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Michaëlle Jean: Holding the balance in crucial time for Canada

23 Feb 2008

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Who said the job of Governor General of Canada was merely ceremonial? Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean was forced to cut short a European trip in order to return to Canada tomorrow (Wednesday) to face an unforeseen political crisis in Ottawa. She made the announcement in Prague today.

On Monday, Jack Layton’s NDP and the Liberals, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, inked a deal to form a coalition government; saying they had lost confidence in the Harper government to address the needs of the nation.

The opposition parties reacted angrily to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s preliminary budget; charging that it is rife with Conservative ideology and lacking a credible stimulus package to rescues the ailing economy. Flaherty’s plan was attacked for including massive government spending cuts, the banning of public-service strikes and the slashing of nearly $30 million in funding to federal political parties.

The opposition parties have rejected Flaherty’s proposition to present a full budget on January 27th, 2009.

Stéphane Dion has written to Michaëlle Jean to recommend to Her Excellency that “she should, at her first opportunity, exercise her constitutional authority and invite the leader of the Official Opposition to form a new government with the support of the two other opposition parties."

Jean’s office has informed the media that the Governor General is consulting with her advisers and constitutional experts. “The role of the Governor General is to ensure that our governance is on the right path, so as soon as I''m back I will fulfill my duties in total sound judgment” she said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to use “all available legal means” to fight what he calls an “undemocratic seizure of power.” As he told a group of journalists outside the Conservative Party’s Christmas party:

“My friends, such an illegitimate government would be a catastrophe, for our democracy, our unity and our economy, especially at a time of global instability."

Governor General Michaëlle Jean has given no hint thus far as to where she stands. Indicating only that this is all “part of our democratic system,” and that it “requires a lot of attention.”

“The prime minister and myself need to have a conversation,” the Governor General told the CBC in Prague. “My door is open. I have to see what the prime minister has to say to me and what he is actually thinking of doing. I don''t know exactly anything of his intentions yet.”

It is a rather ironic twist that Stephen Harper had himself approached the then Governor General in 2004 to allow him to govern, with the support of the separatist Bloc, in defiance of Prime Minster Paul Martin’s minority government.

If Michaëlle Jean sanctions the newly-formed coalition, the current Liberal leader Stépane Dion, who has announced he will leave his post following the poor showing of the Liberal in the Oct. 14th elections, will serve as prime minister until he is replaced as Liberal leader in the spring.She can also decide to send Canadians back to the polls.

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