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Is the Canadian Prime Minister Too Powerful? A Critique Essay

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Updated: May 30th, 2019

Introduction

Canada has one of the unique forms of governments in the developed nations and the world as a whole. According to the Constitution Act of 1867, the country is described as parliamentary democracy given the fact that the constitution provides for the democratic election of representatives to the parliament (Clark, 2010). The parliament in this country is made up of the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons (Clark, 2010).

In this paper, the researcher is going to critically analyze whether it is a fact that the prime minister holds too much power. To this end, some of the advantages and disadvantages of a powerful prime minister will be looked. The reforms that are needed to give the elected representatives more power relative to the premier will also be viewed.

Is the Canadian Prime Minister Too Powerful? Yes Indeed

I believe that the prime minister holds too much power. This is strange especially given the fact that the office is not enshrined in any constitutional document. But this does not stop the prime minister from assuming the role of “………(the) leading minister of the Crown” (Clark, 2010: p. 2). Incumbent Stephen Harper may not agree with me here, but it is evident that the majority of Canadian citizens share my opinion.

An opinion poll conducted in 2008 by Nanos Research (and cited in Clark, 2010) is perhaps one of the best indicators of the attitudes of Canadians towards the PMO. The poll may have been conducted four years ago, but the findings are an essential pointer to the place occupied by the premier in the hearts of the Canadians.

According to the poll, 42 percent of the citizens are of the view that the powers vested in the Office of the Prime Minister needs to be checked (Clark, 2010). The citizens think that the office is one of the weakest links in the country’s democracy. Majority of those polled felt that the premier holds more power than other constitution offices such as the federal cabinet, the Supreme Court and House of Commons among others.

So, why exactly is the prime minister regarded as one of the most influential public figures in Canada? One of the primary reasons is the fact that the incumbent takes over the constitutional role of the Crown (Jarvis & Turnbull, 2012). It can be argued that the incumbent plays the most prominent role in the country’s government operations.

Vast resources are at the disposal of the prime minister. For example, the incumbent has the power to appoint and dismiss the cabinet and such other institutions. A case in point is the appointment of Lloyd Axworthy as member of the cabinet by two of most notable premieres in the country’s history. These are former Prime ministers Trudeau and Chretien (Jarvis & Turnbull, 2010).

Another reason why I think the prime minister is too powerful emanates from the treatment accorded to the incumbent by both the national and international media houses. According to Clark (2010), it appears that media houses would instead get direct communication from the incumbent rather than going by what is presented by the office.

Canadians also look up to the incumbent in times of crises (Jarvis & Turnbull, 2010). A case in point is when the country was faced with the decision of either supporting or not supporting American invasion to Iraq. The country and the media went by the decision made by the premier not to support the Americans.

There are those who argue that the prime minister is not as powerful as portrayed in the media. They argue that the incumbent does not hold absolute power given that he is controlled by the parliament and other constitutional bodies such as the Supreme Court. However, these arguments hold no sway given that the prime minister can directly control the supreme court through the appointment of the judges as well as control the parliament through the members of his party.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Powerful Premier

One of the significant benefits of a powerful prime minister is the fact that government decisions can be made fast and efficiently. When the prime minister has full control over the legislative arm of the government, government bills brought on the floor of the house can be passed effectively (Clark, 2010). This may spur development especially if the bills are critical to the nation.

However, a significant weakness of a powerful premier is the fact that absolute power may corrupt the incumbent. For example, the prime minister may appoint his cronies as Senators. By 2010, the incumbent had appointed 33 Senators most of who were drawn from his party.

Conclusion: Reforms Necessary to Give Other Elected Representatives More Power Relative to the Premier

One such reform is making sure that Senators are elected and not appointed by the premier. This will reduce the hold that the premier has over these leaders. Another reform can involve limiting the tenure of the incumbent to two terms in office (Clark, 2010). This would have prevented premiers such as William Mackenzie from ruling for 15 years.

The structure of power in the country should also be overhauled. This will ensure that power is not concentrated in the hands of a single individual such as the prime minister. This is given that such concentration makes it hard to balance and check the operations of the incumbents.

References

Clark, C. (2010). PMO too powerful, Canadians say. Web.

Jarvis, M. D., & Turnbull, L. (2012, May 2). Canadian prime ministers have too much power. National Post. Retrieved from

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Is the Canadian Prime Minister Too Powerful? A Critique'. 30 May.

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