POLSCI 1G06 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Responsible Government

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Political Science 1G06 II 2013 Lecture 3a – Parliament
-Technically speaking, Parliament refers to the Crown, the House of
Commons, and the Senate
-Any law must be approved by all three elements
House of Commons
-We made the case last class that under present conditions real political
power over legislation lies with the Cabinet and in particular with the
Prime Minister
-Two reasons:
-1. Cabinet initiates all major legislation and therefore controls the
agenda of the House
-2. Party Discipline means that most of the policies that Cabinet
decides upon will be passed
-Viewed as necessary due to the principle of Responsible government
-The failure to pass a piece of legislation initiated by the Cabinet can
result in the defeat of the government
Nevertheless, the House of Commons does have an important place in the
overall political system and a degree of power in turn
1. In the first place, it determines whether the government will continue
to lead or whether it will fall
-The government must maintain the confidence of the House
-The potential ability to expel the executive at any time gives the
House a crucial check against Prime Ministerial Power
2. The House of Commons has the power of the purse
3. The House of Commons provides continual oversight/challenge to
government policy in the interim between elections
-Opposition parties can question and challenge the government
-And yet some argue that the House of Commons is not as meaningful
as it could be
-That mechanisms like party discipline make the system too top down
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-That the House should be re-structured to make it more genuinely
democratic and representative
-Should the House of Commons be reformed?
-Can the system be restructured to allow for more free votes even
while protecting the principle of responsible government?
According to defenders, the current system does have its advantages:
-1. It is argued by some that executive domination of the legislature has
permitted the Canadian political system to be more welfare oriented
than the American system
-If a PM wants a policy agenda pushed through the legislature, he/she
(especially in situations of majority government) will in all likelihood
be successful
-2. Since Party members vote along Party lines it is (arguably) more
difficult for single interest lobbyists to capture the policy-making
-3. Collective discipline means that the Party cannot pass the buck for
legislative failure
-If the Prime Minister has a majority and does not deliver on his
promises to pass a piece of legislation
oHe can’t blame obstruction in the House for the failure
-All Bills must have Senate approval before they can become law
-In fact, “in theory the Senate has almost exactly the same legislative
power as the House of Commons”
-On paper, the Senate is (almost) as powerful as the House of
Commons (although this is not the case in practice)
-What role does the Senate play in the Canadian political system?
-The Senate was established as a check on Democracy
-It was established to be a House of “Sober Second Thought”
There are two main characteristics of the Senate which differentiate it from
the House of Commons:
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