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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
Powers of the Prime Minister
The debate over the decentralization of power has raged over the past half century. The focus of this debate has been whether or not the Prime Minister (PM) has too many powers. The PM holds the most powerful position in the state. The crux of the issue lies in the concentration of power in the Prime Ministerial Office (PMO) -however, the PMs Powers are subject to certain practical and theoretical limitations that don’t always coincide. The key component of Canadian Federalism consists in giving regional governments, Provinces more centralized powers. The intent was to limit the powers of the national government. Constitutionally, the Crown is the head of state and can constitutionally greatly impede and limit the powers of the PM. However this is rarely applied in practice, as it is rather unconventional for the Crown to interfere. The Prime Minister can also restrict state legislation from passed through Parliament. The leaders of Crown Corporations – appointed by the PM have significant influence over the operations of government firms. Lastly, the PM, being responsible for the appointment of the Justices of the Supreme Court , has considerable heft in most rulings.
The Canadian Constitution lays out the framework for a federalist government, which gives Provinces exclusive powers. The Canadian Government is empowered to act, and its actions may be backed up by the full weight of public authority (Brooks, 130). Within the constitution one notices similarities with British-style parliamentary government. A prominent example is the Monarch, endowed with the power to dissolve Parliament, and also, more importantly, the right to review all legislation of both Federal and Provincial government before becoming law (Brooks, 139). It is evident that such monarchical powers theoretically restrain the powers of the PM, however impractical and unconventional they may be. The failure of the PM to receive royal assent on legislation passed through the cycle of parliament can be very detrimental. Nevertheless, in most cases, arguably, the Monarch’s powers are a theoretical ability, her intrusions are highly unconventional. The King- Byng incident of 1925 illustrated the right of the Governor General, Lord Byng of Vimy, to refuse the recommendations of the PM, in this case Lyon Mackenzie King, to dissolve the government (http, pdf).
The Canadian Prime Minister plays an imperative role in appointing key figures that affect legislation. The Prime minister is traditionally responsible for appointing many different positions including; Governor General, the 105 appointed Cabinet ministers, Justices of the Supreme Court, Senators, heads of Crown Corporations, ambassadors to Foreign countries, provincial lieutenants governors and approximately 3,100 more (Weiler, 255). The Prime minister controls the appointment of each minister in the Cabinet; this allows him or her to exert significant influence by using the appointment of a possible Cabinet position to gain support of that minister. Appointing respected figureheads or opposition leaders could create an increase in public popularity or coercion in the lower house. The Fundamental concept here relies on the fact that Cabinets ministers rarely pose serious challenge to the authority of the PM, since the Minister owe their appointments and continued service almost entirely to the good will of the Prime minister (Malloy, 207). The PM, however, cannot abuse powers within the cabinet due to the threat of a non-confidence vote; such occurrences have happened. In certain cases of minority government, the PM, with the support of another party, may form a coalition government to prevent a vote of no-confidence. This is a viable option as it allows for the continuing passage of legislation without stoppages.
The Prime Minister also plays a significant role in the passing of legislation. Policy proposals have to be considered by the appropriate Cabinet committee, and, if approved, they are ready to be introduced in Parliament. The first reading of the bill is read in either the Senate or the House of Commons, where the bill is printed. The second is where members debate and vote on the principles of the bill. The Third reading is where the debate on the content of the bill is amended. Finally, it is presented to the Governor General for assent, where it becomes law (Kehoe, Inba). This process leaves marginal room for reward. If a bill has to originate from the Cabinet, then it conventionally must be accepted by the Prime Minister. In addition, the bill must have been ratified in both the Senate and House of Commons. The Prime Minister thus controls and is yet limited to influence within the House of Commons. The Government can at anytime be dissolved with a vote of no-confidence. This allows for elected members to have an influence and act as a check on the Prime Minister, avoiding self-interest oriented legislation. The practicalities of these limitations are conventional during a minority Government, and thus influence the PM to propose legislation that will be majorly accepted.
Canadian national legislation is passed through the House of Commons and Senate. Unlike the American or British legislation, Canadian bills tend to pass through without defeat. The Prime Ministers also have the power to appoint membership of the sixteen standing committees of the House, as well as the appointment of their chairs, making it extremely unlikely for opposition or delay in those forums (Malloy, 209). As stated by Jonathan Malloy, supremacy over legislation is aided by the increasingly regular use of closure and time allocation motions, both of which restrict debate and force timely votes on bills. (Malloy, 209) While this tactic remains exclusive to the Prime Minister, it is rarely used. In addition, while the Prime Minister holds influence in Committees within the House of Commons, practically it is the Ministers in Parliament that hold the power to vote on legislation and influence party opinions. This tactic would be increasingly important for combating such effects of filibustering, which is prominent in the U.S for preventing the passing of legislation within Congress.
The Primary function of the House of Commons is the creation and amendments of legislation. However, the Senate, also referred to as the upper house seats 105 unelected members (Brooks, 259). One of the main goals of the Senate, is to represent regional areas of Canada. There may be incentives for the Prime Minister to appoint members of the opposition, as well as popular appointees. Roméo Delaire would be a prime example, a national icon – human rights activist – military leader, was appointed to the Senate by the Liberals in 2005 (“Senators). While occasional attempt are made at diversifying members of the Senate, most appointments are made for, party loyalist who are rewarded for their services to the party, and/or directly to the Prime Minister (Mallow, 211). This would appear to be very beneficial for the Prime Minister, as influence in the Upper House can bring forth predictable outcomes. One can analyze that with such influence over the membership in the legislative branch, due to their ability to represent a larger proportion of their party. The Prime minister can use this advantage to his or hers favour to pass legislation.
Constitutional features limit the Prime Ministers power from implementing self-interest ideologies into the framework of provincial politics. The Prime Minister must allow provinces to govern themselves as Premiers can control certain policies according to their electoral mandate. The Prime Minister however, still has the option to influence Provinces by providing shared-cost programs and block funding. This funding allows the government to subsidize such programs such as the Canadian Health and Social Transfer, federal grants for health care and post- secondary education (Brooks, 219).
The Supreme Court acts as the pinnacle entity of the Canadian judiciary system. It is the furthest any court case can reach. It is essentially a constitutional convention that serves as a bulwark to limit the Prime Minister greatly. The Supreme Court acts as interpreters of the constitution and tends to stray away from political involvement. There are speculative influences on the Judiciary system; budgets are determined by parliament giving theoretical possibilities for Court persuasion. Increasingly, members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Prime Minister. It is the role of the Governor General to appoint the Justices of the Supreme Court, though realistically they are suggested by the Cabinet under the Privy Council committee (Schobert). While constitutionally the Governor General holds the power of influence over the Justices of Judiciary, it is realistic to say that the Prime Minister through the use of the subcommittees within the Cabinet, can use his or her powers to find judges that vary in personality (liberal to conservative) to his or hers benefit.
Crown Corporations also underline the influence of Prime Ministerial powers. Crown Corporations are those owned by the government. It is the parties that are in power that influence these corporations to their advantage (Mintz, 686). There are different levels; Federal Crown corporations which are owned by the government of Canada, and Provincial Corporations which are owned by their regional governments. Crown corps provide services to the public to which help promote the interest of the Canadian economy that gave citizens to collectively benefit through nation building, economic reasoning etc. In recent history there has been heated discussion over the privatization of crown companies. Focus of these debates gear toward the selling off divisions of Atomic energy and Canada Post. While privatization of crown corporations could allow for economic benefits affected the Prime Minister, as in the PM could use such revenue to cover deficits. However it may be a practical approach, it’s almost theoretical due to the unwillingness of the opposition to agree. “We’ll continue to ensure that Canada Post remains on a firm financial footing to maintain its universal service,” said an aide to Rob Merrifield, the Minister of State, responsible for the postal service. (Geddes,21). As there may always be interest in the financial gains of privatizing Crown corporations, there will always be public and political implications that affect the outcome.
In conclusion, while it may be apparent that the Canadian Prime Minister has vast powers that he or she is also limited too. While there are conventional limitations brought in place by the Canadian Constitution, there are powers that can be theoretically used. The Prime Minister is mainly limited by Federalism, in which the Provinces have the regional authorities to operate and pass their own legislation without National assent. The Prime Ministers control over appointing member of the Cabinet, governor general, the 105 appointed Cabinet ministers, Justices of the Supreme Court, Senators, and heads of Crown Corporations etc. allow for considerable areas of influence. The Prime Minister must act responsibly to keep a majority government or a minority government in coalition with other parties to avoid no-confidence vote.
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