It looks like we’re going to have a federal election sooner rather than later.
In anticipation, here are a few fundamentals and reminders to keep in mind:
First, the Prime Minister has the authority to request a dissolution of Parliament. He does not need to wait for a vote of no confidence.
Second, the Administrator (Chief Justice Wagner) has the authority to exercise the Governor General’s power to dissolve Parliament upon the Prime Minister’s request. The absence of a Governor General does not preclude a dissolution.
Third, the Administrator would not have the discretion to refuse the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament at this stage. Not only has this Parliament been sitting for a while, but there is no viable alternative government that can hold the confidence of the Commons.
Fourth, the caretaker convention would begin with the dissolution of Parliament and would end after the election, unless the result of the election isn’t clear.
Fifth, the caretaker convention isn’t really a constitution convention, but a practice. This practice holds that the government should act according to a ‘principle of restraint’. The government remains the government and ministers still constitutionally and legally empowered to make decisions. This is particularly important given that we’re still in a pandemic and it may be necessary for the executive to act with despatch and discretion.
Sixth, the Prime Minister’s appointee to the Supreme Court is in no way affected by a dissolution of Parliament, and given the he’s already been named, his appointment would not engage the ‘principle of restraint’ under the caretaker convention.
Seventh, Trudeau remains Prime Minister until he resigns or is dismissed, even if his party wins fewer seats than another party on election day.
Eighth, if the Liberals remain in power following the election, it will still be the same Trudeau government as before. Trudeau will not be Prime Minister elect. Trudeau will not be Prime Minister designate. He simply remains the Prime Minister.
Ninth, if Trudeau resigns on election night or afterwards, his replacement will be the Prime Minister designate until their ministry is formally sworn in.
Tenth, if we do not have a new Governor General by the time the election is held, the Administrator has the authority to do everything a Governor General could do with respect to government formation.
Eleventh, the Governor General’s role in government formation is actually quite constrained by the codified rules of the constitution, except if there an vote of no confidence early in the life of the new Parliament.
Twelveth, Canadian election night coverage is unduly influenced by American concepts and language. This can be problematic when the election produces a minority parliament.