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Midterm #1 Reading Review

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 221
Christa Scholtz

Midterm #1 Review Readings Module 1: Issues in Governing Canada Tanguay-Reforming Representative Democracy -Facing the democratic deficit: Too much control and power in the hands of few. Power is taken from the hands of the citizens and put in the hands of the top authorities. Existing democratic institutions lack power, and women, aboriginals and ethnic minorities are under-represented. Reasons behind the deficit: mindless Adversarialism in the HOC (A learned attitude that reflects competition and the need to best others), the centralization of power in the PM’s office and rigid party discipline. This has caused a reduction in the number of voters (From 1997-2000, the number of non-voters outnumbered the number of voters who voted for the winning party), indicating a disaffected and indifferent electorate. There has also been a decrease in younger voters, particularly because of their lack of political knowledge. Two thirds of voters in 2000 agreed that those who are elected quickly lose touch with the citizens. When Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister, he put in place an 8 point action plan on ethics in the HOC and proposed new rules governing relations between ministers and the Crown Corporation. Implementation of Bill C-24: Only individual voters can contribute to political parties, candidates, riding associations up to 5000$ a year for each party and its candidates. Unions, professional organizations and corporations may contribute up to $10000 a year. Riding associations (Electoral District Associations) must register with elections Canada. Many people argued that the vote subsidy should not have increased to$1.75, but should have remained at $1.50. Ideas on how to fix the deficit: Make set dates for elections, electoral reform (introducing an element of proportionality to the first-past-the-post system currently in existence), and Canada’s senate should come under scrutiny because it has no democratic legitimacy and thus must be reformed. Mallory-Continuing Evolution of Canadian Constitutionalism What distinguishes free societies from more or less totalitarian societies is the basic norm of constitutional order. Constitutional rules in Canada are based partly on law and partly on constitutional conventions, and some are found in neither of these places. The written constitution establishes representative and parliamentary government but does not specify cabinet government, meaning responsible government is regulated largely by convention as opposed to written law. The basic constitutional value enshrined in the British North America Act (BNA) was that Canada was to have a constitution similar to the UK, which meant that sovereignty was vested in the legislature and it could change laws without restraint. The idea of responsible government is that the government of the day is the choice of the majority of the legislature which can withdraw the authority of the government by a vote of confidence. The difference between accountability and responsibility is that responsibility is a political responsibility whereas accountability of civil servants is an internal matter. “Almost every political institution in Canada is less effective than it should be”. Because Canadian Constitution was not created all at once, and rather has been pieced together over time and the system of representative government has adapted to the needs of societal hierarchy, to the strains imposed on it by the creation of a mass electorate and to an age in which methods of communication have revolutionized Canadian politics. The cabinet is the most flexible and adaptable Canadian institution. The Prime Minister is not mentioned in the constitution and its powers are nowhere written in law. His survival depends on the support of the majority of the HOC (Party Discipline) and the Cabinet as a whole. Module 2: The Formal Executive Mallory- The Formal Executive The Government of Canada is carried on the Queen’s name but she does not govern. The Crown is the legal entity which embodies the Government. Originally executive power was in the hands of the monarch individually but this power has shifted to responsible officials. Since the Crown Liability Act (1952) the Crown can be sued in court just as any other person can be. The letters patent of 1944 confers on the GG "all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to us in respect to Canada”, meaning the GG can exercise the Queens power but not vice versa because it was not stated in the BNA. In 1977 it became the GG’s responsibility, not the Queen’s, to appoint and recall ambassadors accredited to foreign states. The GG is a check of the ultimate power of elected politicians. Bound to act on the advice of the PM, and practically every act of the government requires ministerial responsibility. The GG is appointed by the Queen, and their term is officially recognized as 6 years although it can vary between 5 and 7 years. Removal of a GG is unlikely although constitutionally possible. The GG appoints the speaker of the Senate. Section 55 of BNA provides that the GG can assent to bills which have passed both Houses of Parliament, refuse assent to such bills, or reserve such bills for the signification of her majesty's pleasure. If, for example, a PM dies or resigns, it is the responsibility of the GG to choose and appoint another PM. The GG also has the authority to refuse to grant dissolution of Parliament if requested by the PM. This raises questions such as should dissolution be granted by the GG and whether or not the GG can dissolve parliament without advice from the ministers. A PM may ask for a dissolution of Parliament when he/she has been defeated in the HOC and rather than resigning. Heard- Governor General’s Suspension of Parliament When PM Harper approached GG Michael Jean and asked for a proroguement of Parliament, did Michael Jean do the right thing in accepting the proposal or should she have allowed Parliament to continue and most likely enter into a new election? There are constitutional conventions which exist but it is often difficult to determine what is considered “unconstitutional”. It becomes very difficult for the GG to know when it is appropriate to exert his/her power. In this case, many argue that the GG should not have involved herself because it was the PM’s decision and his alone. Others say that the GG had to right to make a personal decision as well as refuse the request of the PM. The main duty of the GG is perhaps do no harm. There are two conflicting points of view. The first is that the GG should not interpose herself in the political processes and should simply ratify the decision of the PM. The second is that by allowing his request, she potentially prevented our elected politicians from resolving the problems resulting in cascade of other political events. The second issue to consider is whether or not the PM’s advice was in itself constitutional. The main duty of the PM is to maintain the confidence in the house (responsible government), and by asking for proroguement the PM indicates that he has lost this confidence but wishes to maintain his position as PM. Most agree that the action was unconstitutional in many ways. Firstly, he prevented Parliament from expressing its non-confidence for his government and its support for another government. He had also already postponed the vote by a week, and by proroguing parliament it meant that the vote would be held off for another 2 months. In conclusion, the GG was not bound by her regular duties to act on the PM’s advice because the advice was unconstitutional to begin with. But had she done nothing, Harper would have lost the confidence vote (given that he was in a minority government). And if she were to refuse the request, the PM would be forced to resign. In essence the GG saved the PM by granting his prorogation request. Module 3: The House of Commons Aucoin Turnbull: The Democratic Deficit Paul Martin uses the term democratic deficit to describe the role of the MP and HOC in Canadian representative democracy (the electoral system and proportional representation). Martin proposed a 6 point plan for parliamentary reform. This included loosening the hold of party discipline, boosting the capacity of individual members of parliament, increase the capacity of individual members of parliament to initiate legislation by overhauling the system for introducing private member’s bills, the House of Commons standing committees should be overhauled to provide increased independence and expanded authority, reforming the process surrounding government appointments, and the creation of an independent Ethics Commissioner who would report to Parliament. The use of the 2 line vote also helps to reduce party discipline, because an MP can vote on government legislation without it being a confidence vote and thus can vote against their government. In order for the 2 line vote to be effective it must be narrowed down to only minor issues. The confidence convention does not demand that a PM always have its legislation passed but rather that it maintains the confidence of the House. There is discontent with the Canadian single-member-plurality electoral system whereby a national minority of voters can transform their votes for the candidates of a single political party into a majority of the seats for that party in the House of Commons and thus create a single-party majority government that is secure in power until the next general election. Electoral reform could introduce greater proportionality in the HOC in respect to each party’s popular vote and its number of seats. Citizens would rather that their MPs functioned as delegates, who represent the people and their values, rather than trustees who use their own values and judgement on decisions. Citizens also support the idea of direct democracy, where they can have their opinions heard by bypassing their MPs through referendums and citizen- initiated plebiscites, but this idea is dismissed because it puts MPs on a short list. Docherty- Parliament Making the Case for Relevance International trade agreements like the North America Free Trade Agreement on Trade and Tariffs seem to place the management of the economy beyond the control of federal policy- makers. Theory of responsible government: Elected members of parliament sit in legislature, selected members from legislature serve in cabinet. The cabinet introduces legislation in the parliament that both raises money (via taxes) and spends money (via programs). The professional public service charges with implementing said legislation is responsible to the cabinet for their conduct. In turn the cabinet is responsible to the legislature for the proper administration of the civil service and any government programs under their supervision. Citizens hold their local members of parliament responsible for keeping the government honest and straightforward in its spending of public monies. Theory of responsive government: Must maintain the confidence of the majority in the HOC. Governments are formed by the party with the most seats in the assembly (either with more than half the seats (majority) or a plurality of seats (minority)). Governments can limit the number of days that a Bill can be debated or an assembly can sit so that there is less time for citizens to have a say on proposed legislation or for opposition parties to question the Cabinet on their spending. The parliament of Canada is made up of three important institutions: The Crown (the opening of every parliamentary session begins with the Speech from the Throne, read by the GG. Governments also use royal commissions to investigate matters of substantial public interest and importance), the Senate (Non-elected upper chamber which is constituted along regional, not provincial lines. It slows down the process of governing in a manner that allows the government to reflect carefully on the policies and legislation it is pursuing) and the HOC (Most Canadians argue it is the most democratically representative part of parliament). Only the cabinet can introduce legislation that raises or spends public money and they enjoy longer, more secure political careers. Each day that the assembly sits, there is a 45 minute question period when cabinet ministers are forced to respond to Canada’s questions about their behaviour and the government. The term “scrum” refers to the time where reporters are able to “scrum” cabinet ministers and private members as they leave the chamber. Caucus meetings provide an additional avenue of accountability. Ideally, government caucus meetings allow backbench members of the governing party to inform the cabinet and PM of the views of their constituents. The time when cabinet ministers unveil proposed legislation. Franks- Parliament of Canada Reforms must be solidly grounded in order to have a chance at success. Parliament has four essential functions in Canada: To establish a legitimate government through the electoral process, to make the government work, to make the government behave, and to make an alternative government (allow the opposition to form a case to the public). There is a concentration of power in the cabinet and competition between the parties. This article presents six main arguments: Canadian politics is an executive-centred structure of power, parliament has two modes of operation (adversarial and consensual), there is a severe problem with the role and position of the members of parliament, there is a paradox where parties are powerful and influential within parliament but
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