Canada is made up of a representative government under the constitutional monarchy. The government is democratic because the members of legislative assembly are directly elected by the people although by monarch it means that the head of the country is the queen or the king. Elizabeth II is the head of state and the official queen of Canada. The prime minister of Canada chairs the cabinet meetings and he is the head of government who represents the queen alongside the governor general. The powers enjoyed by the prime minister of Canada have made the political scientists to argue that Canada is no longer a parliamentary democracy. The powers have arisen due to the fusion of the executive branches of Canada, combined with a strong party discipline. This fusion of powers gives the front benchers and members of parliament little room to carry out the oversight role.
In a democratic system, people are able to make decisions on how their country should be run by electing their leaders to represent them. Elections and referendums are held after every few years. When dealing with a complex political system, it is not easy to give democracy a real definition as the democratic auditors of Canada can note. In democracy, absolute power cannot be held by one person or few people. However, it is common knowledge across people who are respected observers in the Canadian political the prime minister of Canada and his entourage of politicians who happen to be bureaucratic. Due to this knowledge of power concentration among few people at the helm of Canadian leadership, it begs a question of whether Canada is a pure democracy country or is it exercising kind of friendly dictatorship.
Canada follows the same principles of the cabinet of the West-minister system of parliament which is also followed by other Anglo-Celtic democracies that were adopted from the British government institutions. In the West-minister system, the Fourteen Westminster systems of Canada which comprise all territories and provinces follow the responsible model of government. The powers, according to the Westminster style, are to be retained through support from the majority of members of parliament. From what we have seen, Canada inherited the West-minister style from Britain. This style was adopted in order to try and decentralize powers from the crown. This goal of power transfer has been abused the prime minister and his/her executives who ensures that the transfer of powers is scarce and uneven. The development of Westminster democracy in Canada is more of a story concerning a struggle to wrestle power away from the top and swing this power to parliament and the House of Commons who will then check the unfettered powers of the prime minister. This should be intended in making the responsible government work with the legislature enjoying powers of making law.
At the national level, the regional ministers, who are powerful, are immensely involved in decision making which makes them to promote the interests of the regions they represent at the cabinet table and other wide range of government undertakings. In this sense, the regional ministers are selected in a manner that looks like its intentions is to appease a given group from a given region and this ministers ends up having insignificant portfolio because they sit on insignificant committees with little political influence. Therefore, from the regional level, the representation is not helping the community of visible minority people. On the elected members of parliament, the selection and eventual production of members of parliament is flawed given the cabinet and the prime minister decide on who to run for elected position from their respectful political parties. At the end of the day, the people who get to be elected have been chosen by the cabinet and prime minister.
Within the house, the government and the prime minister have considerable control over the daily operations of the house. The members of parliament in the Canadian government are loyal and steadfast to the prime minister. This is because the prime applies the approach of carrot- and- steak where those MPs who are co-operative are rewarded with committee positions that are coveted and even cabinet posts while those MPs who are rogue might face the punishment of removal from the caucus or risk being barred from running as candidates in their respective parties in the future elections. All of these are vested and bestowed as the powers of the prime minister. By the prime minister enjoying these powers, the MPs in the government cannot stand their ground against a powerful leader through whose mercies they have the positions of being members of legislature. The MPs may not be able to represent their constituencies well when the prime minister with whom they are supposed to work in order to serve constituents has the powers they may not question.
The cabinet, which is most powerful decision making body in Canada, is headed by the prime minister. The minister chosen to the cabinet are not necessarily supposed to be MPs because there is no law which requires them to be members of parliament. The prime minister choses the ministers and he/she can shuffle and dismiss the ministers any moment. The cabinet operations and the decisions made by the cabinet are done in secrecy and very trusted people are allowed into the cabinet meetings. By having private meetings, he/she and members of cabinet may control many decisions, and in the process the interests of the majority may not be taken care of. The cabinets have extensive formal procedures when bringing issues before the ministers and then providing professional advice, and availing information for proposals and through full cabinet considerations. This kind of bureaucracy may limit democracy although the rules may not apply sometimes due to urgency. The first ministers owe their position as the leader of the party to the whole party membership including the caucus and the cabinet. The rank-and-file members and even the leaders are not allowed to countenance giving the caucus the authority to remove the party leader on their own. This may imply that the leaders of the party are protected and can carry out their duties with confidence. The formal leadership review within the party can be triggered by a substantial minority in the caucus. This review gives the members powers to choose and dismiss leaders while lessening the dominion of the first minister over the parliamentary party.
Legislators are charged with debating, approving or rejecting the laws of the land. The Canadian parliament is executive centered and highly centralized. The powers of the prime minister have limited the independence of legislators in Canada, and this has led to criticism that the legislators are not performing their duties well. This lack of independence on the legislators is also partly contributed by high levels of party discipline. Therefore, it can be concluded that Canada has got a weak legislator even as per the standards of Westminster, which means that even its oversight role is not well performed. The Canadian and U.S houses of representatives differ greatly. In resources management, a committee in Canadian House of Commons committee doesn’t have sufficient level of professionalism that matches that of the U.S., and the members of this Canadian committee are too often stretched.
Contrary to the members of parliament who are elected into parliament, the senators are not elected but they are formally appointed by the governor general in practice by the prime minister. The senators can stay in office up to when they are 75 years old. As it the case in Australia, the prime minister and the government would not be responsible to the senate even if the senators were formally elected. They are a responsibility of the House of Commons given they require the confidence of the MPs in the house. However, in the responsible government, the governor general is not involved in the operations of political nature in parliament. Therefore, the operations of this government are left to the representatives of the people who are politically elected including the prime minister. When compared with the Canadian senate, members of the U.S senate enjoy a level of legitimacy which allows it to openly challenge the executive. The Canadian senate has democratic shortfall and, therefore, it doesn’t do this practice.
` The powers of the prime minister in the Canadian system of government need to be checked. This is because the executives do possess executive powers that are unusual. A major reform to restrain the powers of the first minister is through use of fixed elections. The government backbenchers should also be involved in decision making process of the cabinet through jurisdictions that can bring backbenchers into full cabinet committees. The parliamentary institutions should also be strengthened with thoughtful minded members and adequate professionals who can act as potential power constraint on the power of first ministers and cabinets.
Aucoin, Peter,Jennifer Smith, Georf Disnadel. "Responsible governments." Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Management Development , 2004: 120.
Cabinets and first Ministers by Graham White
Imperfect Legislators by David C. Docherty
Power at the Apex: Executive Dominance by Donald J. Savoie