Friday, June 01, 2007

Why political reporters need history lessons

This is an update of an earlier post on the Quebec budget stand-off. The first version, with comments, is farther down. As I predicted, there's been a compromise on the budget. Still, I'm surprised how many people who are paid to understand Parliamentary procedure don't understand it, or have no grip on ths history involved and no ability or desire to do some basic reading before sounding off.

I heard this a few times yesterday on the CBC and in the Quebec media: the idea that, in 1985, the Ontario Liberals assumed office because the Lieutenant Governor preferred to ask them to do so, rather than call an election.
That was not the case.
The 1985 election, (which began with a Tory majority government under new leader Frank Miller, inherited from Bill Davis) ended with the Conservatives having the most seats, the Liberals following quite closely, and a strong NDP contingent. The Liberals actually polled 1% more votes than the Tories and were just 4 seats short of tying them. The Liberals and NDP reached a very public written accord that they would, at the first opportunity, vote non-confidence in the Tory government and, they expected, the Liberals would be asked to form a government. The NDP promised to support the Liberals in the legislature in return for the passage of some elements of the NDP election platform. This agreement was made before the recall of the Ontario legislature. Miller, to his credit, quickly called the legislature, expecting his government to fall. He brought down a very voter-friendly budget, which was, as planned, defeated.
Now, the kicker, the fact that everyone gets wrong.
Miller went to the Lieutenant Government, submitted his resignation, and told the Lieutenant Governor that he expected the Liberals to be asked to form a government. Miller did not, as in the case of Mackenzie King and Lord Byng in 1925, ask for an election. Miller probably did not do so because the Conservative support had collapsed very precipitously in the last weeks of the campaign, and the party was financially tapped out by a hard-fought leadership race the previous winter. The Ontario Lieutenant Governor used no real discretion in the matter. He followed the very public will and the expectations of all parties in the legislature. The transfer of power went off as planned and expected.
But that's not how it's explained here and in many other Quebec media.
Thompson and Bauch also don't understand the King-Byng Affair.
King lost the 1925 election (Libs 100; Tories, 115, Progressives 22). Acting within his rights, he decided to face Parliament rather than resign. King expected to be supported by the Progressives. This support did not, because of several scandals, materialize. Rather than resign and let the real winner of the election attempt to form a minority government, King succeeded in placing the Governor General in a politically irritating situation. Arthur Meighen, who had actually won the election was, in King's ploy, to be denied the right to govern. Byng, by, in effect, doing the right thing of offering the leader of the party that had, by some 15%, won the most seats, a chance to face Parliament, was cast as a meddling Imperialist. Meighen was given his due, did try to form a government, and was defeated. At the same time, King and the press cast Meighen as an opportunist, again ignoring the fact that Meighen had won the election and both a moral and legal right to try to govern. It would be interesting to see the reaction of the press in 2007 if the Liberals won (extrapolated to the present size of the House of Commons) 30 more MPs than the Harper Tories and Harper somehow manipulated them out of a chancew to form a minority government.
King's version of this complex series of events -- that the democratic will of Canadians was thwarted by a colonial official when King's request for an election was turned down -- won him the subsequent election and is obviously still entrenched in Canada's media.
If Charest's budget is defeated (very much an unlikelihood, I believe. No one seems to consider the idea of a compromised, revised budget, which is the sensible outcome), Charest will almost certainly get an election if he wants one. The ADQ is nowhere near having the type of mandate David Peterson had in 1985 or Arthur Meighen won in 1925. There's no way it will, or should, form a government without facing the voters.

Update: Here's a far better analysis of the political situation in Quebec. Graeme Hamilton of the National Post understands the Ontario power transfer of 1985 and has the good sense not to bring up King-Byng. I'd add just one thing: a warning to Pauline Marois. Take a look at the post-coronation poll numbers of John Turner, Kim Campbell, Paul Martin and even Stockwell Day before you act too quickly.

UPDATE (June 1): I thought L. Ian Macdonald understood the 1985 Ontario precendent. Looks like I was wrong.

Just to refresh: The Ontario Lieutenant Governor invited the Liberals to form a government because Tory premier Frank Miller asked him to. If Miller had asked for an election, he would have got one. Miller did not ask for an election because he knew he'd lose.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like your stuff Mark. You're solid on history and media. I just can't figure out why the hell you stick up for a kookamazook like Rachel Marsden?

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June 1st, 2007
From www.jossip.com

Canadian Crazy Waves Bye-Bye To Red Eye, Partially Because The Show Was 'Off The Wall,' But Mainly Because She Got Canned

In sad, albeit not particularly surprising news, frequent Red Eye correspondent&mdash Rachel Marsden, (best known as Canada’s answer to Ann Coulter) has announced that she will be parting ways from Greg Gutfield’s semi-popular late night gabfest.

Below, is Marsden’s blog entry announcing her departure, which in no way acknowledges reports that security “hastily escorted” her out of Fox News Channel’s midtown headquarters earlier this week.

May 30/07: A note to inquiring Red Eye viewers: I will no longer be appearing on the show, as I have been told that it is heading in a “different direction” from its inception, and I am the “first casualty”. As a political and news commentator, being a panelist on what had become a totally off-the-wall-and-into-orbit show was an interesting experience. It was also the first time that I was ever considered the “sane one” on any program, so I am grateful for that unique opportunity and wish the boys the very best of luck.

In other words, “they fired my ass.” Which sounds much more direct, somehow! Note to Rachel: As a general rule, anyone who feels the need to brag about being “the sane one” on the show is probably slightly crazypants.

Oh, and also a sign that you’re not the “sane” one? Doing something that warrants your being escorted out in the middle of the afternoon by two burly, non-smiling security guards.

Or having a criminal record for stalking people

Ottawa Watch said...

First, it's just gossip. Second, I stick up for my friends. The Marsden I know is bright, funny, and has never acted in any inappropriate way around me.
As someone who's been the focus of smear and stalking by people who have much higher media profiles in Canada, I've learned to trust my own judgment, rather than rely on media gossip to determine whether to stick with my friends.
In this case, I know there were long-simmering creative differences on the show. I heard about them months ago. Gutfield is the star of the show, and if he and the producer fired Marsden, then it would not be unusual for her to be escorted from the building. In fact, that's the norm these days, creepy as that may sound.
Certainly, Marsden's own quotes in the media seem measured, rational, and not vindictive.