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Lecture 5

POSC 1000U Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Liberal Democracy, Ultimate Power, Canadian Federalism

Course Code
POSC 1000U
Rob Halpin

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Political Science Lecture 5 02.12.16
Formal Political Institutions
Institutions of Government
The mechanics of the branches of government:
oInstitutions and people responsible for carrying out the affairs and administration
of a political system
Not every branch has the same set of responsibilities, but they interrelate
oSee Figure 5.1 for how this works in Canada
Not everyone has the same power
Elected Politicians in Canada
Elected politicians at the national level in Canada are Members of Parliament
oMembers of Parliament: Representatives of voters in a parliamentary system
Those with real decision making power are members of Cabinet
oCabinet: Members of the executive level of government responsible for decision-
making and administration of the bureaucracy
See Box 5.1 for more on Cabinet
Divisions of Power
Executive: Usually the top level of government, or the leader; maintains leadership for
the entire political system, and often reflects the leadership and preoccupations of the
dominant political party
Legislative: Body of a political system with the responsibility to make laws and known as
the legislature
Judiciary: Judicial (courts) level of governance
Administering Government
Bureaucracy: Division of government responsible for carrying out public policy, and
staffed by public employees
See Figure 5.2 for depiction of power sharing among these divisions in Canada
All of these divisions have specific roles to play
The Executive
“Top level” of government
Initiate policies, set agendas, carry out business of government, represent the country
In Canada, the executive is responsible to Parliament, must answer queries in question
oQuestion period: Time allotted in House of Commons for members of the house
to ask questions of the prime minister or cabinet minister (See Box 5.3)
Leadership for entire political system
Includes role for head of government (the person responsible for government—in
Canada, the Prime Minister)
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Political Science Lecture 5 02.12.16
Head of state may be the same person (e.g., the US president is both head of state and
government), or another individual
In Canada, the monarch is the head of state, represented by the Governor General
Cabinet members chosen from ruling party’s caucus
Caucus: Group of elected representatives, usually based on party membership, but also
may be grouped by race, gender, geographic representation, etc.
Ministerial responsibility means these members are responsible for their department
The Legislature
Intended to reduce the amount of power given to rulers (executive today)
An “institutional check” on power
See Box 5.5 for example of declaring war
Types of Legislatures
1. Legislative “sovereignty” or supremacy
oe.g., Britain’s Westminster model
oGovernments need to get assent of legislature
oLimits of power dictated by rule of law, conventions and practices
oLegislatures cannot make decisions that “bind” future legislatures from reversing
2. Constitutionally prescribed powers
oe.g., presidential model
oFormally divides powers granted to executive and the legislature
3. Mixed model
oe.g., Canada
oLegislature is viewed as a supreme authority but subject to several limitations
oIn Canada, for instance, powers are shared with provincial legislatures, and some
authority is given to them
1. e.g., education policy
Legislative Structures
Powers are either in one “house” or divided between two
Bicameral: legislative or parliamentary body with two assemblies
oe.g., Canada, US, Russia, India
Unicameral: legislative or parliamentary body with one assembly
oe.g., Canada’s provinces, Hungary, Finland
Legislative Functions
Debate and accountability (question period)
Budgeting for government
Representation: the act of standing for the views of others; election of a representative to
symbolize the collective view of all constituents
oRepresentative democracy: political system where voters elect others to act on
their behalf
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