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The Federal (Anti-) Election 2011 in Canada - Part 2 - Dissolution of Parliament and the Announcement of the Election

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After the constitutional crisis in 2008 that was described in Part 1 of this series, the minority government held by the Conservative Party was able to maintain the confidence of Parliament until April 2011. Despite this, the bitterness of the opposition party with the government has steadily increased.

Prime Minister's question period, which seems to be very chaotic and rude in Canada, in difference to what observers of Parliament in Great Britain are used, became over time highly tensioned. Particularly, the leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, seemed to be unable to settle down his emotions in the final weeks. On occasions he screamed at the Prime Minister in ways that for an outsider of Canadian politics looked very embarrassing. At one time, in one of his angry tirades, he used the phrase "cotton picking minute", which some immigrants objected about. While this blog has not found any evidence that the intent was to make a racial reference, unfortunately Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal party denied any possibility that this phrase could be racist. As an example a 1953 Bugs Bunny episode was cited (when was it established that US cartoons are never using racist phrases? especially episodes from the time of Jim Crow laws?). In the opinion of this blog, it would have been far better to use this incident as a teachable moment, reminding Canadians that different cultures have certain memories that can be triggered even unwittingly by certain phrases and it would be good to learn from it and be as sensitive to each other as possible.

The disagreements between the opposition and the government focused in particular around parliamentary scrutiny of the government. In particular the opposition demanded to have access to more documentation about alleged human rights abuses by Canadian military, expenses for the G8/G20 event hosted in Canada, costs for a planned crime bill as well as costs for the planned purchase of the F-35 fighter jets, which original contract negotiations had been conducted by the previous government held by the Liberal Party.

The fights about the lack of availability of documents concerning alleged human rights abuses had already caused a second (short) prorogation of Parliament during the Olympic Winter Games in February 2010, even Prime Minister Harper cited as reason for the prorogation the Olympic Games and the need for the government to have time to plan the budget.

The tensions between the government and the opposition about these matters did not subside, but instead intensified. The tensions culminated in an opposition dominated committee finding that “the government’s failure to produce documents constitute a contempt of Parliament” and that “this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions.” . The speaker of the House of Commons, a member of the opposition Liberal Party rebuked the Conservative Party the refusal to release sufficient details about their justice bills. The Conservative Party subsequently released more documentation, but the opposition parties had already made their minds up and the leader of the Liberal Party scheduled a non-confidence motion for the next opposition organised day of Parliament.

Pundits also speculated at the time that the opposition parties would vote down the budget that was introduced by the government at the same time. Over the last week of Parliament, there were lots of discussions in the media if the government would use parliamentary procedures to force a vote about the budget before the non-confidence motion by he opposition for strategic reasons but no such manipulations were used.

The government was defeated on the non-confidence motion introduced the leader of the Liberal Party, Parliament was dissolved and the election date was set to be May 2nd, 2011.

Read more about the personalities and issues of this election in part 3

Read more about the background of the election in part 1