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What is Cabinet Solidarity?


Is the third constitutional convention of responsible government where overall all members of Cabinet must support Cabinet decisions
• Cabinet is the absolute centre of decision-making in our system of government in Canada
• Meetings are held in secret and this is done so that the government can stand and fall as a united entity
• Requires cabinet solidarity to remain unified in public regardless of private disagreements
• Requires confidentiality to allow for open and frank debated to occur in private, providing a safe space for ministers to speak openly and honestly about issues in private because there is a sense of trust in knowing that other ministers will support


What are constitutional conventions?


The rules that underpin responsible government are constitutional conventions which are unwritten rules of the constitution that are binding amongst political actors , not enforces through the legal system
ex. First ministers are responsible for selecting cabinet ministers


what is the head of government?


Is the leader of the country, The Prime Minister of Canada

  • recommend the appointment of minister to the head of state
  • responsible government ensures that power rest in the hands of the political head of government

what is the head of state?


The formal head of state is the King or Queen, represented by the Governor General

  • governor general makes all appointments on the advice of the Prime Minister (head of government)
  • can play a role in constraining the powers of the First Minister when it comes to prorogation

What is prorogation?

  • The end of parliamentary & legislative session
  • resets the business of the legislative session
  • allows members to take a break or go back to their constituencies
  • resumes new session w-speech from the Throne
  • has important implications surrounding the division of powers between the executive, legislature and head of state, need to ensure that proroguing is not done to benefit the political party in power
  • No daily question periods, no legislative sessions, no democratic accountability, all unfinished business “dies”

Discuss the background and events of the prorogation crisis of 2008


Background: Prime Minister Stephen Harper advised Michaelle Jean to prorogue after both oppositional parties formed a coalition

• The economic crisis of 2008
• During the early days of the crisis, Canadians voted for a conservative minority government lead by prime minister Stephen Harper
• In the Throne Speech he stated that he wants to put political differences aside and for parliament to work together for the benefit of Canada
• MP’s approved the speech and were confident until the minister of finance Jim Flaherty pointed out different plans than what was suggested in the Throne Speech
• The leaders of the opposition, Stephane Dion (liberal) and Jack Layton (NDP) wanted to form a coalition to overthrow Harpers conservative government.
• As a response, Harper called it unconstitutional and later advised the Governor General to call a prorogation 13 days after the start of his second term
o Why did the governor general allow the prorogation?
 Christmas was coming up which would be in recess anyway
 She consulted with constitutional experts prior to making her decision
• A lot of scholars have written papers on this incident claiming this is a reason for reform


What were the outcomes and impacts on the 2008 Prorogation crisis?


• Crisis was resolved when prorogation was granted and coalition disintegrated
• As promised the government introduced the budget deal on the second day of session
• The budget included a number of propositions given by the leader of the opposition resulting in the support of the liberals and the Conservatives maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons
• Suggestions on what to do for the abuse of power of prorogation
o Governments seeking prorogation should be restricted to using the mid December to early February winter break and a mid June to mid September summer break
 This would prohibit governments in delaying schedule reopening
o Others suggest that the governor general be given more discretion


What is responsible government?

  • The confidence convention where the government is responsible to the House of Commons for the exercise of the powers of government and governs only as long as it has the confidence of a majority of elected MPs
  • the executive must be held accountable to the House of Commons, not the crown
  • Responsible government ties public administration closely to our political systems government consisting of the prime minister & the Cabinet - must always have the confidence of a majority elected MPs in the House of Commons
  • This is the foundation of Canada’s democratic system

What are the conventions of responsible government?


1) Dual Executive
- formal head of state (king or Queen, represented by the Governor General or lieutenant General), political head (prime minister or premier)
2) Head of Government recommends the appointment of minister to the head of state
- ministers are accountable to the legislative for how they use their power
3) Government is unified by Cabinet solidarity
- Cabinet meeting are led by the Prime Minister, meetings are held in secret allowing all members of caucus to speak freely, and require confidentiality
4) If a government no longer maintain the confidence of the legislature the government must resign


What is the significance of Responsible Government in Canadian Governance?


That the executive branch of parliament under the principles of responsible government claims that the executive must be accountable to the legislative

1) Ministers are legally responsible for exercising the executive powers of the Crown
• Cabinet is responsible for the vast majority of public administration
• Public servants they exercise power on behalf of their Minister, who in turn acts in the name of the crown
o Explains the relations between public servants and
2) Ministers are accountable for how they exercise the power of the Crown
• Not accountable to the crown itself but to the House of Commons


Discuss Responsible Government and Public Administration


• Entire executive branch of government is connected back to the Crown and acts in the name of the Crown, but is accountable to the legislature via a minister
o The executive branch of government has taken over the vast majority of the powers of the Crown
• Cabinet ministers must be organized in managed in a sense where they can be held accountable to the legislature


What does being responsible actually mean?


Two primary goals (according to Birch), governments are responsive to the needs of the citizens, a responsible government operates responsibly in carrying out duties


What do some define as the “one rule” of responsible government?


That the Prime Minister and their cabinet colleagues have responsibility to the legislature and its their obligation to maintain the confidence of the legislature, if a government no longer maintains the confidence of the legislature then the government must either resign to allow a new government to form or call for a new election


What is Westminster parliamentary democracy?


Derived from the British tradition of governing meaning our system of governance is quite similar to the system used to govern the United Kingdom
responsible government is a concept that underpins Westminster parliamentary and it is rooted in a tense historical relationship between the monarchy and parliament in Britain


What were the tensions in the Westminster system regarding responsible government?

  • Tension rested on who should have the authority to govern, raise taxes, and make decisions that affect all citizens: the monarchy or the parliament?
  • Achieving responsible government was not an easy task in the early days in Britain, it was a struggle to carefully balance the role of elected official and the monarchy

When did democratic reform occur in the British colonies?


Started with Nova Scotia adopting responsible government in 1848 and was eventually adopted throughout Canada


What are the different political terms that have different purposed for ending a parliament sessions

  • Prorogation
  • Recess of Adjournment
  • Dissolution

What is recess adjournment?


Does not end a legislative session, allows elected members to take a break or go back to their constituencies


What is dissolution?


Calls for the end of a session and requires an election


What is the role of the governor general (legislative power) and the concept of responsible government?

  • their original role was to be the representative of the Crown
  • Today their goal is to prevent the Prime Minister from abusing enormous power of the Crown that the prime minister have acquires as a result of responsible government
  • all in all, most agree that the governor general should not act outside the advice of the political executive unless it is absolutely necessary and they violate the most exceptional circumstances
  • issues is there is no agreement on what is most exceptional circumstances
    two conditions must be present
  • advice offered by the prime minister must be an intolerable violation of the spirit and intent of the constitution over an extended period of time
    *can be no doubt to the righteousness and constitutionality of governor general’s decision

What occurs when the Prime Minister receives a vote of non-confidence?


• This does not immediately end government
• Prime Minister can request the governor general (who has discretion to chose) to do one of 3 things
1) Discontinue the session and call it back at a later date
2) Dissolve the legislature and call an election
3) Request the Opposition form a coalition and take over government if they can demonstrate that they have the confidence of a majority of the MP’s