As It Happens

Could this election trigger a constitutional crisis?

They don't call him Governor for nothing. If no one wins a majority in Monday's election, the Governor General will have some big decisions to make, and Democracy Watch founder Duff Conacher wants to keep all that power from going to his vice regal head.
Governor General David Johnston. (Adrian Wyld/Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Most Canadians rarely give much thought to their Governor General. But with the polls forecasting a minority government, Democracy Watch founder Duff Conacher says it's time we start addressing the unwritten authority of the vice regal. Conacher warns that if no party wins a majority in Monday's election, Governor General David Johnston's role could go from ribbon cuttings and fancy hats to appointing the next prime minister and the length of their term.
Democracy Watch founder, Duff Conacher. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Conacher spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the "flaws" in our democratic system and the need for a new set of rules to keep Johnston's power in check.

Carol Off: Just how powerful a position is the Governor General going to be on Monday night if nobody wins a majority?

Duff Conacher: The Governor General is all powerful - a true czar. After all, it does represent the Queen. [The office is] unaccountable, unelected and will decide which party will be given the opportunity to govern first, when parliament will open and can be shut down, whether MPs support a government, whether a vote of non-confidence has occurred and whether and when another election will happen.
Governor General David Johnston. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

DC: Most countries in the world, of any sort that call themselves a democracy have clear, public, post-election rules and we don't have them. We need them and the Governor General and the federal party leaders can agree to them now. The Governor General can publicly state these are the rules now and let us all know before October 19th election day what the rules are so we'll all know what is fair and what's going to happen after the election, depending on different scenarios.

CO: You're warning in the release you put out about this particular Governor General that we have now. What problems do you have with Governor General Johnston?

DC: Well we have this potentially doubly dangerous situation. We don't have clear public rules and the Governor General was chosen by Prime Minister Harper. So one party choosing this watchdog is a bad system. We should democratise that and have all the other party leaders involved in the approval. And also, Governor General David Johnston worked for and made very questionable decisions in the past that protected the federal Conservatives. He was hired by Prime Minister Harper to review the scandal involving former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. He decided that a huge part of that scandal, millions of dollars that have still not been accounted for in terms of where they went in the political system with regards to arms dealing, he said that that didn't have to be looked at by a public inquiry. That protected Prime Minister Harper who at the time publicly was saying that Prime Minister Mulroney was his mentor and it protected the Conservatives overall.

CO: And do you think that was a partisan political gesture on the part of David Johnston?

DC: It was very questionable whether it was partisan or not. Because he was selected by Harper, because he did this past work and made this very questionable decision, I think we are completely justified and the public is completely justified to question his independence. We're headed into a very important situation, post-election where no one party may have a majority of seats and we have unwritten rules which gives him complete power to decide who gets to govern and how long they get to govern and I think there's questions about his independence in making that decision. That's why we need him to make the rules public now so that at least we have written rules and we'll know whether he is following his own rules.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview please click on the Listen audio link above.


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