POLI 222: Reading Notes
Chapter 5: The Constitution
Constitution:Aset of fundamental rules that govern political life in a particular territory.
Early liberals (Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau): “state of nature”
shows the impulse behind constitutional government.
• Insecurity leads people to accept the need for a constitution (Hobbes: “Life is
solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”)
Alternative to constitutional government: anarchy or totalitarianism.
• Anarchy: Chaos and civil strife. No state.
• Totalitarianism:All dissent is suppressed in the name of some supreme goal.
There is a state.
Two sets of relations:
1. Between citizens and the state
2. Functions and powers between different parts of the state.
a. Legislature: Making the law.
b. Executive: Implementing the law.
c. Judiciary: Interpreting the law.
Federal system: Form of government with a constitutional division of law-making
powers between a national government and regional governments; the constitutional
authority to make laws and to tax is divided between a national government and some
number of regional governments.
• Makes third set of relations: between federal and provincial legislative powers
Constitutional conventions: Practices that emerge over time and are generally accepted
as binding rules of the political system. =/= Constitutional law.
Representation by population: the principal of “one person – one vote,” where all
elected members of the legislature should represent approximately the same number of
• Constitution establishes how representation occurs
• How public officers are selected
• Electoral process affects representation
Single-member constituency system (“first past the post): each constituency (riding)
gets one representative in the HOC and/or provincial legislature
• Prevents parties from pandering to specific sections of the voters
o Eg. Green’s failing to get any seats despite having 6.8% of popular vote Proportional representation: a party’s percentage of the popular votes translates into a
corresponding share of seats in the legislature.
• Promotes splintering of the party system
• Direct representation of narrower interests
The constitution allocates/decides who has power, but also limits and divides power.
Right: Something that a person is entitled to.
Codified:Aformal, written constitution (Iran).
Uncodifed: Non formal/written (Britain, Israel).
Canada has both: many of the powers of government, as well as the limits of
governmental power, are un