
In point of fact, what the leaders of the three opposition parties have been attempting is not a coup d'État, but a coup de gouvernement. As such, as even Conservatives admit, it is not only perfectly legal, but allowed and encouraged by the Constitution of Canada as the way to avoid violence when there are competing claims to power. Morality doesn't come into it, except insofar as bloodshed is avoided when the Constitution is respected.
It's not a coup d'État because, as prime minister, Harper is not the head of state. He's the head of government. In the Canadian system - one that has evolved in Canada, Great Britain and in many other countries over hundreds of years - to be head of government, a prime minister (who, Constitutionally speaking, is only one elected MP among 308) has always needed the confidence of Parliament to govern. That means that Harper needs enough votes in the House of Commons to pass legislation. Without them, his government simply cannot function.
The Conservatives, in trying to dig themselves out of the crisis they created, now want to change that. In effect, they are proposing to scrap the current Canadian political system by rendering Parliament irrelevant.
"The confidence of the people is far more important than the confidence of Parliament," claims the National Citizens Coalition.
Harper has vowed to defeat the coalition's attempts to win a non-confidence vote against him by any legal means possible, but in the end will he be satisfied if the law favours his opponents? His views and demands and the views and the demands of his supporters - who seem so eager to frighten Canadians into submission by inflaming separation in both Quebec and the west - suggest that if the law won't serve the Conservatives then the law should be rewritten.
If anyone appears to be staging a coup d'État, it's the so-called prime minister. His campaign to hang onto power, no matter what, has weakened the legitimacy of Parliament in Canadian society and even led his backers to cast aspersions on Canada's true head of state.
Conservative supporters are not only questioning MichaËlle Jean's objectivity in partisan matters, but her loyalty to a united Canada, as well.
"Should this even be the Governor General's job?" headlines ask in Calgary.
No matter what the outcome of this affair, if this so-called prime minister succeeds in discrediting both the Governor General and the Constitution, he's the one - not the opposition, as his supporters claim - who "will open a Pandora's box that will destroy the very fabric of our Parliamentary process."

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Conservatives, House of Commons, Liberal-New Democrat coalition Bloc Quebecois British House of Parliament National Citizens Coalition

Geographic location: Canada, Guy Fawkes, Great Britain Quebec Calgary Labrador

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