House of Commons
What role does the House of Commons play in the election of governments?
What happens when the House of Commons withdraws its confidence in the government?
Why is the Burkean concept of the role of the MP outdated?
The House of Commons has a number of functions. Which of these does it perform well?
Which does it perform poorly? Give reasons for your answers.
“In the parliamentary system, a party can lose an election and still wind up as the government.”
Discuss the validity of this statement.
How can political parties with no realistic expectation of ever winning an election and forming
the government still exercise influence in a parliamentary democracy?
What are the three concepts of the role of the MP? Which is the dominant concept and why?
What are the perceived problems with the parliamentary system that Senate reform and free
votes for MPs are supposed to solve?
“Parliamentary government is not about giving citizens direct influence over the making of
government decisions. Instead, it is about ensuring the public gets to express an opinion about
those decisions after they have been made.” Discuss the validity of this statement.
Stephen Harper won the May 2011 election when his party captured over 50% of the seats in the
House of Commons. But he also won the 2006 and 2008 elections, even though his party failed
to take 50% of the seats in each of those elections. Why?
Explain the advantages and disadvantages of party discipline in the parliamentary system of
In a democracy the people elect the government. Using this definition of democracy, to what
extent is the parliamentary system of government democratic? To what extent does it fail to
meet this definition of democracy?
In the Canadian parliamentary democracy, our most important democratic institution is the
House of Commons. Yet the effectiveness and legitimacy of the House of Commons is regularly
questioned, by parliamentary reformers, rights advocates, and western Canadians. Why is the
House of Commons vulnerable to criticism? In your opinion, are the critiques valid?
Less than 50% of the seats in the House of Commons are held by Conservative MPs. Why then
does Stephen Harper get to be Prime Minister? [this was pre-2011 election]
How does party discipline affect the House of Commons’ representative function?
“Without party discipline, responsible government would collapse.” Discuss the validity of this
How do small parties like the NDP still play a role in government even when they don’t actually
win a federal election?
How does party discipline affect the accountability function of the House of Commons?
Parliamentary democracy in Canada is based on territorial representation. What are the strengths
and weaknesses of this system of democratic representation?
1 Is it correct to say that if the Government loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, it
must call an election? Explain your answer.
“The parliamentary system of government is the right system for a country like Canada whose
political culture legitimizes big government activism.” Discuss the validity of this statement.
What happens when the House of Commons votes to reject the government’s budget?
Why is it possible for a government to stay in office even when it has less than 50% of the seats
in the House of Commons?
Why is a Member of Parliament (MP) who is determined to follow the constituency role of the
MP in the parliamentary system, likely to get into trouble with his/her party leader?
Are free votes the solution for rigid imposition of party discipline by party leaders?
How does the parliamentary system enable small parties such as the NDP to exercise influence
over government policy, even though they never actually win a federal election?
Role of GG
“The Queen may be Canada’s head of state, but she does not govern.” Explain.
“Even when the Governor General is exercising the reserve or personal prerogative powers,
he/she is bound by the conventions of responsible government.” Explain.
How does responsible government make the prerogative powers of the Crown accountable?
“Paradoxically, the role of the non-elected Governor General is to protect democracy.” Discuss
the validity of this statement.
Why is it difficult to spell out precisely the conditions under which the Governor-General might
choose to exercise the reserve powers of the Crown?
Why are the reserve powers of the Crown, also known as the personal prerogatives, so rarely
Why is a literal reading of the terms of the BNA Act the wrong way to understand the role
played by Canada’s head of state?
Why is it accurate to say that Canada’s constitution is both written and unwritten?
Does the Governor General have to agree when the Prime Minister asks him/her to call an
election? Explain your answer.
On December 4, 2008, Prime Minister Harper, who at that time was the head of a minority
government, met with Governor General Jean to discuss proroguing Parliament. Why did
Liberal leader Stéphane Dion publicly release the terms of the proposed coalition with the NDP
(which was supported by the Bloc Québécois), in the days before that meeting?
Is the Prime Minister the head of government or the head of state? Why isn’t s/he both?
According to the ‘formative event’ theory of political culture, what are the two most important
‘formative’ events shaping Canadian political culture?
What is the point of studying political culture? In other words, what is it about our political
system we hope to explain by studying the Canadian political culture?
If political culture sets the outer boundaries of what is considered acceptable political behaviour,
what does the continued existence of the NDP tell us about the Canadian political culture?
What do the fragment and formative event theories of Canadian political culture try to explain?
What do conservatism and socialism have in common, in the Canadian context?
Why was the American Revolution a crucial event in the creation of Canada?
Why do we discuss Canadian political culture, by making comparisons to American political
What are the basic features of the Canadian political culture? Which of these are also
characteristic of other liberal democracies? Which are distinctively Canadian?
Why did the Canada Act, 1982 have to be passed by the British Parliament before Canada could
be legally sovereign?
Why was the amendment of the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly known as the British North
America Act) a sensitive political issue in Canada before patriation of the constitution in 1982?
Why is the constitutional process of 1981-82, culminating in the passage of the Constitution Act,
1982, known as the “patriation” of the constitution?
Canada became a country in 1867. But the British government could still change Canada’s
constitution until 1982. Why?
What was the significance of the ceremony attended by the Queen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
on April 17, 1982?
“Creating the Canadian federation in 1867 was as much about decentralization as it was about
During the debates on Confederation, George-Etienne Cartier said that the idea of bringing the
English and French together in a “unified” or single government was “impossible.” What did he
Why were the provinces in British North America in 1867 willing to support Confederation?
“Confederation can be seen as a re-arrangement of the terms under which British North
Americans were prepared to live together.” Discuss the validity of this statement.
3 Why did Quebec’s political leaders agree to support Confederation? What were the features of
the Confederation bargain which induced them to participate in the creation of the new country
Identify and explain the features of the British North America Act (also known as the
Constitution Act, 1867) which were designed to give the federal government the powers deemed
necessary to build the new country of Canada.
Why were the provinces in British North America in 1867 willing to support Confederation?
How does federalism support the aspirations of the Quebecois to preserve a French-speaking
society in English-speaking North America?
Confederation was not simply an exercise in bringing British North Americans together into one
country. It was also an exercise in enabling British North Americans to live together while
respecting each other’s differences.” Discuss the validity of this statement.
Why did the Fathers of Confederation agree that federalism was necessary in order to bring the
colonies of British North America together in one country?
Why did Quebec’s political leaders at the time of Confederation insist that the new country of
Canada should be a political nationality but not an ethnic or religious nationality? How does the
Constitution Act, 1867 reflect their perspective?
Why did George-Etienne Cartier declare that Canada was to be a new political nationality, but
not an ethnic or religious nationality?
“In 1867, the English and French in British North America agreed they could get along better
with each other if they lived apart.” Discuss.
Why did the creators of the United States Constitution in the 18 century spell out in some detail
how their new system of government should work, while the Fathers of Confederation did not do
the same for the new Canadian system of government in the British North America Act in 1867?
The Fathers of Confederation were experienced colonial politicians. How did their experience in
pre-Confederation British North America shape the terms of the British North America Act?
British North America did not break away from Britain, unlike the United States. What were the
implications for Canada’s system of government?
Why did the Fathers of Confederation use the phrase “similar in principle” in the preamble to the
British North America Act (also known as the Constitution Act, 1867) to describe the Canadian
political system? Why did they believe it was unnecessary to spell out how the political system
would work in more detail?
Why is there so much detail in the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution
Act, 1867) about how Canadian federalism operates but so little on the powers of the prime
minister and the cabinet?
What did the Fathers of Confederation mean when they agreed that Canada would have a system
of government “similar in principle” to that of Britain?
4 Why did the Fathers of Confederation not bother to explain the role of the Prime Minister and
cabinet in the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867)?
On election night in May 2011, the Conservatives won over 50% of the seats in the House of
Commons. How did that result make Stephen Harper Prime Minister?
Why can’t Stephen Harper govern Canada as a member of the Senate? Why does he have to be a
Why do cabinet ministers have to resign from cabinet if they cannot support the policies of their
What has been the impact of federalism on the operation of parliamentary democracy in Canada?
Why are Conservative MPs elected in Quebec more likely to get into cabinet than Conservative
MPs elected in Alberta?
Why has PM Harper’s cabinet expanded, just like the cabinets of his Liberal predecessors?
Why might the Prime Minister choose to appoint Senators to the cabinet? Why are PMs
expected to keep such appointments to a minimum?
What are some of the factors affecting a government MP’s chances of getting into cabinet?
In the parliamentary system, the executive and legislative branches are not separate, but fused or
integrated. How does this promote the accountability of government?
What is the impact of federalism on how Prime Ministers choose cabinet ministers?
If one of Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet ministers criticizes a government policy in public, he
or she can expect to be asked by the Prime Minister to resign from cabinet. Why?
Who does a weak cabinet minister have to fear more: the opposition in the House of Commons,
or the Prime Minister? Give reasons for your answer.
How does the federal and reg