OTTAWA — A constitutional law expert says the long-standing tradition of the Governor General acceding to Canadian prime ministers’ requests to dissolve Parliament will practically push newly installed Gov. Gen. Mary Simon to accept a plea from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call an election.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has asked Simon to refuse any request from Trudeau to dissolve Parliament and send voters to the ballot box, noting that the fixed-election law states that every general election must be held on the third Monday of October four calendar years after the last one.
Singh says in a letter to Simon that the law allows for an early election if the government has lost the confidence of the House, but the Trudeau government has won every confidence vote it has faced including on the speech from the throne and the budget.
Ottawa University law professor Errol Mendes says the Governor General as a representative of the Queen has in theory the power to refuse a request from Trudeau to dissolve Parliament, but that power has not been used for many decades because Canada has been regarded as an independent country from the United Kingdom.
Anticipation of an early election call is rising as federal party leaders, including Trudeau and Singh, have been travelling around the county on campaign-style tours in recent weeks.
Mendes says the prime minister has the right to ask the Governor General to call an early election under the Constitution and the fixed-election law brought in by the Harper government did not change that.
He says Singh also noted in his letter the ongoing pandemic and unfinished legislative work as reasons to refuse a request from Trudeau, but there were precedents in the past where the country was in crisis and the governor general agreed to dissolve Parliament.
Mendes says the last occasion in Canadian history where the governor general refused an early election request was in 1926 when Lord Julian Byng refused prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s request to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.
That refusal led to a constitutional crisis known as the King-Byng Affair, where Byng asked the next largest party in Parliament at that time to form a government, but the arrangement didn’t last very long.
There was a subsequent election that Mackenzie King won after campaigning on the basis that the governor general does not really have the right to reject a request from the prime minister to dissolve Parliament.
Though scholars disagree as to whether Byng’s decision was the right one, Mendes says the crisis will likely be brought to the attention of Simon and she will basically “learn from that situation,” and accept the anticipated request from Trudeau to call an early election.