Behiels on the Monarchy Debate

6 11 2009
behiels

Prof. Michael Behiels, University of Ottawa

Prof. Michael Behiels, a historian at the University of Ottawa has been interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about the monarchy debate. I agree with most of what he had to say, but I thought he was on shaky ground when he answered one of the reporter’s questions about the monarchy’s role in Canadian politics.

The reporter mentioned that there had been speculation during December’s constitutional crisis that if Michaëlle Jean had denied Stephen Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament, Harper would have asked Queen Elizabeth to fire her.  The reporter wanted to know whether the Queen would have agreed to such a request. Behiels said the Queen would have turned down such a request from Harper, “I’m sure she [Jean] was speaking with the Queen throughout the crisis. She would have been on the blower all the time, and they would have been on the same page.”

As a young assistant professor, I don’t know if I should dissent from the opinion of such an accomplished historian as Behiels! However, I’m not certain that Behiels is right about this particular point. In 1975, there was  constitutional crisis in Australia when Governor-General suddenly announced that he was dismissing Gough Whitlam, the left-of-centre Prime Minister. The GG appointed the leader of the conservative opposition as Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister quickly called an election, which he won. In the days immediately prior to Whitlam’s dismissal, the Governor-General kept his plan to fire the Prime Minister secret for fear that if Whitlam found out what was being planned, he would telephone the Queen and have the GG  replaced before he could act. In this case, it seems to be have been assumed by all parties that the Queen would have removed the Governor-General had the incumbent Prime Minister asked for it (in time). As it happened, the Prime Minister was fired before he had the chance to learn about the GG’s plans and telephone London. If it was assumed in 1975 that the Queen would automatically defer to the advice a Commonwealth Prime Minister, I think it is safe to say that in 2008 she also would have deferred to Harper’s request.

Aside from this quibble, it was a very good interview.


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10 11 2013
Douglas

Michael is a very smart and informed man when it comes to Canadian politics and the constitution. He is also incredibly partisan. I have been following what he has been writing about the Conservative government. Some of it is very good (particularly his most recent writing about the Supreme Court reference in relation to reforming Canada’s Senate). However, it is clear that he absolutely loathes Harper and the Conservatives. This is for his own reasons. I’m not a fan of Harper; I do think he is often excoriated quickly and at times unfairly by the media (Sun News aside….if they can be called a news outlet). You are right to be critical of what Behiels says, however, because I don’t think he can be objective where the current government is concerned. He is Liberal through and through.

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