Second to the Governor General of Canada, the position of the Canadian Prime Minister is the single highest power a public servant can obtain. The residual power that the Governor General holds under the monarchy of Britain gives the Governor General the ultimate and final say in all major matters concerning Canada’s intergovernmental affairs. An example of this is Michelle Jean proroguing the parliament by the request of Steven Harper to delay a potential vote on the motion of non-confidence during 2008-2009 Canadian parliamentary disputes (CBC News, 2008).
In a fair democratic process, the Prime Minister has a variety of powers that he or she can enforce while maintaining constant checks and balances within caucus, various opposing political parties and the very influential media. Here in Canada, under the constitutional monarchy of Britain, citizens are fortunate that the Prime Minister often acts rationally with the powers he or she has. Similar to the United States of America, they share the same standards under a democratic state that the Presidential role is held under check by other potential powers to be.
The ultimate right of a Prime Minister is to make the call for a general election; a very important and significant power. One of the most important calls a Canadian Prime Minister can make is to dissolve a government simply by seeking the consent of the Governor General of Canada. More recently with the move toward fixed election dates, the Prime Minister has limitations on his or her ability to call an election when they want; however, under specific and certain anomalies in parliament, this power can still be exercised.
Expected requirements are the Prime Ministers right to appoint members to the cabinet, appoint civil servants, judges and senators. The Prime Minister has to keep constant communication with his Members of Parliament with daily/weekly cabinet meetings. This allows for the Prime Minister to stay on top of current and ongoing issues, and execute decisions. While the cabinet is a powerful group in itself, the ministers are responsible for their respective tasks, any poor judgment or efficiency issues can reflect poorly on the Prime Minister and may result in a cabinet shuffle which the Prime Minister can do whenever he or she pleases.
In the British North America Act of 1867, section 91 outlines the powers and responsibilities of government, with a significant division of responsibilities between the provincial and federal governments (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013). An example of this would be: all issues pertaining to national defense are federal matters and all issues applicable to healthcare, for the most part, are provincial matters. This also allows for the Prime Minister to maintain checks and balance with provincial premiers to report to him frequently. The Council of the Federation ensures unity amongst all provinces and territories.
All thirteen premiers meet with the Prime Minister to allow issues to be addressed, from health care, economic development to inter provincial trade. While under watch from each of the provinces premiers, they are always keeping the Prime Minister in check. This close monitoring goes both ways; there is most certainly federal pressure on provincial premiers; for example, when Pierre Trudeau implemented the Anti-Inflation Board in 1975 (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2013). This bill froze wages, with the ultimate goal of stopping the high inflation in Canada at the time.
This bill ultimately caused finance minister John Turner to resign over the issue. This issue was the result of numerous displeased Canadian citizens, who ensured their Premier was well aware of the anger this caused. This led to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government’s collapse, resulting in a Progressive Conservative minority. From Pierre Trudeau’s implementation of the War Measures act in 1970, and Jean Chretien’s refusal to take part in the Iraq war in 2003, are evident examples of the ultimate use of Prime Ministerial powers in Canadian political history.
Looking back, these two specific cases were the right decisions; but at the time were extremely controversial because of the non-democratic manner in which they were executed. The Prime Minister can only effectively run a government with the confidence of the House of Commons, and in the past Canadians have seen governments fall before us because of non-confidence within the house. In the case of minority governments, they are often faced with having to “chew the fat” on certain issues in order for the house to support budgets.
Depending on the issue, the Prime Minister will generally educate his party on how to vote on certain bills, which ultimately influences his or her MP’s, is a power in itself. However on some controversial topics such as The Civil Marriage Act in 2005, a bill focused on allowing members of the same sex to get married, Prime Minister Paul Martin permitted his MP’s to vote how they pleased, and p rovided no insight on how they should vote, avoiding the concept of “towing the party line”.
In an ideal setting, for a Prime Minister to efficiently run government without uprising is to have a majority government, as we saw Jean Chretien’s eleven years as Prime Minister go without major backlash. The Canadian Prime Minister finds he or she holding a government which posses all powers for the entire duration of the term. Unlike the United States of Americas system, the government faces midterm elections every two years, and is subjected to a mandatory election every four years, as well as only being able to hold his or her position as Head of State for up to a maximum of eight years.
In Canada’s parliamentary system, they show control over elections. Since May 2007, the Canada Elections Act states that a general election is held on a fixed date: “the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election” (Canada Elections Act, 2007). Canadians are lucky in the sense that they are constantly able to gather information to what is happening on Parliament hill. Question period is open for the public to see and are alerted about various issues due to the heavy media coverage on Canadian politics.
The coverage is so powerful that it keeps the Prime Minister in check by the tough questions and issues he or she is faced with on a regular basis. One major issue that allows the Prime Minister to execute such a high degree of ministerial power is the Cabinets ability to use party discipline to ensure it has its party’s support. MPs of the party are expected to “tow the party line”, to assist in guaranteeing the will of the PM is carried out. If any elected member of the Prime Ministers’ party were to vote against the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister has the technical executive power to expel the person from party if he or she pleases.
As a result of this, the MP will then run as an independent Member of Parliament with limited resources for his or her own work and has no procedural rights to raise any issue in the Parliament. Jean Chretien demanded loyalty from his party and did not hesitate to punish MPs, which were affiliated to the same party they opposed (Granatstein & Hillmer, 2000: p. 222). The Prime Minister has too much ministerial power in the sense that he or she is allowed to fire and hire any cabinet member at anytime.
A clear example would be Brian Mulroney signing the North American Free Trade Agreement without informing other members of the cabinet (Hillmer & Granatstein, 2000:p. 199). Although the Prime Minister does hold this position of power, intraparty politics can often be as intense as party vs. party politics (Samuels & Shugart, 2010: p. 95). Party discipline diminishes Canadian democracy to an extent and goes against the ideology of a responsible government (Savoie, 2013; p. 252).
The MPs can often find themselves afraid of performing and making motions based on their own personal beliefs because of the consequences the PM will impose on them, ultimately undercutting the abilities of MPs. Some argue to defend the current system that not all MPs disagree with the party leadership. There have been many cases in the political history of Canada where dissent had been voiced behind the doors and have caused policies or government initiatives to be dropped or amended.
Compared to the US model, the elected representatives have a greater independence from their political party and results in a rather slow legislative processes. Some argue that if the Prime Minister had more power, he or she would be able to execute polices faster without going through all the procedures in the policy making process. Another major factor that dictates the power of the Prime minister is composition of the House of Commons. A Majority government consists of a minimum of 155 seats.
When this is the case, the Prime Minister is able to push agendas without any resistance due to the Prime Ministers power that is derived from the party members of the House. The Prime minister is free to pick and choose any file he or she wants to deal with, giving the sense of a one party-state. Jean Chretien had three majority governments and this shows how serious the political powers are centralized within the Prime Minister and governing party. However under a Minority Government, the Prime Minister must make compromises by passing different pieces of agendas in exchange for confidence.
Because of party discipline, the PM concentrates on obtaining support from opposition members to pass his legislations (Bickerton & Gagnon, 2009: p. 145). The Members of Parliaments are no longer “nobodies”, as Trudeau has called them before (Leduc, 2010: p. 132). There is a shift of power from the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the elected members of the House. There are different strategies in which the Prime Minister can deal with a Minority Government.
One way was to set up a coalition government of two or more parties to secure a majority of seats in the House. Steven Harpers opposes the idea of a coalition government. He seeks the opposition support for his legislative program and makes adjustments to satisfy other party’s requirements. A minority government maintains checks and balances for the party and Prime Minister in control, ultimately limiting the amount of power he or she has, and ensuring they exercise their power in a reasonable, democratic way.
In conclusion, there are many factors that come in to play on whether the Canadian Prime Minister has too much power. In a majority government, the Canadian prime minister can exercise too much power if they feel the need to. They have the majority of the seats in the House of Commons, where they can ultimately manipulate their parties to act in the best interest of the Prime Minister. The prime minister can act irrationally if he or she pleases to do so, despite the implications his or her actions may have.
Although, if the Prime Minister exercises too much power in an irrational way, there are things that can be done, by the Governor General in particular, to remove the current Prime Minister from their position. In the case of a minority government, the Prime Minister still has a significant amount of power, but not nearly as much in the case of a majority government. A minority government keeps the Prime Minister and the ruling party in check.
The house is made up of a more even balance of MP’s from various parties, ultimately making the Prime Minister work on issues that pertain to both parties; otherwise nearly nothing will get done in Parliament. The reason for this is that the opposition parties will not support the Prime Minister only acting in the best interest of his or her own party, as the opposition holds enough power and voting right to make it so bills get shut down. Many factors reduce the Prime Ministers likelihood of acting irrational and overusing their power, which ultimately keeps them in check.
Although they often exercise their power fairly, the Prime Minister in a majority government does hold too much power, and in all cases, they hold too much power over their party members, through mild, indirect coercion. The Prime Minister holds a lot of power, more than he or she should be able to exercise if they please, but this only becomes an issue if they act irrationally using those powers, in which case there is potential they can be forced out of their position ((Samuels & Shugart, 2010: p. 96). Works Cited: "Anti-Inflation Board.
" The Canadian Encyclopedia. N. p. , n. d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. . "British North America Act 1867 Document. " The Canadian Encyclopedia. N. p. , n. d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. . Bickerton, James, and Alain Gagnon. Canadian Politics. 5th ed. Peterborough, Ont. : Broadview, 2009. Print. Canada Elections Act. R. S. C. 1985, c. 9, s. 2. Print. (Updated May 2007). Accessed November 10th, 2013. "GG Agrees to Suspend Parliament until January. " CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 4 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. . Granatstein, J. L. , and Norman Hillmer.
Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1999. Print. LeDuc, Lawrence. Dynasties and Interludes: Past and Present in Canadian Electoral Politics. Toronto: Dundurn, 2010. Print. Samuels, David, and Matthew Soberg Shugart. Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers: How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print. Savoie, Donald J. "The Machinery. " Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher? : How Government Decides and Why. Montreal [u. a. : McGill-Queen's Univ. , 2013. 250-52. Print.