Week 9;Chap 21
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 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
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
Ministers thus owe allegiance to the PM, who can promote & demote them, ask for their resignation
& dismiss them.
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Week 9;Chap 21
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
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
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.
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Week 9;Chap 21
The Canadian PM w/ a majority govt in the H of Commons in more powerful than the American
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
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