Stephen Harper contemplated appealing to the Queen in the event Governor-General Michaëlle Jean refused to prorogue Parliament during the 2008 constitutional crisis, according to a new book on the Prime Minister’s years in power.
Kory Teneycke, who was then Mr. Harper’s director of communications, is quoted in the book as saying that an appeal to Westminster was one option under consideration, as the Conservatives struggled to keep Stéphane Dion from becoming the Liberal prime minister in a coalition with the NDP and with the support of the Bloc Québécois.
According to Harperland, by Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, Mr. Teneycke maintained, in an interview well after the event, that it would have been “just unheard of” for the Governor-General to refuse a request for prorogation by a Prime Minister who had already survived a vote of confidence in the Commons.
When Mr. Teneycke was asked what other avenues the Prime Minister was exploring in case the decision had gone against them, he responded: “Well, among them, the Queen.”
The question became moot when Ms. Jean acceded to Mr. Harper’s request for prorogation, based on constitutional convention and in the wake of broad public opposition to a coalition government.
But not before making him and the nation wait two hours before revealing her decision. “The idea wasn’t to create artificial suspense,” the Governor-General said this week in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The idea was to send a message – and for people to understand that this warranted reflection.”
When contacted, Mr. Teneycke declined comment. He resigned from Quebecor Media last month in the wake of various controversies surrounding the proposed launch of a Sun TV news channel.
A request for a response from the Prime Minister drew a response from his chief spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, who commented that “the book should be read through the prism of Mr. Martin being a big-L Liberal sympathizer and columnist.”
The revelation arrives during the last week of Ms. Jean’s tenure as governor-general. Her successor, David Johnston, will be installed Friday. On Wednesday, Ms. Jean bade farewell as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces, in a ceremony at the Canadian War Museum.
Never since Confederation has a prime minister appealed directly to the Queen when frustrated by the decision of a governor-general. The political consequences had Mr. Harper done so, in those fevered weeks when the opposition parties tried to force the Conservatives from power – and the Prime Minister responded by having Parliament shut down – are difficult to contemplate.
And it is unlikely the Queen would have agreed, in the opinion of Ned Franks, a constitutional scholar at Queen’s University.
“She most likely would have said: ‘This is not within my powers as I am prepared to use them,’ ” he said in an interview. Her decision, he said, would be based on the convention that the only power that Queen exercises in Canada is the power to appoint the governor-general, and then only on the advice of the prime minister of the day.
In Harperland, Mr. Martin paints a portrait of a Prime Minister who went to unprecedented lengths to centralize control in his own office, in an effort to prevent the sort of amateurish mistakes that brought down Conservative prime minister Joe Clark’s minority government in 1979.
During the political crisis of December 2008, as Mr. Harper realized that he had made exactly that kind of mistake by announcing an end to government financing of political parties, which united the opposition against him, he sank into something approaching despair, according to Mr. Martin.
“He was resigned to defeat, prepared to give up the government,” Mr. Martin writes. “Staffers had never seen him like this, pale and shaken. He told them, in so many words, that it was over, that the government would fall.”
But Mr. Harper’s mood and the government’s fortunes were transformed when Mr. Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton invited Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe to attend the press conference and sign the document cementing the coalition. Galvanized, the Prime Minister vowed to do everything within his power to prevent what he called the Liberals coalition “with socialists and separatists” from forming the government
It is a theme Mr. Harper continues to pound to this day.