Yesterday -- for the second time in a month -- the Supreme Court reminded Stephen Harper of two truths about Canada. The first is that, as prime minister, he is obliged not to make the rules but to follow them. The second is that this country is a federation.
Harper has consistently operated on the assumption that he can ignore the constitution. Errol Mendes writes:
This is a landmark decision and, along with the Supreme Court’s take on the Nadon appointment, it shows the court nailing down the fundamental constitutional limits of the Canadian parliamentary and federal order for a government that seems to be looking for ways around the rules to achieve its political ends.
There is an established procedure for amending the constitution -- the consent of seven of the provinces representing 50% of the population. But abolishing the Senate would take more than that:
Finally, given the court’s emphasis on the need to respect the architecture of the Constitution, its finding that Senate abolition would require the unanimous consent of the provinces was almost a foregone conclusion.
Constitutions are not easy to change. They are purposely made so. And governing Canada has never been easy. It takes, in Laurier's memorable phrase, "sunny ways" -- something Mr. Harper lacks.
The simple truth is that Harper is temperamentally unsuited for the job. Deep down he knows that; and he has tried to change the rules to suit his own convenience. The court has reminded him that the constitution takes precedence -- not the prime minister's personality.