Jeff Rose-Martland Headshot

Who's In Charge of This Country, Anyway?

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As Mike Duffy's senatorial career implosion peaked this week, I was left wondering if all was really as it appeared, or if something far more complex was taking place. Turns out, I wasn't the only one: Rex Murphy was thinking along the same lines. We are wondering if Duffy -- and Wallin, and Brazeau, and others -- are part of a some plan to discredit the Senate to the point that all citizens demand its abolition.

Such a plot would certainly explain why Stephen Harper has appointed so many Senators, despite being adamantly opposed to the Senate. If all the wrong people were appointed and let loose, the resulting scandal could bring down the Red Chamber. And after all, Harper hasn't been able to do it any other way -- he's currently awaiting response from the Supreme Court as to whether the Commons can legally reform the Senate.

When he first introduced the motion in 2007, Harper said, "If the Senate cannot be elected, then it should be abolished. Those are the choices." And it certainly hasn't taken long for the Conservatives to jump on Duffy as an example of wide-spread corruption. Barely a day after the Senator announced his departure from caucus, Conservative MP Scott Armstrong echoed Harper's words: "I believe we need an elected Senate or it has to be abolished."

Appointments means no accountability, say the Conservatives, elected or abolished -- there is no third way.

Not true, actually. Senators can be recalled. The Commons can't do it, but neither can the Senate kick out MPs -- either would run counter to Canada's democratic structures -- but the Senate can police its own. The fact that it rarely does so is not an absence of power or will, but obscured by the fact that Senators usually resign.

Stephen Harper doesn't want to remind Canadians about this, but there's another way Senators can be booted from the Red Chamber: The Governor General. The GG can yank the appointment. In fact, the Governor General can remove anyone the GG swears in, including Supreme Court judges, Senators... and PMs.

And here we thought all that Governor-General-swearing-them-in-thing was just a quaint bit of formality.

Because of the way we have structured our democracy, the Governor General holds the ultimate power in Canada. Holds -- but rarely exercises. Any Governor General exercising such authority against the will of citizens risks serious civil unrest. BUT -- and this is a large and extremely crucial but -- BUT the Governor General can use such authority, especially if it reflects the mood of the citizens and defends democracy.

For example, Governor General David Johnston could decide that resigning from caucus isn't a fit punishment for Senator Mike Duffy; that it is undemocratic for a bought-and-paid-for Senator to be permitted to vote. GG Johnston might feel Duffy should be out of the Red Chamber altogether. He might also feel that Canadians are thinking the same thing. So, for example, GG Johnston could just sign some papers, give a speech to the Commons and the Senate, and *poof* Senator Mike Duffy goes back to being Mike-the-former-broadcastor-who-goes-fishing-on-PEI-every-summer.

That is the check on the Senate: The Governor General. He ensures accountability to the will of Canadian citizens. He defends democracy.

So, for another example, Governor General David Johnston might see something suspicious in the Prime Minister's chief of staff giving Senator Duffy $90-grand. Like the rest of Canadians, he may see that as an attempt to buy a Senator. The GG may also see it as funny that the Prime Minister doesn't know what his Chief is doing. He may think that a PM who can't supervise his Chief is not a good person to be running the nation, and, therefore, whether he knew or not, Harper should go.

Papers, speech, *poof* -- The Conservatives are leaderless. Or there's an election. Or both.

Because in Canada, the Government does not rule. Parliament doesn't dictate. The Governor General cannot act unsupported.

In Canada, it is we citizens who reign.

Let none forget.

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