Dissolution is the Prime Minister’s Call Right Now

As per usual, we’re debating whether the Governor General can refuse the Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament.

Also as per usual, we need to clarify a few fundamentals:

Yes, the Governor General retains the discretion to refuse a Prime Minister’s request to dissolve in certain limited circumstances.

No, those circumstances are not present at the moment.

What are the circumstances?

A dissolution can be refused if an election has recently taken place, say within the past 9-12 months, and there’s another viable government among the parties in the House of Commons.

There may also be some very exceptional circumstances where the Governor General would discourage a dissolution if it is being requested for nakedly partisan reasons, with no obvious connection to the right of voters to express themselves.

For instance, imagine a Prime Minister’s party was elected with only a plurality of seats, not a majority, but no other party or coalition can form a viable alternative government. Would the Prime Minister be able to go back to Governor General and ask for dissolution within a couple of months of the election, in hopes of securing a majority? Technically, the Governor General wouldn’t have much room to manoeuvre. The Governor General could pressure the Prime Minister to rethink the request. If the Prime Minister insists, though, the best course of action is to let voters decide the Prime Minister’s fate. Political sanctions are almost always the preferred way to deal with a Prime Minister who is abusing their authority. The Governor General is a constitutional fire extinguisher, not a referee.

Most political leaders know these rules. If they’re saying otherwise, they’re posturing, nothing more.

If you want to know more about how this all works, here’s an article of mine you can download.

And while we’re on the subject, a few more fundamentals:

We are not in a caretaker period because there might be an election soon. The caretaker period only starts once the request to dissolve Parliament has been accepted by the Governor General.

The current government remains in place during the election period. The caretaker period doesn’t prevent them from governing. In fact, given the pandemic, the government has every right, and indeed the responsibility, to take actions with respect to the pandemic.

Canada’s fixed-date election legislation preserves the Governor General’s power to dissolve Parliament on the Prime Minister’s request. Whatever you think about the spirit of the law, the letter of law is quite clear here.

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