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Former GG says he would support coalition

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 | 9:58 AM CT

Ed Schreyer, the former governor General and ex-Manitoba premier, said he would support the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition in Ottawa.Ed Schreyer, the former governor General and ex-Manitoba premier, said he would support the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition in Ottawa. (Canadian Press)

Former governor general and NDP premier Edward Schreyer says if he were still the Queen's representative he would have no choice but to support the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition government in Ottawa.

Schreyer, appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, served as Canada's governor general between 1979 and 1984. He is the former premier of Manitoba.

He said the legitimacy of the proposed coalition between the Liberals and New Democrats, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, is "unquestionable," because it has been formalized by written agreement.

"We are a parliamentary democracy," Schreyer said. "And governments are elected according to whether or not they have and are able to maintain the confidence of a majority in Parliament. And if we are to remain a parliamentary democracy, then the parliamentary will must not be ignored, nor must it be avoided or evaded."

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean is expected to arrive Wednesday in Ottawa, where she is expected to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to hear his views on the crisis.

It's up to her to decide if the coalition is fit to run the country should the Harper government fall.

Political intrigue 'rather exciting'

Schreyer noted the past week of political intrigue has been an engaging one for Canadians. "It's rather exciting for Canadians," he said. "It just goes to show that Americans get their excitement before election day and Canadians get their excitement after election day."

He said he would be obliged, if he were still governor general, to give the proposed coalition a chance to govern, should the present government fall in a no-confidence vote.

"If it's solemn, formal and written, I could only speak for myself, I'd certainly feel obliged to proceed accordingly," he said, adding he was not giving the current governor general advice.

Schreyer said going to another election so soon after the last vote is not really a viable option.

"Eventually it has to come to a vote in Parliament," Schreyer said. "If it were the third or fourth year of a mandate you'd say well, if there were a sudden loss of confidence, then the most practical course is issue writs for new election.

"But here there's a very clear precedent," he said, noting the Ontario government of David Peterson was supported by the NDP in 1985.

"In the aftermath of a new election, if any group that presumes to be government is not able to command majority in Parliament, then if there's any other group that’s able to say in writing … they believe they do have confidence of Parliament, then the obvious course of action is to give them the commission to form a government. It's very clear cut."

The question of cutting the current session of Parliament short by prorogation is more murky, Schreyer suggested.

"Proroguing Parliament doesn't solve the problem, it only postpones it," he said. "I don't want my remarks to be interpreted to say there ought to be no prorogation allowed," he said, adding he had not thought this question completely through.

"That's a close judgment call. A prorogation request and the granting of it might be reasonable depending on a well-understood timetable. Are we talking a day, a week, or at most a month? One thing is clear — prorogation can't be used in the longer term as a means of evading, avoiding and thwarting the expression of the parliamentary will. We are a parliamentary democracy. We are not a cabinet government."

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