Want the Governor General to fire Stephen Harper? There’s a petition for that

By Carlito Pablo
The Georgia Straight, October 17, 2013
(Go to original)

A former Vancouver newspaper columnist wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper fired from office. Greg Felton has put up an online petition asking Governor General David Johnston to dismiss Harper and his Conservative government.

“When a government does violence to the country and its people, the Constitution is our democratic protection,” the petition states. “Dismissal of Harper is the proper, democratic and constitutional remedy.”

The petition relies on the October 1, 1947, letters patent signed by King George VI constituting the office of the governor general.

The letters patent vests the monarch’s representative with the power “to remove from his office, or to suspend from the exercise of the same, any person exercising any office within Canada”.

During a break in his teaching duties at a downtown English language school today (October 17), Felton noted that the petition isn’t going very well, with only 19 signatories so far. He was the first to sign the petition—which is topped by an image equating support for Harper to support for “Israel’s genocide of Palestinians”—on October 2.

“A lot of people are essentially very defeatist about it,” Felton told the Straight in a phone interview. “I mean they think that, ‘Oh, it’s not going to make any difference.’”

He said that even though many think that Johnston will not do anything, this shouldn’t stop them from asking the governor general to perform his constitutional duty. Johnston was nominated for the position by the Harper government.

“It’s the public that has to get angry enough to demand the governor general to do his job,” Felton said. “And if the public is not angry enough, then this country is truly lost.”

The Straight earlier sought the opinion of law professor Lorne Neudorf regarding the Felton petition.

“Yes, the governor general does hold legally the power to dismiss the prime minister and the cabinet, but the question really here is the exercise of power and should that power be exercised,” Neudorf said over phone on October 4. “And in modern Canada, it would be seen to breach long-standing constitutional conventions that we have developed in this country.

“One of those conventions is the idea that we have and this is the convention of responsible government,” the Thompson Rivers University professor continued. “And what this means is that the governor general will act only upon the advice of the prime minister and we have this so long as the prime minister continues to hold confidence in the House [of Commons], then his or her advice will be accepted by the governor general.”

A House report titled The Governor General of Canada: Role, Duties and Funding for Activities discusses the constitutional duties and responsibilities of the office.

“Although the Governor General has vast legislative powers under the 1867 Constitution and the Letters Patent of 1947, many of the most important conventions in the Canadian Constitution provide that these powers are, in practice, exercised individually by the Prime Minister and collectively by Cabinet,” the report explains.

Neudorf said that if there is an allegation that the government violated the Constitution, the proper remedy is for one to go to court to have a particular action invalidated or legislation struck down.

“If Stephen Harper is alleged to be treasonous in some way, which is a criminal offence, well then the police can investigate and he can be prosecuted,” Neudorf added.

The Thompson Rivers University law professor also said that ultimately, it’s the ballot box that decides who gets in and out of the prime minister’s office.

While the petition isn’t gathering momentum, Felton is undaunted.

“In this case, the governor general, if he’s doing his job properly, has to see the damage being done and...fire the prime minister, even if that forces an election,” Felton said. “If an election were called tomorrow the Canadian public could decide whether they want to have a government ran by a person that puts Canada first or whether they want to continue to be dominated by a fascistic occupation government.”