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Why Harper can't be impeached

Impeach Stephen Harper!

More than a few Canadians have been making that demand in recent weeks. The robocall scandal, the (temporarily withdrawn) internet privacy legislation and a contemptuous attitude towards opposition parties in Canada's Parliament and other critics has led to rallies and protests across the country at which the impeachment cry went up.

But it ain’t gonna happen. Although some constitutional experts say it is theoretically possible to impeach a Canadian politician, many others say it isn’t, and not one believes it is remotely likely that Harper can be impeached.

But why do so many Canadians believe that Harper CAN actually be impeached?

I think it’s because we’re so overwhelmed by American media that -- consciously or unconsciously -- we think we are Americans. American television convinces us we live in crime-ridden cities where diligent CSI teams work to bring crooks in front of tough-minded District Attorneys. Local television news shows regularly rely on newsclips from American sources to fill in the gaps due to their layoff of their own reporters. (When was the last time you saw a local newscast that didn’t include at least one American violent crime, fire or human interest story?)

Canadians can’t even watch a DVD without having to sit through a warning that the FBI will be busting down our door and slapping us with a $250,000 (U.S.) fine if we even dare to think about violating its copyright. And if we choose to go to the movie theatre instead of watching that DVD, almost all the films at the local cineplex will be from Hollywood.

And right now, as America lurches towards the climax of its four-year election cycle, every Canadian newspapers, television, radio and online media is saturated with stories about the primaries and the vagaries and inanities of the Republic candidates. It’s no wonder many Canadians believe that, like Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, Stephen Harper can be subject to impeachment proceedings.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid this domination. The United States is our neighbour and most of our population is clustered close to its border. The majority of us speak the same language. Their population is much greater than ours and because of this, America has many more media outlets -- whether mainstream, alternative or new media. 

Still, it’s good to try to resist the onslaught, to remind ourselves that we are a distinct country, with our own health care system, forms of government, values, spelling idiosyncracies and cultures. Remember, we have a queen, Elizabeth II, not a president, Barack Obama. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not a Bill of Rights. We have Crown Attorneys, not District Attorneys. There's no First, Second or Fifth Amendments, Right to Bear Arms or separation of powers. 

As for impeaching Harper: according to some authorities it is technically possible in Canada because it has been done in England and we inherited the unwritten part of our constitution from England. Other constitutional experts say no, because it hasn’t been used in England since 1848 and many English authorities consider it obsolete there. There's no mention of impeachment in the various written Canadian constitutional documents, such as the British North America Act, the Statute of Westminster, or the Constitutional Act of 1982.

But even if you grant its theoretical possibility, there is almost zero chance of it ever happening. Because of its ambiguous constitutional status (to put it mildly) and the lack of clearcut procedures, I doubt that either the House of Commons or the Senate would ever vote for it, especially with a Conservative majority. The Tories would maintain party discipline and vote against it. Even if Harper led a minority government, the House would instead vote No Confidence in the government, precipitating either a change in the governing party or an election, rather than embarking on the constitutionally dubious tactic of impeachment. 

So what can Canadians do should the robocall scandal deepen and widen?

Must we wait until 2015 for another election? There are possibilities. Significant popular pressure on individual Conservative MPs might convince some to sit as independents, vote against their own government, or call for a leadership review or independent judicial inquiry. Mass demonstrations and a huge public outcry might do the same, or even (very unlikely) convince the Governor General that he has to step in.

But such protests would have to be wide-scale and persistent. I can’t see it happening. Certainly not when there’s The Hunger Games, American Idol and the Republican primaries to watch.

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