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by litepink on January 4, 2016

Why a Government Shutdown Would Never Happen in Canada

government shutdown dominated headlines this week, prompting questions as to whether a similar situation could happen here. I sat down with my colleague at Samara, Jane Hilderman, to talk about the government shutdown and why for better or for worse it can't happen in Canada. federal government has had to shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees unpaid. When the government is functioning, money to be spent on the federal bureaucracy is approved by Congress (and signed off on by the President). Obamacare), so a budget has yet to gain majority support in both House and Senate. If they can't pass the bill, the President has nothing to sign, and public money is not passed on to the bureaucracy. West Wing fans may be reminded of that episode from season five when President Bartlett refuses to pass the Congress approved budget. prorogued?" Is there a confusion of terms?

Jane In some ways, shut down and prorogation are opposites though in truth they aren't comparable. Prorogation in parliamentary systems is used regularly to end a session of Parliament until the Prime Minster calls Members of Parliament back to a new session with a Speech from the Throne. During prorogation, MPs are not at work in the House of Commons though they are in their constituencies but the rest of the federal government is still working and being paid.

The opposite is true in the US. Despite a shutdown of federal government services, Congress is still in session and elected representatives are still at work, though the non essential bureaucracy itself is unpaid and not working.

Alison Canada's parliamentary democracy is quite different from America's system, but could a similar shutdown ever happen in Canada? What would be the circumstances?

Jane The answer is both yes and no. Proposals to spend public money (or raise it through taxes) are initiated in the House and are then approved by the Senate. Constitutional sticklers will note that financial decisions require approval of the Crown as well (represented by the Governor General), but in almost all circumstances, the Governor General signs off on the work of the elected House.

Like in America, Parliament can fail to pass a budget or estimates bill. This could jeopardize the flow of dollars from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (the pool of money collected through taxes and government revenue) to government departments and public servants.

Alison But elections or coalition negotiations take time often months. What happens if government needs money during such a period and there is no Parliament? Why isn't the threat of service shutdown as severe in Canada?

Jane I wasn't sure about this at first either, so I asked scholar Mark Jarvis, who told me that Canada fortunately has a back up decision maker in the Governor General, who can approve a Special Warrant that allows money to flow to the government without Parliament's approval.

Under law, this can only happen when three conditions are met: First, Parliament is dissolved (not prorogued). Second, a Minister indicates that the expenditure is urgent for the public good. And third, the President of the Treasury Board reports there is no money remaining for government to use. In this situation, the GG gives access to money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. When a new Parliament is formed, it retroactively reviews any Special Warrant and approves them.

Most recently, Special Warrants were used in 2011, when Parliament was dissolved for the general election. A couple reasons for this. This is easy enough to do in a majority situation for the PM's party, like the one we have right now. Though the Opposition may try to stop a budget from going through, the stakes are high for MPs to withhold support for a budget, even in a minority situation: MPs risk an election, a costly endeavour that doesn't always result in re election (the turnover for MPs in the past election was over a third). While not universally loved by all, it does contribute to a certain predictability and stability when it comes to important votes. In fact, in over 600 votes between 2011 and 2013, even the one MP who dissented from his party the most, still voted 98.5 per cent of the time along party lines. The upside of party loyalty is that Canadians know what they're getting and government ticks along efficiently. The downside of party discipline is that healthy discussion between MPs can be seen as disloyalty to their party, and MPs often side with the party, leading Canadians to ask "Who's my MP's boss? Me or their party?"Do you have any questions about the mysteries of how Canadian government works? Write them in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them in a future post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., joined by Senate Democrats speaks during a news conference on the Senate steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013, to urge House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and House Republicans to break the impasse on a funding bill and stop the government shutdown that is now in its second week. From left are, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, Reid, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D Md., Sen. Ben Cardin,
, D Md., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As the federal government shutdown continues, Tory Anderson, right, with her kids Audrey, 7,
, and Kai, 3, of Goodyear, Ariz., join others as they rally for the Alliance of Retired Americans to end the shutdown in front of the Social Security Administration offices on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in Phoenix. Other groups rallying to end the government shutdown include Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the American Federation of Government Employees AFL CIO, and Arizona FairShare. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Washington, Mayor Vincent Gray, right, Del. 9, 2013, to urge House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and other House Republicans, to break the impasse on a funding bill and stop the government shutdown that is now in its second week. Gray said in a statement Tuesday that the shutdown, now in its second week, is having dire consequences in his city. is the only city in the country where residents are worried that their local government won't be able to provide basic services during the shutdown. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, before the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the effects the government shutdown is having on benefits and services to veterans. About 3.8 million veterans will not receive disability compensation next month if the partial government shutdown continues into late October, Shinseki told lawmakers Wednesday. Some 315,000 veterans and 202,000 surviving spouses and dependents will see pension payments stopped. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

A farmer dumps corn in a grain trailer as he harvests a field, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, near Clear Lake, Iowa. Farmers and livestock producers use the reports put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service to make decisions such as how to price crops, which commodities to grow and when to sell them as well as track cattle auction prices. Not only has the NASS stopped putting out new reports about demand and supply,
, exports and prices, but all websites with past information have been taken down. President Barack Obama (R) and Vice President Joe Biden look over the menu at Taylor Gourmet on Pennsylvania Avenue after walking from the White House for a take out lunch October 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Democrats and Republicans are still at a stalemate on funding for the federal government as the shutdown goes into the fourth day. The deli, like many other eateries in Washington, is currently offering a discount for furloughed federal workers. (Photo by Pete Marovich Pool/Getty Images)

A protester displays a placard as he joins others in a demonstration in front of the US Capitol in Washington,
, DC, October 3, 2013, urging congress to end the federal government shutdown. The political crisis gripping Washington could trigger a 'catastrophic' US debt default, the Treasury warned Thursday, as America limped into day three of a government shutdown. Despite the looming danger to the US and world economies, there was no sign that either President Barack Obama or his Republican foes were ready to give ground. AFP Photo/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Tourists snap photos in front of New York's Federal Hall, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. The site of President Washington's inaugural, Federal Hall is administered by the National Park Service and is closed as a result of the government shutdown. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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