Division of Power and Authority
- The Canadian Constitution divides power and authority in two important
Federalism: Power is divided between different levels of government (federal and
provincial exclusive authority).
Branches of Government: Power is divided between different branches or
institutions of government (within each level).
Branches of Government in Canada
Legislative: Responsible for enacting legislation
Executive: Responsible for initiating legislation and administering law.
- Governor General
- Prime Minister
- Public Service
Judicial: Responsible for adjudicating law and judicial review.
- Supreme Court of Canada
- Lower Courts
Parliamentary System of Government
- Question: how are these different branches organizes in relation to one
- Answer: they are organized on the principles of Parliamentary
Key Principles of Parliamentary Government
- Parliamentary Sovereignty: organizing ultimate authority
- Cabinet Government: exercising executive authority
- Responsible Government: checking executive authority Parliamentary Sovereignty
- Concept of Sovereign: the ultimate authority in the exercise of political
power. The institution or actor that has the “final say”.
Types of Sovereignty:
- Personal Sovereignty: ultimate authority rests in a person (King/Queen)
and is passed through hereditary lines.
- Popular Sovereignty: ultimate authority rests in “the people” as opposed
to a particular actor or institution.
- Parliamentary Sovereignty: Ultimate authority rests in a set of
institutions governed by constitutional rules (the Parliament).
Canadian Parliamentary Sovereignty
Institutions of Parliament
- House of Commons
Practice of Parliamentary Sovereignty
- Passage of Law: for any legislation to become law, all three institutions of
parliament must approve it.
- Changing Law: Parliament may change any law at any time.
Qualification: constitutional law requires the approval of federal and provincial
Parliamentary V Popular Sovereignty
British Parliamentary Sovereignty:
- British Conservatism: distrust of decision-making ability of “the people”.
(Uneducated, ignorant, non-rational)
- Political system needs to have elitist checks on he power of the average
citizen (Monarch; Senate; principle of responsible government.
American Popular Sovereignty:
- Rejection of British Conservatism: distrust of political elites and their
ability to abuse their power for narrow self-interest.
- Maximize influence of average citizen and prevent elitist concentration of
Principle #2: Cabinet Government - Question: Who controls executive power and the ability to initiate
legislation and administer laws?
- Constitutional Theory: Monarch is the head of the executive branch of the
cabinet, PM and public service subordinate to King/Queen.
- Political Practice: The Monarch is ceremonial figurehead, with the
PM/Cabinet controlling the executive branch.
This is referred to as the practice of Cabinet government.
Rise of Cabinet Government
- Cabinets have a long history in the British system of government
- Royal Courts or Councils: officials who advise the Monarch.
- Responsibility for leading the government was transferred from the
Monarch to the Cabinet.
- Adopted by Canada at the time of Confederation.
Cabinet Exercises the Power of the Crown
- While these powers still technically belong to the Crown, it is customary
for the Monarch or Governor General to exercise them according to the
- Submit money bills to Parliament
- Summon and dissolve Parliament
- Grant Pardons
- Appoint key state officials
- Sign treaties
- Royal Assent (exercised automatically)
Principle #3: Responsible Government
- While the Canadian constitution does not recognize popular sovereignty, it
does provide for democratic participation.
Concept of Responsible Government:
- The Cabinet is held “responsible” or “accountable” to the people through
their elected representatives in the House of Commons
- Check on the power of the average citizen. - Role of average citizen is limited to simply selecting representatives who
then hold government accountable.
- Very different from US popular sovereignty/Presidential system