A question of respect, so-called

Michael
Michael Johansen
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One cold winter day I returned to my North West River home to find a haunch of caribou waiting for me on my front step.
At first I thought it was something a neighbour left to thank me for snowblowing his driveway a couple of weeks earlier, but it wasn't long before I discovered the meat was riddled with worms and parasites. It was unfit to eat. It stank. I realized that maybe it wasn't a gift, but something else entirely: editorial comment from a reader, Labrador style.
Most columnists get a few comments from time to time. Some are good. Some are bad. Some offer constructive criticism. Some just criticize. Some give well-meaning insults. A columnist is usually advised to not get into a debate with his or her readers. The columnist has already had his say and he should let everybody else have theirs. But sometimes readers bring up issues that deserve a wider hearing.
A case in point:
Ever since Stephen Harper dodged a non-confidence vote by getting the Governor General to prorogue Parliament, I've been referring to him as "the so-called prime minister" to question his right to hold that office.
That offended Jim from B.C., who commented about a recent column on a newspaper website.
"So-called Prime Minister," he wrote, to quote a moderated version of his message. "I think you should show some respect, if not for the man, then for the office. Shameful."
Brenda, also from B.C., goes along with Jim.
"Have some respect when you're talking about the PM, buddy. He is not the so-called PM. Just remember that if you prefer the Coalition of Losers to be in power, you are negating and insulting a huge section of the country and their voters. Looks like you went to the Danny Williams School for Jerks."
(Actually, I applied, but they said I was already over-qualified.)
Apart from (or maybe included in) the point that, far from being a failure the proposed coalition was quite successful, making Harper hide behind the skirts of the Governor General, there's the question of whether he is able to command respect by himself or only by waving his job title around.
First of all, I certainly respect the office. Not only that, I understand its place in history and its role in our system of government. The holder of the office at the Palace of Westminster in London, England (where Canada's democratic system was born) started out and essentially remains the first among equals in the House of Commons, although he could also be drawn from the ranks of the Lords.
A prime minister was not and can never be elected by the people or appointed by the monarch. It is one of the things that protects our system of democracy. The Queen, for instance, could try to impose her choice of first minister on Parliament, but she'd fail and her government would fall if she could not gain the support of most of the members.
It is the MPs who are chosen by the people and if the majority of them do not back the prime minister (regardless of how he got the position) then he cannot use their mandate to govern.
In other words (as it's spelled out in the Canadian Constitution), if the prime minister is put to the test and does not have the confidence of the House of Commons he cannot, he should not govern.
Stephen Harper had his chance to prove he had the necessary confidence and to fulfil his duty to the Constitution by submitting to the will of Parliament, but instead he and his party chose to go on the attack, sowing misinformation and breeding discontent, trying to turn Canadians against the very institutions that are meant to protect them from demagogues and dictators. What does that say about the Conservative Party's dedication to democratic government?
However, despite Conservative efforts, for now the Constitution is still in effect and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms still applies, which means nobody in Canada, not even newspaper columnists, can be prevented from saying things like: If Stephen Harper, the so-called prime minister, wants respect, he has to earn it.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: House of Commons, Coalition of Losers, Danny Williams School for Jerks Conservative Party

Geographic location: Labrador, North West River, Canada London England

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  • DB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Quite the play on words. I disgree, that people do vote for a PM. While we cannot vote directly for the PM we usually vote for the local candidate based on who we want as PM. Look at all the people climbing over each other to join the 'Danny Williams Team'. How many times have we had to pinch our nose and a cast vote for the village idiot only because they were running under a certain leaders banner. It'll be interesting to see what conditional name you'll have for Iggy if the coalition is handed power - given that he wasn't elected leader of his party much less win a national election.

  • bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Right on MICHAEL. If STEPHEN HARPER supporters don,t like hearing the truth, they can live in ignorance as long as they wish but would love to see them be honest .

  • DB
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Quite the play on words. I disgree, that people do vote for a PM. While we cannot vote directly for the PM we usually vote for the local candidate based on who we want as PM. Look at all the people climbing over each other to join the 'Danny Williams Team'. How many times have we had to pinch our nose and a cast vote for the village idiot only because they were running under a certain leaders banner. It'll be interesting to see what conditional name you'll have for Iggy if the coalition is handed power - given that he wasn't elected leader of his party much less win a national election.

  • bob
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Right on MICHAEL. If STEPHEN HARPER supporters don,t like hearing the truth, they can live in ignorance as long as they wish but would love to see them be honest .