The Political Executive
PM and Cabinet (Power Relations)
-Very strong difference in power. The PM controls, others follow
-The first among equals ("Primus Interparus")
-The PM has an important role to play but there is a conflict in terms of power distribution
-Since the 1970s, the cabinet has become less important whereas the PM has done the opposite.
-Changes with each PM, specifically Pierre Trudeau
-Cabinet is a creature of convention (not enforceable in the courts), not defined in our constitution as a
formal or legal document.
-Cabinet's job is to be a political overseer of a slice of the permanent executive (the bureaucracy).
-S.11 of BNA Act 1867: There shall be a council to aid and advise in the govt of Canada (The Queen's
Privy Council of Canada). Chosen and summoned by the GG. Is a lifetime job. This becomes the pool of
advisors for the GG. Becoming a cabinet member means you become part of the privy council, but only a
subset of it. The Cabinet is the active part of the council. The Privy council does not hold meetings
except for one special ceremonial function. Cabinet is thus a subset of the Queen's privy council.
-Collective Responsibility: Each member is the member of a team and has responsibilities. The cabinet
holds secret meetings where you can speak freely. Once a policy is made, regardless of what your
opinion is, you have the responsibility to back the policy, whether or not you agree with it. You are
constrained to agree with it no matter how much you may have fought against it if you are a member of
cabinet. If you feel you cannot back up the policy, you are then expected to resign. Act as a collective,
speak with one voice.
-You have to have the eye and the ear of the PM, and once you are in the Cabinet you really have no
reason to resign.
-You can be a member of cabinet and not of parliament, but unlikely. Regulated by convention,
-Principle following from responsible government: Cabinet sits as a group and you will publicly
back the governments program 100%.
-Constrained as a member of cabinet as to what you can do. Privately you can submit your
concerns but not publicly
-Each minister is responsible to the HOC for his own personal conduct, for the general work of the
-If something goes wrong in department, it is the minister who is politically responsible (in theory),
but in reality as the size of govt has grown, can you realistically expect the minister of the crown
to oversee 30000 people's actions and should that one minister be responsible for the actions of
the people he is responsible for. Now the reality is that the minister is accountable to the HOC for his/her own personal conduct but not for all the other people unless it is obvious there was a
-Functions of cabinet: Representation and Decision Making
-Representation: In Canada, is much stronger than in other contexts around the world. Has
repercussions for how cabinet works. Has had to bare a burden in representing inter-state
federalism. As the senate has not come to assume it's role as a voice and representative of
provincial/regional interests, cabinet has been a place where that function has moved to. Not just
about forming govt of highly efficient govt policy geeks, but also the PM in selecting cabinet
members has to fulfill regional expectation. Can be disadvantageous in that it's not so much about
who's most suitable, but a lot of where they come from (even if they aren't as suitable). Also
minority and aboriginal representation and representation of women. Cabinet is supposed to be
reflective of Canadians more generally. Party driven reasons as to who gets in, such as rewarding
loyalty, managing divisions within the party. Merit: someone with a really interesting skill set
should be involved with that policy (Not the first consideration but nonetheless considered).
Cabinet has grown, the average is around 30. Has gone to as low at 23 (Chretien govt). PM Harper
has about 28 full members, and 10 ministers of state.
-Decision making: Ideal is that Cabinet is a collegial body that acts as a collective. Arguably this is
no longer true, which is problematic. Reality: Cabinet as a whole ratifies decisions that are made
elsewhere rather than makes. Decisions are made perhaps by PM, by the PM in conjunction with
one or two other ministers (not all equal), by informal group, or by cabinet committees. Results in
difficulty making decisions. As cabinet has grown there has been i