Not only Dion, but his confederates in the new Parliamentary alliance - Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton - are, to my mind, some of the least appealing political leaders in Canadian history. Furthermore, the issue on which these three propose to overthrow the government - its failure to spend immediately $30 billion (about $1000 for each Canadian) as an emergency "stimulus" package - is to my mind an entirely flimsy issue on which to stand and provoke a potential constitutional crisis. It is also not the real issue that has provoked this crisis. What's more, I think these three generally stand for an objectionable, anti-freedom, pro-nanny state, politics.
However, there is a more important consideration at stake than one's attitudes towards these three. We should all give some time to consider what courses of action we must grudgingly support in the name of upholding the integrity of our Constitution.
There are, for the moment, at stake two basic Constitutional principles essential for our system of responsible Parliamentary government: 1) the principle that the government must have the confidence of the House of Commons; and 2) that, unless circumstances are dire, the Governor General should not be put in a position where she has to deny the request of her duly-established Ministers, and thus make a decision that is likely to be seen, or later interpreted, as politicizing her office, and not reflecting her properly disinterested concern for the integrity of our Constitution and nation.
If the House of Commons votes non-confidence in the present government, as now seems likely, Stephen Harper should very probably bite the bullet and resign from office. If he were to request that the Governor General dissolve Parliament and call an election, he would likely be asking the Governor General to put the integrity of her office at risk, unless he can make a convincing case that the present coalition of Liberals-Bloc Quebecois-NDP is inherently unstable and, perhaps because it includes separatists, a profound danger to the country.
If Harper does choose to make that case, it would seem to me that the Governor General would be ill-advised to refuse his request for a dissolution. The principle that a Governor General should only refuse the advice of her Ministers in the most necessary and rare circumstances would be damaged, and her office politicized. It would be better to allow the voters to decide whether they had any sympathy for a Prime Minister who refused to resign when he lost the support of the House of Commons and who put the Governor General on the spot. The voters would have to pass judgment on what both sides in this Parliamentary war over power are doing.
To support this argument, allow me to quote from the late great constitutional authority, J.R. Mallory:
The circumstances in which the Governor General may hesitate to grant a dissolution will only arise when a Prime Minister who has been defeated in the House of Commons - or who anticipates defeat - may decide to ask for a dissolution instead of submitting his resignation. This he might do if he anticipates, as Mackenzie King did in 1926, that the party situation in the House is such that the leader of the opposition cannot form a government [or, as Mallory argues in a footnote, there is reason to believe that the opposition could not sustain a government for any period of time, given the antipathies of those involved in any new coalition government].Mallory's last-mentioned scenario might seem to apply to the present crisis. However, it is the Conservatives who formed the last government and who increased their numbers in the House of Commons in the last election. The House has already met and passed the Throne Speech. This, along with the fact that Stephane Dion is a lame-duck leader who proposes to rule a coalition of three parties, including separatists, might give Stephen Harper a case to make an argument that the voters need first to be asked to give their support to the newly-proposed coalition. However, in doing so, he would risk politicizing the Governor General's office. And he should only request a dissolution if, in his best conscience, and once he has thought the matter over with whatever serenity this moment will allow, he truly believes the proposed coalition is unworkable and a profound danger to the country. It would then be up to the voters to judge Harper's (good) conscience in comparison with those of the other three party leaders.
The result of Lord Byng's miscalculation [in 1926] of the political situation was that both his position and his motives were misunderstood. The Governor General had felt he was performing his constitutional duty in trying to avoid, under the usual party circumstances which then prevailed, a second general election within a year.
Lord Byng's defence of his position rested, as he explained to the King, on "these salient features":A Governor-General has the absolute right of granting or refusing a dissolution. The refusal is a very dangerous decision. It embodies the rejection of the advice of an accredited Minister, which is the bed-rock of constitutional government. Therefore nine times out of ten a Governor-General should take his Prime Minister's advice on this as on other matters. But if the advice offered is considered by the Governor-General to be wrong and unfair, and not for the welfare of the people, it behoves him to act in what he considers the best interests of the country.Lord Byng's statement of his constitutional position is clearly literally correct. But he overstated it. The occasions on which a Governor General may consider disregarding the advice of his constitutional advisers are much rarer than one in ten; they are very infrequent indeed. They do exist, but they are so rare as to elude precise formulation, and at best have a pragmatic sanction. The Governor General can employ his discretionary powers only in those circumstances where he can get away with it, and where the alternative is something close to constitutional chaos. On that basis Lord Byng was mistaken, though not unconstitutional.
Every unsuccessful use of power is an adverse precedent. While it is impossible to agree with those who say that the 1926 affair disposed forever of the Governor General's supposed discretion in granting a dissolution, it is clear that the future discretion of a Canadian Governor General has been somewhat narrowed.
there was speculation in the press in 1957 that Mr. Diefenbaker upon taking office might demand another election at once to break the stalemate. As it happened he revealed no such intention, but even if he had sought a dissolution in the first weeks of the Twenty-third Parliament, he might have placed the Governor General in an awkward position had the Liberals been anxious to take office again. In such a case the Governor General would clearly have been entitled to refuse Mr. Diefenbaker's request if it appeared that Mr. St. Laurent was capable of carrying on without another general election.
J.R. Mallory, The Structure of Canadian Government (Gage: 1984), 53-57.