CH. 3: Canada Regime
It is stipulated that Canada is to have ‘a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the
Emergence of Responsible Government
The British regime evolved through a number of different forms.
1) Absolute monarchy in its earliest stages
2) Crown turned legislature power over to their assembly, which they called
3) By mideighteenth century, the British regime was an example of separation of
- Executive power to the Crown
- Legislative power to Parliament.
1) Initially ruled by imperial governors appointed by the British Crown.
2) In 1748, Nova Scotia gained the right to elect legislative assemblies with authority
to legislate on most internal matters. Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada
(Quebec) received the same right late in the eighteenth century.
3) Canada has same set out as the American Constitution in separation of powers but
the difference is that Canada had a separation of powers for imperial reasons (that
is, to ensure British control) rather than for the liberal reasons advanced by
Montesquieu and Locke (protecting freedom and prevention of abuse of political
4) However, separation of powers was unworkable in these colonial constitutions
because only the legislative branch was elected (unlike the American system
where each of the three branches is elected). E.g of separation of powers in
Canada failing is in 1837. Upper Canada centered on the attempts of ‘reformers’
to break the power of the socalled ‘family compact’ a small clique of wealthy
citizens who controlled much of the colony’s political and economic life.
Discontent with this constitutional order led to armed rebellions in both Upper and
5) The British government knew that some kind of reform was necessary, Lord
Durham therefore recommended the principle of responsible government for Canada.
Fundamental feature of responsible government
- Executive responsible for its actions to a democratically elected legislative body.
Instead of choosing as his advisors anyone he liked, the governor would have to
choose them from among those who had been democratically elected to the
- First introduced in Nova Scotia in 1848 and then in other colonies.
The Conventions of Responsible Government (5 in total)
Responsible government makes executive accountable to the House of Commons.
Therefore, it demands of those exercising executive power that they obtain the
approval of the House for their use of that power.
1) The first convention is the Crown, which still has formal title to executive
power, but will act only ‘on the advice of’ its ministers.
2) The second convention is that the Crown normally appoints as ministers or
advisers only persons who are Members of Parliament (MPs). However, there
has been a certain amount of flexibility with this rule. It is possible to appoint
people who are neither senators nor MPs. In such case, the persons appointed
must take the first possible opportunity to run for a seat in the House of
Commons, if they lose that election, they must immediately resign their
position as minister.
3) The third convention is that the ministers will act together as a team of
‘ministry’ led by a prime minister, with each minister sharing in the
responsibility for all policy decisions made by any member of the ministry.
This is known as collective responsibility.
4) The fourth convention is that the Crown will appoint and maintain as ministers
only people who ‘have the confidence of’ (that is, the support of a majority of
members of) the House of Commons.
5) The fifth convention is that the prime minister must either resign (which
entails the resignation of the entire ministry) or request new elections, when
the House of Common expresses a lack of confidence.
- Resignation clears the way for the formation of a new ministry.
- Elections will resolve the problem by 2 possible results:
1) The voters will take the side of the ministry and return a new contingent of
MPs who will be more favorably disposed toward it (e.g in 2011 with the
Harper ministry) 2) The voters will take the side of the House and elect a majority of MPs who do
not support the existing ministry (e.g. in 1980 when voters elected a House
with a strong ministry of Liberal members who would not support the
Progressive Conservative ministry headed by Prime Minister Joe Clark)
In Sum, these arrangements provide the kind of democratic accountability sought by
the reformers of 1837.