When Silence Isn’t Golden: Constitutional Conventions, Constitutional Culture and the Governor General

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2009.


accountability; Canada; constitution; Conventions; crown; Governor General; Parliament; prime minister; reasons


This article is a chapter in the book Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis which is a collection of essays analyzing the parliamentary crisis in Canada from the end of November 2008 to January 2009. After the October 15, 2008 election returned a minority Parliament led once again by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the opposition parties coalesced to form a proposed coalition to defeat the government on a non-confidence vote and govern in its stead. The non-confidence vote was set for December 8, 2008 but on December 4th, the Prime Minister visited the Governor General and made the unusual request to prorogue the new Parliament until the third week of January 2009. After a meeting that lasted over two hours, the Governor General acceded to this request and the crisis was averted. The Prime Minister did not disclose what transpired between him and the Governor General and she did not provide any reasons for her decision. The authors of this article argue that while constitutional convention circumscribes the role of the Governor General, it does not extend to preventing her from justifying her decisions to the public. In a constitutional culture increasingly tied to an 'ethos of justification', we conclude that is not tenable for the Governor General to remain silent in the face of the parliamentary crisis of 2008.

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