Topic 6: The Political Executive – the P.M., Cabinet and Central Agencies
Key Issues: has the centre of power shifted from cabinet t the PM?
Do we still have collective government?
We’ve never really had collective government.
The role of cabinet as check on the PM/collective policy maker has
never been as strong as it should have.
Parliament doesn’t rule
Collective government = misleading
PM appoints, dismisses, assigns departments to cabinet members.
o People who come into cabinet are happy just to be there –
above the rest of backbenchers, may have some power, all the
perks of being in cabinet
o Anne McClelland – Minister of Health/Welfare
o Most of our ministers are not specialists. Most come from the
HoC and most don’t specialize there.
Controls cabinet, agenda, decides who speaks, determines cabinet
structure, sole contact Constitutionally with the GG, only person who
can advise on dissolution of Parliament.
Can abolish/decide on which departments to keep
Central link to the media – media ia a primary check on the PM
o Most important person in representing Canada internationally
o “Defacto minister of foreign affairs”
o face of Canada in dealing with provinces
o First Ministers Conferences – example of shift in power –
originally called Dominion Provincial
o Primary patronage and decision maker – PM who decides who
will get into the Senate, decides the major ambassadors
Heads of courts of appeals, Supreme Court appointments – PM does
all the major ministerial appointments.
Regulatory agencies, the CBC, CNR – appointment of directors of
crown corporations and presidents is a prime ministerial prerogative.
Dominates the political parties – they don’t influence the structure of
power within the government, don’t provide program for the political
party – they’re empty vessels – the PM can ignore his own political
o Ex. Margaret Thatcher past her “sell by date”.
PM determines electoral strategy
o Must get nominations signed by a leader of the party
Leader of the party/the party itself are the two primary factors in
determining voter preferences
When you have weak opposition leaders, the PM’s role is
Is the PM an autocrat? A monarch of uncontrolled authority, rules
with undisputed sway – there’s no way the PM can be an autocrat.
o Need support of the majority of his government and needs
majority of the caucus.
o Paul Martin vs. Chretien
The PM can ignore his political party – every minister now has to
worry about it – Paul martin worked effectively to get his supports
elected to the local constituency corporations.
External events are a significant constraint on the PM – no one knows
what’s going to happen: economic crisis, SARS, war, etc. Judged on
how you react/what you do.
Overwhelming concentration on the media is also a constraint on the
Provincial Premiers have also become a significant check on the PM –
never meant to be in 1867, provinces were to be glorified
Courts – James Mallory 1985 no political institution is as effective as it
aught to be – courts were just emerging, have become a significant
check on governments generally, but especially on the PM.
Significant question – in terms of checks and balances, these checks
are insufficient. He’s not an autocrat, but he has too much power. We
don’t have a collective government