Constitutional expert calls Stephen Harper government officials "disgusting rather than ignorant"

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      For many years, Peter Russell has been one of Canada's leading constitutional experts.

      In an astonishing interview on the website, the University of Toronto professor emeritus characterized the Stephen Harper government as having "some pretty disgusting people in it".

      Russell was referring to how the Harper government responded to the federal Liberals and New Democrats' plan to form a coalition government in late 2008.

      Russell maintained that Harper government officials "were going to mislead Canadians into believing Mr. Dion's government was unconstitutional and in effect, a coup d'état".

      And that left then–governor general Michaëlle Jean in a difficult position in responding to Harper's decision to buy time by suspending Parliament.

      "It was quite clear that that was what they were prepared to do," Russell said. "And bad as that is, she had a government that has some pretty disgusting people in it when it comes to talking to Canadians about how our constitution works."

      Then he added this: "I think they're disgusting rather than ignorant."

      He also emphasized that it's "absolutely B.S." that parties in Parliament can't form a coalition without first going to the people in an election.

      In addition, Russell condemned the Conservatives for denying the legitimacy of Bloc Québécois MPs, saying this was "dreadful for Canadian unity".

      The video is available here.

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      Jeremy Wilson

      Jun 25, 2012 at 2:53pm

      Clearly, Peter Russel wanted the coalition.


      Jun 25, 2012 at 3:21pm

      Right said, Prof. Russell

      The two OTHER disgusting things was:

      1) the MSM dignifying the Tories position and framing the whole thing as whether or not a 'coalition' was even legitimate and if so was it still legitimate if it included the BQ. It really was mind snapping to see a well co-ordinated campaign run effortlessly through the entire media, including the CBC, with few opposing experts. The Media simply focused on the 'partisans' and ignored Constitutional experts save the ones the Tories proffered.

      2) the Opposition parties, who did the 'Al Gore', didn't bother to even put a collective war chest together to pursue the matter to the highest Court, to establish some ground rules in case it happens again. Why precisely the so-called Opposition turtled and simply lent their 'support' to utterly worthless street demonstrations and an e-petition on Facebook instead of FIGHTING tooth and nail, within the process, on behalf of their supporters and THEIR right to have their votes be considered EQUAL is a real $64,000 question.
      The parties never really considered the LONG TERM effect it might have on anyone bothering to vote for them in the future because of this ruling. The GG and one guy running in a Fed election doesn't make Constitutional law over a four hour meeting.
      Did Dion, as coalition head, even DEMAND equal time with the GG? Nope.

      Dennis Rice

      Jun 25, 2012 at 3:55pm

      Mr. Wilson, respectfully, I don't think that's clear at all.

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      Ray Winnipeg

      Jun 25, 2012 at 4:17pm

      Jeremy Wilson
      Mon, 2012-06-25 14:53

      Clearly, Peter Russel wanted the coalition.

      Clearly you don't like the to be told the truth.

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      teth adam

      Jun 25, 2012 at 4:24pm

      even though legally and constitutionally, a coalition between the liberals, ndp and the bloc québécois would be legitimate, i think a lot of canadians would not consider it legitimate unless they went to the polls.

      many people outside of quebec would be livid if a separatist political party actually had a say in running the entire country.


      Jun 25, 2012 at 4:43pm

      "... Peter Russell has been one of Canada's leading constitutional experts. ..."

      Right, Mr. Russell has been ONE among many, and some of those many constitutional experts disagree with Mr. Russell's jaundiced view of the 2008 prorogation and defeat of the attempted coalition.

      For example:
      • Ned Franks, professor emeritus at Queen's University Department of Political Science and School of Physical and Health Education, in a March 2009 Globe & Mail article entitled “What If She’d said No?” said:
      “… Canada would have been governed by a coalition built through a marriage of convenience headed by a prime minister who was supported by far fewer Canadians than the prime minister who had been deposed. The coalition would almost certainly, as its demise shows, have proven to be a weak, unpopular and not very durable government.
The Governor-General made the right decision.”

      • Richard Van Loon, former president of Carleton University and professor emeritus at Carleton's Graduate School of Public Policy, in January 2009 wrote an Ottawa Citizen op-ed entitled “Our Coalition Doesn’t Stack Up” 
where he said:
      “So what really makes a coalition legitimate?
International precedents suggest three conditions. One is that the country faces a compelling national emergency, usually a major war. A second, broadly applicable in less troubled times, is that voters must know in advance that they are voting for potential members of a coalition, one which will govern if its members can claim a majority of seats in the legislature immediately after the election. A third is that a party with a plurality, already in government or immediately after an election, forms the coalition and immediately seeks support of the legislature. But as the New Zealand experience in the late 1990s suggests the latter is not always a successful strategy. Stable coalitions in peacetime are virtually always underpinned by the results of an election in which voters were aware of the possibility of their formation.
The current coalition agreement in Canada does not meet any of these tests…”

      • Michael Bliss, University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, in a Dec 1, 2008 National Post Full Comment titled "Unstable coalition is a powderkeg under Canada"
… The constitutional “experts” who point out that Governor-General Michaëlle Jean could legitimately ask Stéphane Dion to try to form a government are correct but superficial. …
[if] a Liberal-NDP coalition, commanding 117 seats in the House, took office, the day-to-day power of the separatist party in the Canadian Parliament would be hugely enhanced, whether or not it had made a back-room deal with the leaders of the coalition. …”

      • And then, there’s Peter Hogg, Canada's leading scholar in constitutional law, and one of the experts on whose advice the GG based her reply to PM Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament.
      From the Jan. 18, 2010 Daily Gleaner story titled “Adviser says 2008 prorogation was right move":

      "… Hogg said Jean had the option to refuse Harper's request, name Dion prime minister and allow him to form a new government. But in hindsight she made the right decision since the coalition fell apart soon after, said the professor.
Hogg, from New Zealand, came to Canada in 1970 and taught law at Osgoode Law School for 28 years.
He served as dean from 1998 to 2003 and is now professor emeritus. He's the author of Constitutional Law of Canada, has been a counsel for 13 Supreme Court constitutional law cases and is the most frequently cited authority in such cases. …”

      Having re-read those other experts’ opinions, I would beg to differ with the opinion of Mr. Russell, who obviously cannot let go of his pet canard.

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      Jun 25, 2012 at 4:57pm

      It's kind of sad how the darkest days of my depression began around the same time the Conservatives won a majority.

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      Jun 25, 2012 at 5:01pm

      Mr. Russell is just plain wrong. It is true that the opposition could form a coalition but convention requires that the party with the most seats be entitled to form a government. It was formed. In order for the so-called Coalition to replace that government, the GG would have to be convinced in a new Parliament, that the government did not have the confidence of the House and that, in the circumstances, would mean that the House defeat the Government. There was no new Parliament. Otherwise, every election would become utterly meaningless...even more so than usual.

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      Robert Ede

      Jun 25, 2012 at 5:06pm

      Mr Russell was called in to advise the GG. The Clerk was on the other side (w Firewall Steve), when Constitutionally, the Office of Clerk of the Privy Council (and the whole Privy Council) is designed as part of the Executive (BNA 1867 ss9-17) and the Clerk should have been advising the GG.
      Google Order in Council P.C.1940-1121
      That's how Wm L M King usurped the Privy Council


      Jun 25, 2012 at 5:18pm

      oh boy....a constitutional expert calling a majority govt undemocratic because they disagree with them...I've only been hearing that garbage for 30 years this stuff gets old.