In this essay, I will demonstrate that the Prime Minister is powerful and can cause many potential dangers by analyzing different elements inside and outside of our government over the period of different Prime Ministers throughout the Canadian political history. In theory, the Parliament is the most important institution in the Canadian government and all members of the parliament are equal. The Prime Minister is supposed to be primus inter pares, meaning first among equals. But over the years, the cabinet has become more institutionalized and less departmentalized.
Hence the Prime Minister’s power has increased over the years.
Canada is the one of the most decentralized federations in the World. Power is swung away from the parliament and is more concentrated in the executive branch (Courtney, 1984: p. 241). The Prime Ministers is not too powerful in a global scale but it has substantial power within Canada. However the power of the Prime Minister can also be affected by many different factors.
. Canada is a fusion of the British parliamentary system with the American federalism. The Prime Minister is the highest role in the government. He can appoint or remove individual from the cabinet and patriotic appointments.
Lloyd Axworthy was hired as a cabinet minister by both Trudeau and Chretien (Cook & Belanger, 2007: p. 401). The PM controls all justices of the Supreme Court of Justice, vacant seats in the senate, all heads of Canadian Crown Corporations and many more. The Prime Minister’s powers extend beyond the level of federal government. The effects of the powerful Prime Minister do not necessarily exhibit from the PM itself by other actors in the government. Provincial premiers and territorial leaders are allowed to communicate directly to the PM without the going thought the web of ministers.
Former premier of News Brunswick, Frank McKenna organized a one-on-one meeting with former PM Jean Chretien during a golf game. The outcome of this informal meeting was a conference on the economic future of Atlantic Canada, as well as improved infrastructure with regards to a cost-sharing agreement on the Trans Canada Highway (Savoie, 1999:p. 75). The PM did not need ask the central agencies to prepare a proposal and then submit it to for consideration in the government decision making process.
The political power is only in the hands of the Prime Minister and a small roup or carefully selected couriers rather than the Prime Minister acting in concert with elected Cabinet colleagues (Savoie, 1999b: p. 635). However some argue that the PM does not hold all the power supposedly associated with such a position. Premiers could be manipulating the Prime Minister. An example would be how McKenna used an informal meeting to achieve what’s best for the province. There is a strong case based on the fact that he would fire trade ministers if they didn’t agree to the deal. Other ministers also compete against the Prime Minister and could endanger the PM’s executive power.
A clear example would be how Paul Martin overthrew Chretien in 2004 (Malloy, 2004: p. 214). Over the past 20 years, the Prime Minister has been able to execute more power than before. Traditionally the Cabinet is seen as a collective decision-making body. Prior to the 1960s, individual Cabinet Ministers had significantly more power and autonomy and developed their own policy and program with less regard for central coordination with only minimal prime ministerial interference. After 1960s, this was replaced by the institutionalized cabinet.
As the society and issues became more complex, individual ministers and departments could not make decisions without the taking consideration of others. Polices from one department inevitably affect others. As a result there were more collective decision-making through consultation and coordination between Cabinet Ministers. After 1984, the Cabinet became even more institutionalized and less departmental; the Prime Minister became a more dominant part in government decision making. This was a switch from the bottom to top approach to a top to bottom approach. There is a larger insight on the whole picture.
The PM alone or the along with several ministers set the priorities and direction of the government while allowing the central agencies overlook the situation. Central agencies like Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office, Department of Finance and Treasury Board Secretariat became more powerful in the political system. The Prime Minister has too much ministerial power as he 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).
This centralization of power in the government is made worse by the inability of MP’s in the house to hold the PM adequately. Consequences like corruption could also arise. The Gomery Commission of Inquiry and Sponsorship Scandal pointed out the lack of democratic insight on the Prime Minister and Prime Minister’s Office was a major cause of the corruption. One major issue that allows the Prime Minister 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 must always “toe the party line” to guarantee the will of the PM is carried out.
If any elected member of the Prime Ministers’ party were to vote against the PM, the PM has the executive power to expel the person from party. He will then run as an independent Member of Parliament with limited resources for his 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 afflicted to the same party that opposed (Granatstein & Hillmer, 2000: p. 222). Party discipline diminishes Canadian democracy and goes against the ideology of a responsible government.
The MPs are afraid of performing for their own beliefs because of the consequences the PM will impose on them; this undercuts the abilities of MPs. Some argue to defend the current system that not all MPs disagree with the party leadership. There are many cases in Canadian history that dissent can be voiced behind the doors and have caused policies or government initiatives to be drops or amended. Compared to the US model, the elected representatives have a greater independence from their political party and results in slow legislative processes.
Some argue that if the Prime Minister had more power, it is 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 consist a minimum of 155 seats. The Prime Minister will be able to push agendas without any resistance because the PM’s power is derived from the party members of the House. The Prime minister is free to roam and deal with any file he wants. It is virtually 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 Truedeau has called them before (Leduc, 2009: p. 132).
There is a shift of power from the PM 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. The current governor general, Michelle Jean is the local representative of the Queen in Canada. The governor general’s power must be exercised on the advice of the government.
However the governor general does some authority, she is able to summon or dissolve the parliament. She also prorogued 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 (Frank, 2009: p. 34). The Constitution does leave some power to the governor general against the Prime Minister like the King-Byng dispute. In 1926, Lord Byng refused Mackenzie King’s request to dissolve the parliament and call an election. This shows that other actors in the political system can still cripple the PM’s power.
However this happened in a period before the passage of the Statue of Westminster 1931, which changed the post from the representative of United Kingdom to the direct representative of the uniquely Canadian sovereign. Another potential prerogative power of the governor general is to dismiss a government. This has never happened in Canada, but occurred in Australia 1975. Powers within the government can also limit the Prime Minister. For example, the PM opposed a particular bill or motion but someone of similar stature, Finance Minister could challenge the PM’s opposition.
This example can be seen when the Finance Minister, Paul Martin wanted to announce a major pension plan change but Prime Minister Chretien opposed this but Martin challenged him and eventually Chretien followed through (Chretien, 2008: p. 59). The Supreme Court of Canada has the ability to curtail the power of the Prime Minister. It can invalidate government policies and force the government to adopt a different approach. The controversial notwithstanding clause could also be used to nullify laws. The powerless senate also has the ability to constraint the Prime Minister. The senate is given a veto over all legislation.
The senate can delay or impede the legislation (Malloy, 2004: pp. 206 – 207). This has happened both to Brain Mulroney and Chretien. Mulroney attempted to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Chretien tried to cancel the privatization of the Pearson Airport. In order to guarantee the legislation to pass, both PM used constitutional provision to appoint new senators into the Senate (Nelson, Wagenberg & White, 1994: p. 218). There are powers outside of the Government that can limit the powers of the Prime Minister. Interest groups have consistent and organized long-term impact on the political process.
In 1985, on the issue of partial de-indexing of pensions in 1985, senior citizens reacted strongly to the proposal that attacked their pocketbooks and forced the government to back down (Nelson, Wagenberg & White, 1994: p. 142). The Prime Minister is also the public persuader. Television has been a massive tool for the government to transmit the PM’s message to everyone. But the mass media is also another form power outside of the government that could damage the Prime Minister. The media usually targets the negative side of the PM by exposing the mistakes. If we look at Jean Chretien’s proving the Proof speech, “A proof is a proof.
What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven”, this does not make much sense. This damages the public image of the Prime Minister can undermines the power of the government (Chretien . 2008: p. 227). In conclusion, the Prime Minister is the head of the government, Cabinet chair, and party leader and also dictates the parliament. His powers are derived from the support of his party through using party discipline. A Majority Government is an ideal situation for the Prime Minister because his powers are does not need to be compromised to any political parties.
But the PM will compromise to cabinet ministers and also compete with his own ministers to hold his position. The structure of government also divided up to parts like legislative and judiciary also undermines the PM. The Governor General enhances the Prime Minister’s power most of the time but this depends on the circumstances. External factors like pressure groups, opinion polls and the media also impose a threat to the Prime Minister’s power. But in comparison with other heads states, the Prime Minister of Canada still has the most centralized powers in his hand.