Canadian Political Institutions - complete course notes

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- Easton’s definition of politics:
Authoritative allocation of values and power
Legitimacy, power, values (the “good”)
- Politics are the ways society resolves value conflicts within and between societies; political conflict results from
competition between different values, and thus different political demands and identities
- Power: ability to affect the behavior of others, especially by getting them to act in ways that they wouldn’t have
done otherwise
- Reification: treating the subject as if it is a dynamic unaffected by time and space.
The State is often reified seen as having been the same throughout history, from its ancient Greek origins until
now. It is important to note that this is false it has evolved greatly over time.
- Our state institution, influenced by those in Europe, differ from other political institutions in that it is:
Associated with bureaucracy
A nation of ‘rationality’ and popular sovereignty
- Historically, power was gained by coercion and force, or claim to “divine right to justify absolutist rule
From the 1600s 1800s, the Enlightenment changes traditional rights
(eg. Treaty of Westphalia ends 30 Year War, changing the State’s pyramid of power – individual princes will
now rule their own states, as opposed to all being monopolized by the Church)
Rationality in all humans was a revolutionary idea our capacity for reason makes us human. This leads for
the belief that the layman can now direct their own lives, make their own decisions the rise of popular
Nationalism also evolves, mobilising and uniting a group of individuals that share the same history, culture,
background and values sovereignty now lives in the nation, not the ruler himself
Rights and power resides in the individuals that belong in the group their united values, and the clash of
values with other states, impassions the members of the society
Napoleon’s invasion of Europe spreads the notions of individual, popular sovereignty and nationalism
mostly in union against France’s control. This eventually leads to colonialism and imperialism, and later the
spread of globalism
- Canada has a liberal democracy - government by sovereignty to the government with the consent of its people,
driven by the ideals of equality (democracy) and freedom (liberal) for all individuals
Indirect: popular sovereignty, public votes for delegates to represent them with legitimate power
Direct: popular government, direct participation in decision-making this faces practical difficulties
- Theories of democracy:
Mass participation emphasizes accountability of government actions through the involvement of as many
citizens as possible
Elites emphasizes expertise of government officials, through the legitimation of those who are equipped
and qualified to use such political power; regular citizens are knot knowledgeable enough about the running
of government to make these decisions
- 3 features of Canadian democracy:
Federalism: sovereignty is divided between different parts of government, which all have different
Changes over time happen through the federal government’s bribing of provincial governments through
vertical fiscal imbalance the uneven distribution of government money from top to bottom
Fiscal imbalance: the view that provincial governments don’t have a proper share of revenue to
carry out their responsibilities
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The federal government has more revenue than it needs, while the provincial governments don’t,
due to some of the most expensive government activities (healthcare, education, social services)
the federal government thus transfer sums of their unused money to provincial governments
Provincial governments argue that the federal government uses this fiscal imbalance to control
provincial matters the federal government argues that there is a fiscal balance, and that it needs
to have considerable control over the revenue usage of governments to manage the economy,
develop nationally-beneficial programs, and ensure provincial programs are up to par
The balance of power at Confederation changes due to:
Judicial Committee Privy Council
Restricted use of federal powers
Spending programs
Expanded important of provincial jurisdiction
Government has central powers with certain reservations
Westminster Model: taken from Britain, composed of representatives of the State and its people
Executive and legislative powers are closely tied and interdependent
Dignified executives: embodies the State (Queen)
Efficient executives: political, technical (Prime Minister)
Parliamentary systems separate the dignified and efficient executives, while combining the executive
and legislature powers
Presidential systems combine the dignified and efficient executives, while separating the executive and
legislature powers
Settler Economy: resource economy, usually low living standards and organized around resource extraction
Canada falls under this category, but has a high living standard we are in a privileged position in the
state system, in a close relationship to the imperial and world powers (historically Britain, now U.S.) due
to being a secure source of critical resources
Constitution: a founding set of laws upon which all others are based that that dictate if other laws are legal, and
limit the government’s power – laws that are made must not violate the Constitution
4 basic elements/sources/components:
Formal constitutional documents
The Constitution Act, 1867
- Established Canada as a federal union of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, gave
them a certain degree of self-government as a British colony
- Established Canadian Parliament the House of Commons and Senate, a division of the authority
to pass legislation between the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures
Statute of Westminster
- Formalized independence of Canada
- Included B.C., P.E.I., Newfoundland, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan into Canada
The Constitution Act, 1982
- Patriated the Constitution made it fully Canadian, by adopting procedures that ensured
amendment could only be performed by the Canadian government, not the British government
- Addition of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Constitutional acts of the Parliament and provincial legislatures
Establishment of the Supreme Court of Canada
These laws are still not part of the supreme law and thus don’t have the same power
Constitutional conventions
Widely-accepted informal rules that reflect the principles of Canada’s system of government
Eg. the convention that the Prime Minister and Cabinet must maintain the support of the house of
Commons reflects the principle of responsible government that supports our system of democratic
Still not legally enforceable by the courts
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