PARLIAMENT, THE EXECUTIVE AND BUREAUCRACY
In this unit we will continue our discussion by studying the context of the Parliamentary System
(including more on the Cabinet and the Executive) and the Bureaucracy. We will explore the
ways in which an original bill makes its way through the House of Commons, and review the
functions and powers of the House of Commons, the Executive, cabinet solidarity and minority
and majority governments. We will also discuss governmental organizations, particularly
government departments, crown corporations, and other types of administrative agencies such
as regulatory agencies. The main theme of this chapter is to evaluate the various government
agencies and their lines of accountability.
Upon successful completion of this unit you will be able to:
Describe the Canadian parliamentary system.
Differentiate between the three levels of government, executive, legislative and judicial
Explain the stages involved in the passing of a bill.
Understand the responsibilities and accountabilities of politicians and bureaucrats.
Compare and contrast the various governmental institutions such as government
departments, crown corporations, and regulatory agencies.
Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the various governmental institutions.
Discuss how the legislature, executive and bureaucracy handle austerity measures in
relation to the country’s political economy.
Important Themes and Concepts to Remember
Parliamentary system – executive and the legislature
Head of Government – the Prime Minister
Head of State – Governor General and the Crown (R v. John Doe)
Responsible Government and Cabinet Solidarity
How to Pass a Bill
Functions and Powers of the House of Commons, Committees and the Senate
Minority and Majority Governments
Individual Ministerial Responsibility
Collective Ministerial Responsibility
Regulatory Agencies Unit Overview
The Parliamentary System
The three branches of Canadian government consist of the Executive, the Legislature and the
Judicial systems. In this unit, we will focus on the executive and the legislature. However, it is
also important to note that the government can also be categorized into the political executive
and the administrative. In Canada, the term Crown refers to the composite symbols of the
institutions of the state. The Crown may also be involved in court proceedings and other duties,
for e.g. certain government properties may be held in the name of the crown. The
Administration on the other hand refers to government departments and are known to assist
the executive branch in handling policy and decision making processes. These include
departments that provide services such as health, education, social welfare, justice etc. Central
agencies such as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council have a special responsibility
to support the prime minister, the cabinet and the ministry in various different ways. We will
discuss the role of central agencies in a later unit. The Executive
The Executive Branch of government consists of the head of state and the head of government.
We will begin with the head of government, the Prime Minister and the significant role that
he/she plays as the leader of Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada is one of the most powerful
leaders in the world. Although the Governor General is the head of state, his/her powers are
more limited in comparison to the powers of the Prime Ministers. For specific powers and
responsibilities of the Prime Minister and Governor General, please consult the previous week’s
The best way to define legislatures is that it is a “multi-member representative body which
considers public issues” or in other words the legislature is the country’s main law making body.
It contains the House of Commons, the senate, and is a part of the judicial branch
o Bicameral Government
In Canada, parliament is known as bicameral because it consists of an appointed upper
house that includes the senate and the elected lower house that includes the House of
Commons. These two chambers in Canada have equal legislative powers which mean
that bills must be passed in its entirety through both houses. However, there has been a
lot of debate regarding the validity of an appointed upper house as it presents a
different kind of representation, based on territory and class rather than representation
by the people. House of Commons
the House of Commons, also known as the lower house; it is a middle sized legislature currently
consisting of 308 members directly elected by the people. The members are elected using the
First Past the Post Electoral system. They consist of the ruling party, the opposition, back
benchers and executive.
Ontario – 106
Quebec – 75
BC – 36
Alberta – 28
Manitoba – 14
Saskatchewan – 14
Nova Scotia – 11
New Brunswick – 10
N & L –7
PEI – 4
North west territories, Nunavut, Yukon – 1
The Canadian Senate (or the upper house) consists of 105 senators appointed by the Governor
General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Senate is based on the concept of equal
regional representation and, unlike the members of the House of Commons; the senate
represents the country’s interests as a whole rather than a party interest.
You can see by the following the importance of these houses as they are involved in the passing
of Bills: How a Bill is Passed
Majority and Minority Governments
Majority government is a type of government based on a majority (50+1%) of the governing
party’s Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Alternatively, minority government
is a type of government that emerges from an election that has less than a majority (50%) of
members of the House of Commons. Majority governments are more common in Canada;
however, we have had 11 minority governments thus far.
Below is a list of all 10 minority governments:
1921-1925 Liberal Minority, William Lyon Mackenzie King
1925 Liberal Minority, William Lyon Mackenzie King
1957-1958 PC Minority, John Diefenbaker
1962-1963 PC Minority, John Diefenbaker
1963-1965 Liberal Minority, Lester B Pearson
1965-1968 Liberal Minority, Lester B Pearson
1972-1974 Liberal Minority , Pierre Trudeau
1979-1980 PC Minority, Joe Clark
2004- 2006 Liberal Minority, Paul Martin 2006-2008 Conservative Minority, Steve Harper
2008-2011 Conservative Minority, Steve Harper
The concept of accountability can be defined as: those who hold government power must be
answerable and be responsive to the people for the way in which that power is exercised.
There are four basic components of accountability:
1. assignment of responsibilities;
2. obligation to answer for their fulfillment;
3. evaluation of the performance of the responsibilities;
4. sanctions/rewards based on the evaluation.
Individual Ministerial Responsibility - the principle that individual ministers are
responsible for the actions of their departments
Collective Ministerial Responsibility – the principle that members of the cabinet (the
executive branch of government) are collectively responsible for the policies and
management of government as a whole
Now, we will look at the concept of administrative responsibility and public interest. The main
characteristics of two hypothetically extreme types of bureaucrats - the objectively responsible
and the subjectively responsible official are suggested here:
Objectively Responsible Bureaucrats feel responsible primarily to the legal or formal
locus of authority and take a passive approach to the determination of public interest.
Their most prominent characteristic and value is accountability to those who have the
power to promote, displace, or replace them. The controls and influences, which they
internalize in the form of administrative values, are those expressed by their hierarchical
superiors. In making and recommending decisions, they anticipate and reflect the
desires of their superiors. Bureaucrats of this type do not actively seek the views of
policy actors other than their superiors unless they are required to do so
Subjectively Responsible Bureaucrats feel responsible to a broad range of policy
participants and are active in the pursuit of the public interest. Their most outstanding
characteristic and value is commitment to what they perceive to be the goals of their
department or program. Since they view the expectations of a variety of policy actors as
legitimate, the sources of their administrative values are numerous and diverse.
Subjectively responsible public servants are frequently in conflict with their superiors,
but they are not influenced much by the threat of negative sanctions. They seek the
views of interests affected by their decisions and recommendations in the absence of,
and even in violation of, any legal or formal obligation to do so. Their primary
administrative values include responsiveness and effectiveness. They are innovative,
take risks, and bend the rules to achieve their objectives. They urge their superiors to follow certain courses of action and are prepared to resolve by themselves the value
dilemmas they encounter in their search for the public interest.
Institutions of Departments
1. Government Departments: The textbook defines government departments as “an
organization that is headed by a minister who is politically accountable for its operation
and a deputy minister who is in charge of its hierarchical administrative apparatus”
(Dyck, 2006). Government departments are the formal structure of government that
Canadians have the most direct contact with. Although a government department is
headed by a cabinet minister, the Deputy Ministers usually conducts the administrative
and managerial issues. They usually consist of a large staff to handle various issues
within the department. A department can be categorized into three types: horizontal
policy coordinative, administrative coordinative and vertical constituency.
o Horizontal Policy Coordinative types of departments tend to be the most
politically influential. For example Department of Finance and Privy Council
Office. Horizontal Administrative Coordinative departments are usually felt to be
the least influential. For example, Department of National Revenue.
o Vertical Constituency Departments are generally involved in providing services
directly to the public. Department of Defense, Department of Fisheries and
Oceans, Department of Human Resources Development, Industry Canada.
2. Crown Corporations: The main purpose of Crown Corporations is to provide goods and
services to citizens. Crown Corporations are quite similar to private companies, but the
main difference is that they are set up by the government (both federal and provincial
governments). One of their many important roles includes controlling the distribution
and pricing of certain goods and services that are essential to the public. The Prime
Minister usually appoints the heads of Crown Corporations and the corporations are
usually independent of any government control. Some examples of Crown corporations
include: LCBO (under provincial government), Via Rail, CBC, Farm Credit Canada, Royal
Canadian Mint (they print money), Bank of Canada (regulates the supply of money).
Recently, Crown corporations have been criticized for being less efficient, being an
unfair competition to the private sector, increasing financial power, weak
accountability, and a bordering between gaining profits or upholding public interest?
3. Regulatory Agencies: Unlike Crown Corporations, regulatory agencies produce
regulations rather than providing goods and services to the public. The textbook defines
it as a government agency that regulates an area of public policy (Dyck, 2006). Their
focus can be environmental, social or mostly economical. It is important to note that
regulatory agencies make decisions based on policy considerations rather than acting in
a judiciary context. In addition, regulatory agencies also conduct research and perform advisory roles. Examples of regulatory include immigration and Appeal Board, Canadian
Pension Commission, Canadian Radio- TV and Telecommunications Commission (which
produces rules and regulations for the CBC which is a crown corporation). Readings – Week 2, Chapters 22 & 23
The function of a bureaucracy is policy implication – administering policies established by the
prime minister, cabinet and parliament
Seeking out views of the public and transmitting the government’s response
Once politicians decide to take an issue further the public service will usually be asked to
provide them with additional information and advice
The implementation of a new lay may thus see bureaucracy making decisions that
constitute the quasi-legislative outputs that involve time-consuming negotiations with
the provinces or with relevant interest groups
Once the policy, program of law has received political authorization implementation is
almost exclusively a bureaucratic responsibility
Once the date is set for the start of a new program arrives, it is the bureaucracy that
actually provides the service, does the regulating or performs whatever activities are
necessary to apply to the law.
The bureaucrats advise on almost every decision that is made by the PM but the
ministers and prime minister actually MAKE the decision
Government departments (Ministers department)
The PM and minsters determine the internal structure of the government departments
The departments are created and reorganized by Acts of Parliament which also set out