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Conservatives Would Change the Constitution Without Amending It, Again?

Kelly McParland: Conservatives eye term limits to save them from Harpering themselves again

Now the Tories are getting into the act too. According to a draft list of resolutions to be considered at an upcoming national convention, the first since their defeat, the Conservatives want to protect the country from themselves. The list, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, proposes imposing term limits that would prevent the party from ever again being led by the same prime minister for more than eight years.

The Conservative Party can write any rules to limit the term of a party leader “for no more than eight continuous years after being appointed Prime Minister” but it cannot limit the term of a Prime Minister.  That requires an amendment to the Constitution using the amending formula in that document. One would think Conservatives would have learned something from 10 years in public office but, apparently, they are as uneducated as ever.

The Party of a ruling PM can change its leader as often as it deems necessary.  That is a long established practice and it usually leads to a general election as the new leader seeks to establish a mandate for his government.  That doesn’t alter the term of a serving PM or his (or her) powers because those are set in the Constitution which cannot be amended except through the amending process which is provided in the Constitution.  No act of Parliament or party policy can make an amendment to the Constitution.  ( Don’t take my word for it.  See link

If you are feeling a sense of ‘deja vu’ about this, you may be reacting to a previous Harper administration initiative to set an election date, every four years, for a general election; another attempt to alter the Constitution for which the Harper administration had no authority.  A PM’s duty to hold a general election every 5 years or sooner is set in the Constitution and the PM has the prescribed power to decide the date for the election.  This prerogative cannot be altered without amending the document using the amending formula expressed in the document.

One can understand the logic driving Conservatives; in America, a President serves a 4 year term, twice, and he cannot seek a third consecutive term, except for Franklin D. Roosevelt who passed away early in his fourth term.  To emulate America seems to remain a theme in the Reform dominated Conservative Party.  It’s a reflection of the extent to which our western provinces have been assimilated into an American way of thinking about democracy.

American democracy is a horrid thing.  A rich man can run for party leader without previous experience holding public office at any level.  He can buy the leadership and, if he can win a national election, he can become President.  He doesn’t need the support of a majority of voters.  He only needs to win ‘the electoral college vote’ to ensure his election.

While it was logical for the Progressive Conservatives to amalgamate with the Reform Party to win a general election, it was a most unfortunate thing for conservatism because Red Tory Values fell into disrepute as the smaller, more radical right Reform element assumed key offices within the Conservative Party.

Conservatives today are trapped by that recent history;  they need a progressive leader but the Reformers in control of the Party need a way to ensure that their ‘radical right’ perspective is perpetuated, at the expense of the Progressive Conservatism that was once so familiar to those of us who can remember John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark, and Hugh Segal.  This confusion in the Conservative Party ensures that a Liberal hegemony will last a long time.


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Professional. Retired. Canadian.

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