Facing certain defeat in the House of Commons on Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended Governor General Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall on Thursday morning, 4 December 2008 and requested prorogation of Parliament, which she granted until 26 January. His minority government thus obtained a reprieve and some breathing space, but the country was left in a precarious situation at a time of major economic crisis worldwide. The PM's manoeuvre has no precedent in Canadian parliamentary practice.
A potential coalition of opposition parties, with majority votes in the Commons, was left in limbo, furious. The nation can expect a bombardment of vicious propaganda in coming weeks as parties justify their position, and dig in their heels. The coalition may fracture long before it can come into existence. In truth, it has been deeply flawed and illusionary from inception.
Had the Governor General been courageous and refused prorogation, a ragtag combo of Liberals and NDP, with dubious Bloquiste support, would have attempted some response to the fast deteriorating economic condition of the country. Meanwhile, a bad constitutional precedent has been set.
If Her Excellency had either refused prorogation or taken the request under advisement, a furor would have erupted not unlike the fuss and rant in 1926 when Lord Byng of Vimy did not acquiesce to the prime minister of the day. In Canadian fashion she chose discretion rather than assertion. Nevertheless reserve powers of the royal prerogative remain, intact and dormant until some future crisis.