Powers of the Office of the Prime Minister in Canada The Canadian Prime Minister is the head of the Government and has significant powers in deciding how the nation is supposed to work in their stipulated time frame. While he/she is not the head of the state, he/she leads the Canadian Armed Forces and appoints the cabinet ministers, Supreme Court judges, senators, ambassadors, and heads of crown corporations. However, the Canadian constitution does not explicitly state most of the powers currently exercised by the Prime Minister because it does not establish the post of Prime Minister.
These powers arise from unwritten Constitutional Conventions. Recently, there has been much debate on the powers of the Canadian Prime with critics calling for a reduction in the powers vested in the office of Prime Minister and proponents arguing that there are sufficient checks and balances established to hold the Prime Minister responsible. The question of the Prime Minister’s power can be answered by evaluating the source of these powers and the effectiveness of available checks and balance to counterbalance the powers of the Prime Minister. This paper evaluates the sources of powers exercised by the Prime Minister in Canada and argues that there re no effective constraints on the Prime Minister of Canada. ” The Canadian Prime Minister is the head of government and combined with his position as the leader of the party with a majority in parliament wields significant power. According to O’Malley, (2007) the powers of a Prime Minister can be evaluated by comparing the powers vested in the Prime Minister constitutionally, and also comparing the powers between countries.
Political power is largely determined by the command and control where a Prime Minister who is in command is able to make others do his wish and one who is in ontrol is able to reorganize the environment around him to his liking. Since the position of Prime Minister is not explicitly stated in the constitution, it is hard to judge the powers of the Canadian Prime Minister based on constitutional mandate. Bakvis, (2001) argues that since the position and powers of the Prime Minister arise from unwritten constitutional conventions which cannot be enforced in court, the powers arise from the opportunistic interpretation of vague laws.
The major powers of the Canadian Prime Minister can be divided into five general categories. The first one is the power to appoint. The Canadian Prime Minister appoints cabinet ministers, members of cabinet committees, judges of superior courts at the federal and provincial level, governor of the Bank of Canada, and senators. He/She also appoints the members of various regulatory agencies, Auditor general, head of armed forces, boards of Crown corporations, and chairmen of parliamentary committees which is often a stepping stone to a full cabinet minister (Whittington, 2001).
Through appointment powers, the Prime Minister is able to exert significant control over the executive and the legislature. The second power of the Prime Minister is setting the government agenda. This power is exercised through actions such as approving revenue and expenditure budgets, chairing cabinet meetings including calling consensus in such meetings, controlling bills going to the house of commons, determining foreign policy and the federal- provincial policy (O? Malley, 2007).
The third power of the Prime Minister is controlling election machinery. Besides appointing the head of the electro commission, the Prime Minister determines the timing of elections and determines the frequency and subject of public opinion polls. In addition, the Prime Ministers approve amendments to the Elections act efore they go to the House of Commons. The fourth power of the Prime Minister is determining the organization of the federal government. The federal government is organized through departments, and cabinet committees.
The Prime Minister determines the number, functions and composition of these departments and committees. The final category of Prime Minister’s powers arise from authority to exercise party discipline, control patronage flow and access to the government’s PR infrastructure. heads a responsible government with both the Prime Minister and his Cabinet responsible to the Parliament and to the Canadians (Baker, 2014). The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the party or coalition with most seats in the Parliament and is often a Member of the Parliament.
As the head of government, it is important to check the powers exercised by The Prime Minister the Prime Minister to avoid abuse of office which would lead to the erosion of democratic gains made by Canadians and presidentialization of the Prime Ministers (Rhodes, Binder and Rockman, 2008). The Prime Minister is checked by Parliament, cabinet, political parties and established federal institutions and offices. The parliament can pass a vote of “no confidence” on he Prime Minister or his cabinet ministers. In this way the parliament provides checks and holds the Prime Minister accountable inside government.
The Cabinet provides checks on the Prime Minister through the right to revolt which can compel a Prime Minister to resign. As the party leader, the Prime Minister is responsible for implementing the party manifesto and delivering the election promises. This makes the Prime Minister accountable to his party. Despite these checks and balances, the Prime Minister wields significant power over the parliament, cabinet and his political party limiting their ability to tand their ground against a rogue Prime Minister (Bakvis, 2001).
The Prime Minister is responsible for determining the number and function of federal government ministries and appointment, reshuffle and firing of cabinet ministers. He/She chairs cabinet meetings and has the powers to call consensus in such meetings. The lack of security of tenure among cabinet ministers means that any cabinet minister deemed hostile to the Prime Minister can be fired (Savoie, 2009). Therefore the cabinet ministers have no incentive to revolt or stand their ground against the Prime Minister especially when it is only a mall number of cabinet ministers holding an opinion contrary to that of the Prime Minister.
Therefore, Savoie, (2000) argues that ministerial powers do not flow from the ministers but from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister also appoints many office bearers who are responsible for providing checks and balances to his government. This includes officers such as the Auditor General, and governor of the Bank of Canada. Several factors make the Canadian Parliament less suited to provide institutional checks to the Office of the Prime Minister. First, the staffs in the Office of the Prime Minister are accountable to the ffice holder and not to Parliament.
Therefore, parliament has hold them responsible for their actions. Political party leaders in Canada are elected through a rigorous process akin to the one used in the USA. The no control over them and car high rate of turnover after each election means fewer MPs consolidate power enough to challenge the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretaries in Parliament. The checks and balances for the office of the Prime Minister are established under unwritten constitutional conventions, hence a breakdown in the understanding of these conventions enables the Prime Minister to exercise reserve powers.
For instance, the Prime Minister usually exercises powers such as dissolving the House of Commons and calling for elections despite these powers being under the governor general. Control over the House of Commons calendar, and a majority in this house offers sitting Prime Minister the ability to set and pass government agenda but also makes it hard for the parliament to offer checks to the office of the Prime Minister (Axworthy, 2008). The majority control in parliament by the Prime Minister’s party makes it hard for members in other parties to challenge the Prime Minister.
This is an example of command where the Prime Minister is ble to use his political numbers in parliament to pass bills. Party discipline makes it hard for the MPs to provide reasonable checks and balances to the office of the Prime Ministers. For a party with majority in the house of common, discipline is enforced through both motivation to obey the party leaders and punishment for disobedience. An MP who votes against the government is deemed rebellious and faces disciplinary action from the party including severe actions such as expulsion from the party.
The Prime Minister reserves the right to prevent any MP form running under the party banner. This power is xercised by the right of the Prime Minister as the party leader to sign nomination papers for candidates. On the other hand, the Prime Minister has powers to make many appointments and loyal party members often get appointed as parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs. Since the Prime Minister as a party leader has powers to both punish and reward his party members, the party members are weakened in terms of providing effective checks and balances to the government.
Kam, (2006) gives a good example of this in the case of John Nunziata, a Liberal elected in 1993 based on the party’s promise to abolish Goods and Services Tax (GST). Later on, Nunziata refused to support the budget advanced by the Minister of Finance in the ruling Liberals government because it still had GST. As a consequence, he was dropped out of the caucus and the Liberal party making it impossible for him to vie for any seat under the Liberal party banner.
While Nunziata was able to defend his seat as an independent candidate, McGrane et al. (2013) argue that party loyalty and the resulting support from party leaders is important for ambitious politicians to win seats during elections. The party caucus has little leverage to check the Prime Ministers powers’ since as a party leader; the Prime Minister is elected by the party and not the caucus. Removing uncooperative party members is an example of control strategy that Prime Ministers use to consolidate power. In addition, the Prime Minister has an impact on other parties besides his own party.
He has reserve powers to determine the campaign period. Long campaign period have a negative impact on smaller parties due to the finances involved which La Raja & Schaffer, (2014) argues weakens the ability of small parties campaign effectively. Ideally, the evolution of democracy in Canada should shift Crown powers to parliament especially the house of common which is the democratically elected body meant to represent citizens and to provide checks and balances to the office of the Prime Minister.
Under the Westminster model, the role of the Prime minister is to integrate the legislature and the executive (Stanbury, 2003). However, the Prime Minister is the head of executive and a majority in Parliament gives him control over the legislature. There are some independent checks provided by the judiciary. The interpretation of the charter of Rights and Freedoms and non-charter issues gives courts autonomous power over the office of the Prime Minister.
For instance, the government of Prime Minister Martin failed to use the courts to advance its same-sex marriage legislation. Despite the tremendous powers exercised by the Prime Minister, the courts are responsible for some of the most politically significant decisions such as secession of Quebec from Canada (Savoie, 1999). Just like most of the powers of the Prime Minister are not enshrined in the constitution, some checks and balances on the Office of the Prime Ministers are not formally established.
Globalization means that Canada is playing an increasingly important role in other countries through foreign policies. Therefore, foreign leaders are providing additional checks and holding the Prime Minister responsible for the decisions they make (Baker, 2014). The media provides important checks and balances to the office of the Prime Minister through dissemination and interpretation of public information besides questioning government decisions.
Enshrining public service by the laws and constitution by establishing the office of the Prime Minister reducing the public officers appointed by the Prime Minister will help reduce the powers of the Prime Minister. In addition, the parliament should be empowered through transfer of former Crown powers currently vested in the office of the Prime Minister (Axworthy, 2008). The Canadian Prime Minister has many powers derived from constitutional conventions. As the head of government, the Prime Minister has powers to appoint various office holders, control election machinery, and determine government agenda.
Majority of the powers vested in the Prime Minister has no constitutional basis, hence it is hard to hold the Prime Minister legally responsible for various decisions. Debate on the powers of the Prime Minister is dived with some people arguing the office is too powerful while others argue that despite the power, there are sufficient checks and balances established to ensure responsible government. Proponents of the powerful Prime Minister argue that he has effective constraints due to the competitive nature of the post and balances provided through parliament.
In addition, the failure to have strict constitutional rules for the Prime Minister to follow, enables the office holder to best determine how to manage government responsibilities and minimizes deadlocks which may arise. This improves efficiency and decision making by the government hence improving service delivery. However, the evidence shows that currently the Prime Minister exerts control over the majority of the institutions that are supposed to provide a counterbalance to his power. Therefore, there are no sufficient checks and balances to ensure responsible governments as required under democracy.