Poli Sci Tut 1 questions:
1+2) We cannot work or eat or drink; we cannot buy or
sell or own anything; we cannot go to a ball
game or a hockey game or watch TV without
feeling the effects of government. We cannot
marry or educate our children, cannot be sick,
born or buried without the hand of government
somewhere intervening. Government gives us
railways, roads and airlines; sets the conditions
that affect farms and industries; manages
or mismanages the life and growth of the
cities. Government is held responsible for
social problems, and for pollution and sick
Government is our creature. We make it, we are
ultimately responsible for it, and, taking the
broad view, in Canada we have considerable reason to be proud of it. Pride, however, like
patriotism, can never be a static thing; there are
always new problems posing new challenges.
The closer we are to government, and the more
we know about it, the more we can do to help
meet these challenges.
3) responsible government: government by a cabinet answerable to, and removable by,
a majority of the assembly
4) The Governor General (and each provincial lieutenant-governor) governs through a cabinet, headed
by a prime minister or premier (the two terms mean the same thing: ﬁ rst minister). If a national or provincial general election gives a party opposed to the cabinet in oﬃ ce a clear majority (that is, more
than half the seats) in the House of Commons or the legislature, the cabinet resigns and the Governor
General or lieutenant-governor calls on the leader of the victorious party to become prime minister and
form a new cabinet. The prime minister chooses the other ministers, who are then formally appointed
by the Governor General or, in the provinces, by the lieutenant-governor. If no party gets a clear
majority, the cabinet that was in oﬃ ce before and during the election has two choices. It can resign, in
which case the Governor General or lieutenant-governor will call on the leader of the largest opposition
party to form a cabinet. Or the cabinet already in oﬃ ce can choose to stay in oﬃ ce and meet the
newly elected House — which, however, it must do promptly. In either case, it is the people’s
representatives in the newly elected House who will decide whether the “minority” government (one
whose own party has fewer than half the seats) shall stay in oﬃ ce or be thrown out.
If a cabinet is defeated in the House of Commons on a motion of censure or want of conﬁ dence, the
cabinet must either resign (the Governor General will then ask the leader of the Opposition to form a
new cabinet) or ask for a dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election.
In very exceptional circumstances, the Governor General could refuse a request for a fresh election. For
instance, if an election gave no party a clear majority and the prime minister asked for a fresh election
without even allowing the new Parliament to meet, the Governor General would have to say no. This is
because, if “parliamentary government” is to mean anything, a newly elected House of Commons must
at least be allowed to meet and see whether it can transact public business. Also, if a minority
government is defeated on a motion of want of conﬁ dence very early in the ﬁ rst session of a new
Parliament, and there is a reasonable possibility that a government of another party can be formed and
get the support of the House of Commons, then the Governor General could refuse the request for a
fresh election. The same is true for the lieutenant-governors of the provinces. No elected person in
Canada above the rank of mayor really has a ﬁ xed term of oﬃ ce. Recent legislation in several
provinces and territories, as well as a May 2007 Act of Parliament, provide for general elections to be
held on a ﬁ xed date every four years under most circumstances. In practice this means that the
expected term of oﬃ ce for a member of Parliament (or of a legislature with a ﬁ xed date law) would
normally be four years. However, the Governor General’s power to dissolve Parliament is not aﬀ ected
by the ﬁ xed date legislation. The prime minister can still ask for a fresh election at any time, although,
as already stated, there may be circumstances in which he or she would not get it. There can be, and
have been, Parliaments and legislatures that have lasted for less than a year. With extremely rare
exceptions, no Parliament or legislature may last more than ﬁ ve years.
The cabinet has no “term.” Every cabinet lasts from the moment the prime minister is sworn in till he or
she resigns, dies or is dismissed. For example, Sir John A. Macdonald was Prime Minister from 1878 until
he died in 1891, right through the elections of 1882, 1887 and 1891, all of which he won. Sir Wilfrid
Laurier was Prime Minister from 1896 to 1911, right through the elections of 1900, 1904 and 1908, all of
which he won. He resigned after being defeated in the election of 1911. The same thing has happened in
several provinces. An American president or state governor, re-elected, has to be sworn in all over again.
A Canadian prime minister or premier does not. If a prime minister dies or resigns, the cabinet comes to an end. If this prime minister’s party still has a
majority in the Commons or the legislature, then the Governor General or lieutenant-governor must ﬁ
nd a new prime
minister at once. A prime minister who resigns has no right to advise the governor as to a successor
unless asked; even then, the advice need not be followed. If he or she resigns because of defeat, the
governor must call on the leader of the Opposition to form a government. If the prime minister dies, or
resigns for personal reasons, then the governor consults leading members of the majority party as to
who will most likely be able to form a government that can command a majority in the House. The
governor then calls on the person he or she has decided has the best chance. This new prime minister
will, of course, hold office only until the majority party has chosen a new leader in a national or
provincial convention. This leader will then be called on to form a government.
The cabinet consists of a varying number of ministers. The national cabinet has ranged from 13 to more
than 40 members, and provincial cabinets from about 10 to over 30. Most of the ministers have
“portfolios” (that is, they are in charge of particular departments — Finance, National Defence,
Environment, Health, etc.), and are responsible, answerable and accountable to the House of Commons
or the legislature for their particular departments. On occasion there can be ministers without portfolio.
There may also be “ministers of state,” who may assist cabinet ministers with particular responsibilities
or sections of their departments, or may be responsible for policy- oriented bodies known as “ministries
of state.” (These assisting ministers, sometimes called “secretaries of state,” should not be confused
with historically important departmental ministers once known as the Secretary of State for Canada and
the Secretary of State for External Aﬀ airs.) Ministers of state and secretaries of state are not always
members of the cabinet. The ministers collectively are answerable to the House of Commons or the
legislature for the policy and conduct of the cabinet as a whole. If a minister does not agree with a
particular policy or action of the government, he or she must either accept the policy or action and, if
necessary, defend it, or resign from the cabinet. This is known as “the collective responsibility of the
cabinet,” and is a fundamental principle of our form of government.
The cabinet is responsible for most legislation. It has the sole power to prepare and introduce bills
providing for the expenditure of public money or imposing taxes. These bills must be introduced ﬁ rst in
the House of Commons; however, the House cannot initiate them, or increase either the tax or the
expenditure without a royal recommendation in the form of a message from the Governor General. The
Senate cannot increase either a tax or an expenditure. However, any member of either house can move
a motion to decrease a tax or an expenditure, and the house concerned can pass it, though this hardly
5) A federal state is one that brings together a number of diﬀerent political communities with a common
government for common purposes, and separate “state” or “provincial” or “cantonal” governments for
the particular purposes of each community. The United States of America, Canada, Australia and
Switzerland are all federal states. Federalism combines unity with diversity. It provides, as Sir John A.
Macdonald, Canada’s ﬁrst Prime Minister, said, “A general government and legislature for general
purposes with local governments and legislatures for local purposes.” 6) The British North America Act, 1867, was the instrument that brought the federation, the new nation,
into existence. It was an Act of the British Parliament. But, except for two small points, it was simply the
statutory form of resolutions drawn up by delegates from what is now Canada. Not a single
representative of the British government was present at the conferences that drew up those resolutions,
or took the remotest part in them. That Act, the British North America Act, 1867 (now renamed the
Constitution Act, 1867), contained no provisions for its own.The Constitution Act, 1982, came into force
on April 17, 1982. except a limited power for the provinces to amend their own constitutions. All other
amendments had to be made by a fresh Act of the British Parliament. The Constitution Act, 1867,
remains the basic element of our written Constitution. But the written Constitution, the strict law of the
Constitution, even with the latest addition, the Constitution Act, 1982, is only part of our whole working
Constitution, the set of arrangements by which we govern ourselves. It is the skeleton; it is not the
whole body. Responsible government, the national cabinet, the bureaucracy, political parties: all these
are basic features of our system of government. But the written Constitution does not contain one word
about any of them (except for that phrase in the preamble to the Act of 1867 about “a Constitution
similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom”). The ﬂ esh, the muscles, the sinews, the nerves of
our Constitution have been added by legislation (for example, federal and provincial elections acts, the
Parliament of Canada Act, the legislative assembly acts, the public service acts); by custom (the prime
minister, the cabinet, responsible government, political parties, federal-provincial conferences); by
judgements of the courts (interpreting what the Act of 1867 and its amendments mean); and by
agreements between the national and provincial governments.
If the written Constitution is silent on all these things, which are the living reality of our Constitution,
what does it say? If it leaves out so much, what does it put in?
Before we answer that question, we must understand that our written Constitution, unlike the American,
is not a single document. It is a collection of 25 primary documents outlined in the Constitution Act,
The core of the collection is still the Act of 1867. This, with the amendments added to it down to the end
of 1981, did 12 things.
• First, it created the federation, the provinces, the territories, the national Parliament, the provincial
legislatures and some provincial cabinets.
• Second, it gave the national Parliament power to create new provinces out of the territories, and also
the power to change provincial boundaries with the consent of the provinces concerned.
• Third, it set out the power of Parliament and of the provincial legislatures.
• Fourth, it vested the formal executive power in the Queen, and created the Queen’s Privy Council for
Canada (the legal basis for the federal cabinet).
• Fifth, it gave Parliament power to set up a Supreme Court of Canada (which it did, in 1875). • Sixth, it guaranteed certain limited rights equally to the English and French languages in the federal
Parliament and courts and in the legislatures and courts of Quebec and Manitoba.
• Seventh, it guaranteed separate schools for the Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities in Quebec
and Ontario. It also guaranteed separate schools in any other province where they existed by law in
1867, or were set up by any provincial law after 1867. There were special provisions for Manitoba
(created in 1870), which proved ineﬀ ective; more limited
guarantees for Alberta and Saskatchewan (created in 1905); and for Newfoundland (which came into
Confederation in 1949), a guarantee of separate schools for a variety of Christian denominations.
(Constitutional amendments have since changed the school systems in Quebec and in Newfoundland
and Labrador, as the Province of Newfoundland is now oﬃ cially known.)
• Eighth, it guaranteed Quebec’s distinctive civil law.
• Ninth, it gave Parliament power to assume the jurisdiction over property and civil rights, or any part of
such jurisdiction, in other provinces, provided the provincial legislatures consented. This power has
never been used.
• Tenth, it prohibited provincial tariﬀ s.
• Eleventh, it gave the provincial legislatures the power to amend the provincial constitutions, except as
regards the oﬃ ce of lieutenant- governor.
• Twelfth, it gave the national government (the Governor-in-Council: that is, the federal cabinet) certain
controls over the provinces: appointment, instruction and dismissal of lieutenant-governors (two have
been dismissed); disallowance of provincial acts within one year after their passing (112 have been
disallowed — the last in 1943 — from every province except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland
and Labrador); power of lieutenant-governors to send provincial bills to Ottawa unassented to (in which
case they do not go into eﬀ ect unless the central executive assents within one year; of 70 such bills, the
last in 1961, from every province but Newfoundland and Labrador, only 14 have gone into eﬀ ect).
These are the main things the written Constitution did as it stood at the end of 1981. They provided the
legal framework within which we could, and did, adapt, adjust, manoeuvre, innovate, compromise, and
arrange, by what Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden called “the exercise of the commonplace quality of
The ﬁ nal British Act of 1982, the Canada Act, provided for the termination of the British Parliament’s
power over Canada and for the “patriation” of our Constitution. Under the terms of the Canada Act, the
Constitution Act, 1982, was proclaimed in Canada and “patriation” was achieved.
Under the Constitution Act, 1982, the British North America Act, 1867, and its various amendments
(1871, 1886, 1907, 1915, 1930, 1940, 1946, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1974, 1975) became
the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1975. 7) The national Parliament has power “to make laws for the peace, order and good government of
Canada,” except for “subjects assigned exclusively to the legislatures of the provinces.” The provincial
legislatures have power over direct taxation in the province for provincial purposes, natural resources,
prisons (except penitentiaries), charitable institutions, hospitals (except marine hospitals), municipal
institutions, licences for provincial and municipal revenue purposes, local works and undertakings (with
certain exceptions), incorporation of provincial companies, solemnization of marriage, property and civil
rights in the province, the creation of courts and the administration of justice, ﬁ nes and penalties for
breaking provincial laws, matters of a merely local or private nature in the province, and education
(subject to certain rights of the Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities in some provinces).
Subject to the limitations imposed by the Constitution Act, 1982, the provinces can amend their own
constitutions by an ordinary Act of the legislature. They cannot touch the oﬃ ce of lieutenant-governor;
they cannot restrict the franchise or qualiﬁ cations for members of the legislatures or prolong the lives
of their legislatures except as provided for in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Of course the power to amend provincial constitutions is restricted to changes in the internal machinery
of the provincial government. Provincial legislatures are limited to the powers explicitly given to them by
the written Constitution. So no provincial legislature can take over powers belonging to the Parliament
of Canada. Nor could any provincial legislature pass an Act taking the province out of Canada. No such
power is to be found in the written Constitution, so no such power exists.
Similarly, of course, Parliament cannot take over any power of a provincial legislature.
Parliament and the provincial legislatures both have power over agriculture and immigration, and over
certain aspects of natural resources; but if their laws conﬂ ict, the national law prevails.
Parliament and the provincial legislatures also have power over old age, disability and survivors’
pensions; but if their laws conﬂ ict, the provincial power prevails.
By virtue of the Constitution Act, 1867, everything not mentioned as belonging to the provincial
legislatures comes under the national Parliament.
This looks like an immensely wide power. It is not, in fact, as wide as it looks, because the courts have
interpreted the provincial powers, especially “property and civil rights,” as covering a very wide ﬁ eld. As
a result, all labour legislation (maximum hours, minimum wages, safety, workers’ compensation,
industrial relations) comes under provincial law, except for certain industries such as banking,
broadcasting, air navigation, atomic energy, shipping, interprovincial and international railways,
telephones, telegraphs, pipelines, grain elevators, enterprises owned by the national government, and
works declared by Parliament to be for the general advantage of Canada or of two or more of the
Social security (except for Employment Insurance, which is purely national, and the shared power over
pensions) comes under the provinces. However, the national Parliament, in eﬀ ect, established nation-
wide systems of hospital insurance and medical care by making grants to the provinces (or, for Quebec, yielding some of its ﬁ eld of taxes) on condition that their plans reach certain standards. The courts’
interpretation of provincial and national powers has put broadcasting and air navigation under
Parliament’s general power to make laws for the “peace, order and good government of Canada,” but
otherwise has reduced it to not much more than an emergency power for wartime or grave national
crises like nation- wide famine, epidemics, or massive inﬂation (though some recent cases go beyond
this). However, the Fathers of Confederation, not content with giving Parliament what they thought an
ample general power, added, “for greater certainty,” a long list of examples of exclusive national powers:
taxation, direct and indirect; regulation of trade and commerce (the courts have interpreted this to
mean interprovincial and international trade and commerce); “the public debt and property” (this
enables Parliament to make grants to individuals — such as Family Allowances — or to provinces:
hospital insurance and medicare, higher education, public assistance to the needy, and equalization
grants to bring the standards of health, education and general welfare in the poorer provinces up to an
average national standard); the Post Oﬃ ce; the census and statistics; defence; beacons, buoys,
lighthouses and Sable Island;* navigation and shipping; quarantine; marine hospitals; the ﬁ sheries;
interprovincial and international ferries, shipping, railways, telegraphs, and other such international or
interprovincial “works and undertakings” — which the courts have interpreted to cover pipelines and
telephones; money and banking; interest; bills of exchange and promissory notes; bankruptcy; weights
and measures; patents; copyrights; Indians and Indian lands (the courts have interpreted this to cover
Inuit as well); naturalization and aliens; the criminal law and procedure in criminal cases; the general law
of marriage and divorce; and local works declared by Parliament to be “for the general advantage
of Canada or of two or more of the provinces” (this has been used many times, notably to bring atomic
energy and the grain trade under exclusive national jurisdiction). A 1940 constitutional amendment gave
Parliament exclusive power over Unemployment Insurance and a speciﬁ c section of the Act of 1867
gives it power to establish courts “for the better administration of the laws of Canada.” This has enabled
Parliament to set up the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court and
the Tax Court of Canada.
As already noted, the national Parliament can amend the Constitution in relation to the executive
government of Canada and the Senate and the House of Commons, except that it cannot touch the oﬃ
ce of the Queen or the Governor General, nor those aspects of the Senate and the Supreme Court of
Canada entrenched by the amending formulas. Though Parliament cannot transfer any of its powers to a
provincial legislature, nor a provincial legislature any of its powers to Parliament, Parliament can
delegate the administration of a federal Act to provincial agencies (as it has done with the regulation of
interprovincial and international highway traﬃc); and a provincial legislature can delegate the
administration of a provincial Act to a federal agency. This “administrative delegation” is an important
aspect of the ﬂexibility of our Constitution.
8) One fundamental diﬀ erence is that the United States is a country of one basic language. Canada is a
country of two basic languages. The Fathers of Confederation deliberately chose to make it so.
Our oﬃ cial recognition of bilingualism is limited, but expanding. For example, it was at the speciﬁ c
request of the New Brunswick government that the adoption of French and English as the oﬃ cial languages of that province was enshrined in the Constitution. Ontario, which has the largest number of
French- speaking people outside Quebec, has provided French schools and an increasing range of
services in French for Franco-Ontarians. Several other provinces have taken steps in the same direction.
But under the Constitution, every province except Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba is absolutely
free to have as many oﬃ cial languages as it pleases, and they need not include either English or French.
For example, Nova Scotia could make Gaelic its sole oﬃ cial language, or one of two, three or a dozen
oﬃ cial languages in that province. Alberta could make Ukrainian its sole oﬃ cial language, or Ukrainian,
Polish and classical Greek its three oﬃcial languages. Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba also are
free to have as many oﬃ cial languages as they please, but they must include English and French.
A second basic diﬀ erence between our Constitution and the American is, of course, that we are a
constitutional monarchy and they are a republic. That looks like only a formal diﬀ erence. It is very much
more, for we have parliamentary-cabinet government, while the Americans have presidential-
What does that mean? What diﬀerence does it make?
First, in the United States the head of state and the head of the government are one and the same. The
president is both at once. Here, the Queen, ordinarily represented by the Governor General, is the head
of state, and the prime minister is the head of the government. Does that make any real diﬀerence? Yes:
in anada, the head of state can, in exceptional circumstances, protect Parliament and the people against
a prime minister and ministers who may forget that “minister” means “servant,” and may try to make
themselves masters. For example, the head of state could refuse to let a cabinet dissolve a newly
elected House of Commons before it could even meet, or could refuse to let ministers bludgeon the
people into submission by a continuous series of general elections. The American head of state cannot
restrain the American head of government because they are the same person.
For another thing, presidential-congressional government is based on a separation of powers. The
American president cannot be a member of either house of Congress. Neither can any of the members
of his or her cabinet. Neither the president nor any member of the cabinet can appear in Congress to
introduce a bill, or defend it, or answer questions, or rebut attacks on policies. No member of either
house can be president or a member of the cabinet.
Parliamentary-cabinet government is based on a concentration of powers. The prime minister and every
other minister must by custom (though not by law) be a member of one house or the other, or get a
seat in one house or the other within a short time of appointment. All government bills must be
introduced by a minister or someone speaking on his or her behalf, and ministers must appear in
Parliament to defend government bills, answer daily questions on government actions or policies, and
rebut attacks on such actions or policies.
In the United States, the president and every member of both houses is elected for a ﬁxed term: the
president for four years, the senators for six (one-third of the Senate seats being contested every two years), the members of the House of
Representatives for two. The only way to get rid of a president before the end of the four-year term is
for Congress to impeach and try him or her, which is very hard to do.
As the president, the senators and the representatives are elected for diﬀ erent periods, it