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Chapter 21

POL214 - Chapter 21 (Cabinet).docx

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Political Science
Erin Tolley

POL214 Week 9;Chap 21 Executive Chapter 21 - The Executive: Cabinet The PM & Cabinet  The PM and Cabinet are usually referred to as the govt of the day, as in “the Harper govt”. Powers of the PM & Cabinet  The PM’s and Cabinet’s functions and powers rest on custom and convention. W/ the rare exception of governors general intervening on their own discretion, the PM & Cabinet exercise whatever powers are given to the Queen or the governor general in the Constitution. It is from this source that many decisions made by the Cabinet take the form of orders in council.  Thus after an election, the governor general calls on the leader of the party with the most members elected to the House of Commons to become the PM and to form a govt.  The speech from the throne provides the PM & the cabinet with an opportunity to outline their legislative program at the beginning of the session, while the Constitution requires that any bill to raise or spend money must also originate with the Cabinet. Leadership is based on the twin concepts of collective and individual ministerial responsibility.  Beyond the powers of the Crown and this general leadership function, Cabinet power is derived from specific acts of Parliament. Almost every law delegates to a minister or the governor in council the power to make decisions of 1 kind or another. These include the quasi-legislative power to issue regulations under a law.  The principle of individual ministerial responsibility-each minister being held responsible to Parliament for everything that goes on in his or her department. But they rarely resign except in cases of serious personal mistakes & conflicts of interest. The PM  The system of govt that Canada inherited from Britain has traditionally been called Cabinet govt, b/c the Cabinet was a collective decision-making body.  Many agree that Cabinet govt has been transformed into a system of prime ministerial govt → no doubt PM has lots of power.  Some of the PM's principal powers, rights/responsibilities: 1) Cabinet-maker, Chair of Cabinet meetings 2) Party leader, Chief policymaker, leading player in the H of Commons 3) Chief personnel manager, Controller of govt orgaz, Adviser to GG, Chief diplomat, Public persuader  1st, the PM is the Cabinet-maker. PMs select their own ministers, decide which portfolios to assign them. Ministers are issue w/ "mandate letters" that inform them of the PM's policy expectations in their portfolios.  Ministers thus owe allegiance to the PM, who can promote & demote them, ask for their resignation & dismiss them. Page 1 of 6 POL214 Week 9;Chap 21 Executive  The PM's chairing of Cabinet meetings is 2nd main source of power. PM determines the agenda of such meetings. The PM receives advice from the Privy Council Office on various ministers' views on each agenda item.  The PM is also advantaged by the peculiar way in which Cabinet decisions are arrived at. Rather than by motions & votes, the decision is reached when the PM summarizes the discussion & "calls the consensus."  3rd, the PM is the leader of the party. The PM's dominance has probably increased over the years as political parties have become more cohesive & as election campaigns have come to focus on party leaders. As a party leader, the PM's power is further enhanced by his authority to approve of candidate nominations.  4th, PM as chief policymaker. PM has the first word on govt policy, such as in deciding how seriously to take the party's election platform & in issuing mandate letters to new ministers. PM also has the last word within the Cabinet chamber, in Parliament or in the media.  2 of Harper's key decisions that didn't even receive Cabinet discussion included the motion to recognize the Quebecois as a nation & the ill-fated economic update in late 2008 that came close to causing a constitutional crisis.  5th, the PM is the central player in the H of Commons. Even though PMs now delegate direction of the business of the House to a govt House leader, still need to be there for the quesn period. As the leading parliamentarian, the PM decides how govt MPs will vote on almost every matter.  A 6th source of PM's dominance is an enormous power of appointment. This includes ministers, senators, Supreme Court & other judges, deputy ministers, heads of govt agencies, certain diplomats & lieut governors. In many cases, these order in council appointments are made on a patronage basis. The appt power can serve to impose the PM's ideological position on much of the govt.  The PM's control over govt organizations is also imp. The PM can decide to create new departments & set out their mandates. PMs can also reorganize govt depts. Under Mulroney & Chretien, it became more common to abolish depts or agencies & privatize Crown corporations.  8th, the PM personally advises the GG on such matters as the prorogation & dissolution of Parliament. Prorogation power (2008). The threat of dissolution is thought to be imp in permitting PM to get their own way in conflicts w/ ministers, govt backbenchers or the parliamentary Opposition b/c members don't want to risk their seats & the many benefits of public office.  Finally, the PM is also the chief "public relations officer" of the govt or "public persuader". Media - key instrument in communicating PM's message to everyone.  PMs relied heavily on the PMO & Privy Council Office (PCO). Given all these powers, especially in a situation of being supported by a deferential majority in the H of Commons, the PM can usually succeed in controlling the policy & personnel of govt. Page 2 of 6 POL214 Week 9;Chap 21 Executive  The Canadian PM w/ a majority govt in the H of Commons in more powerful than the American President.  Others emphasize the restraints on the power of the PM: he may be forced to compromise, especially in a minority situation, even within the internal operation of govt.  The PM is subject to external constraints, such as limited finances, a hostile media, opposition from the provinces & strong advocacy groups, international influences & the limits to which govt policy of any kind can effect societal change.  How much power a PM has when not backed up by a majority in the Commons. Minority Govt → the PM must negotiate compromises w/1 or more opposition parties, making policy concessions in return for support. Composition of the Cabinet  Although the PM decides who sits in the Cabinet, severalstonventions have come to constrain the PM's prerogatives in the selection of ministers. In the 1 place, reflecting the fact that Canada is a democracy & that ministers represent the people, all Cabinet ministers must have a seat in Parliament. Ministers sit in the legislative branch of govt at the same time as they form the executive. A seat in Parliament would theoretically include a seat in the Senate.  When appointing MPs to the Cabinet, it is often thought safer to put leadership rivals into the Cabinet, subject to all its constraints, than to leave them to continue their campaigns outside.  The next constraint on the PM is the convention
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