When is a vote of no confidence not a vote of no confidence? When it takes place in Canada, apparently. As Mustafa Hirji of Points of Information explains, Westminster parliamentary rules don’t obligate the executive to resign when they lose a confidence vote, but nonetheless the traditional response of resignation is key to parliamentary sovereignty:
[R]esponsible government’s preservation requires that the Executive honour votes of no confidence. Otherwise, the Executive ceases to be responsible to the legislature and is, instead, responsible only to the unelected monarch or representative thereof.
Responsibility to Parliament is absolutely key in our system of government. Unlike the United States, we lack checks and blances to constrain the power of the Executive. Parliament is the only meaningful constraint on the Executive and their widespread powers. When this constraint ceases to exist, the Governor-General, effectively chosen by the Prime Minister and likely therefore beholden to him/her, becomes the only check on the Prime Minister. That check is neither realistic nor desireable, let alone democratic or accountable.
Of course, if the role of the governor-general (or, in the case of Britain, the monarch) was taken by an official responsible to the electorate or parliament—most other parliamentary regimes use the largely ceremonial president in this role—the conflict of interest would be greatly diminished. Either way, it seems to me that if parliament does vote in favor of a no confidence motion, and the executive refuses to resign, the governor-general has an obligation to dismiss the executive.
Update: More via InstaPundit: perspectives from Ed Morrissey and “ferret” of Conservative Life, as well as liveblogging from Stephen Taylor (not the PoliBlog guy). Kate also has a post at Outside the Beltway, with a link to another news story on today’s events.