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Contempt, Coalition, and Confidence:
Confusion about Government in Canada

© John Keith 2011

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4. Confidence, Coalitions, and Contempt

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Do voters elect their prime minister? No, voters elect their MP, and then the leader of the party that has the most MPís in the House becomes the Prime Minister. The leader of this party remains Prime Minister as long as his or her government has the support of the House of Commons.

Can only the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons be Prime Minister? No, if a government loses the confidence of the House, the leader of another party could become Prime Minister and form a government if this government has the support of the House. A coalition government can also be formed.

And that also answers our final question. Can a coalition form a government in Canada? Yes, of course it can. It has happened in the past, and it could happen again.

What has never happened before, however, is that a government has been found in contempt of parliament. The Prime Minister and Cabinet refused to provide enough information to the House about proposed funding for new fighter jets and for prison system reforms and information about the actual costs of corporate tax cuts. In doing this, the government refused to be accountable to the House of Commons. This goes far beyond keeping the confidence of the house; the government, in effect, tried to rule without being responsible to the House for its actions, and it was found to be in contempt of parliament. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken has said, "This is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account", and constitutional expert Professor Peter Russell of the University of Toronto has said "The licence to govern in Canada is the confidence of the House of Commons. Period. Full stop.Ē

In summary, voters elect their MPís, not their Prime Minister. The leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons becomes the Prime Minister and chooses the Cabinet. However, the duly-elected MPís in the House can choose another Prime Minister if they lose confidence in the first. And finally, any Prime Minister can form a coalition government and have as Cabinet Ministers MPís from other political parties.

This, however, is not what you have been hearing from the Conservative Party, the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister himself. It seems that the governmentís contempt of parliament is accompanied by a lack of respect for the truth.

1. Confusion about Government in Canada
2. The Canadian government, from the top down
3. The Canadian government, from the bottom up
4. Confidence, Coalitions, and Contempt

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