Review Questions: Chapter 08

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1. How is the discretion of the monarch limited by constitutional convention with respect to carrying out his or her responsibilities?

The Governor General’s role is purely symbolic. Although the strict letter of the constitution suggests that the role of the monarch is a formidable one, the real decision-making power of the executive is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet. In matters such as the selection of the prime minister and the dissolution of Parliament, constitutional convention is far more important than the discretion of the monarch. Royal assent of legislation is virtually automatic. As a democratic country, the elected representatives of the people govern, not appointed monarchs. (pp. 270–275)

2. How has the relationship between the media and the political executive reduced Parliament, as Brooks and Ménard state, to “little more than a procedural sideshow”?

When public sentiment can be gauged through polls, and when the PM and cabinet can speak to either the general public or targeted groups via the media and personal appearances, there is no perceived need to communicate through government MPs or the party organization. The result, say Brooks and Ménard, “is that Parliament often seems to be little more than a procedural sideshow.” (pp. 276–279)

3. In what ways should politically important interests, whenever possible, be “represented” by particular cabinet ministers? Explain.

The idea is that those important interests should have a voice in cabinet. Thus, business concerns are conveyed to cabinet by the Ministers of Finance and Industry. The concerns of labourers and farmers are conveyed by the Ministers of Labour and Agriculture. In the interests of national unity, all of the provinces get a cabinet minister. Women are represented by female ministers, Francophones outside of Quebec often get a minister, the ethnic communities and Aboriginal citizens get ministers, as well. Through this, the political goals of the party in power are served, groups are assured that their concerns will be heard, and national unity is advanced. (p. 278)

4. What does Donald Savoie mean when he states that there is no longer any inter or pares, only primus, in regards to the power of the prime minister?

The prime minister’s status in cabinet has usually been characterized as primus inter pares—first among equals. However, over the past few decades, the power of the prime minister has grown such that he or she alone is able to set the government’s agenda and decide on major policy issues. The prime minister has become the dominant individual in the government. (pp. 280–281)

5. How has the increased role of the budget in policy-making strengthened the hands of the prime minister and the minister of finance?

The finance department has almost exclusive authority over the preparation of the revenue budget, budget speeches, and economic statements. The finance department can virtually veto proposed legislation if it is strongly opposed. If deficit reduction is a government priority, this places enormous power in the hands of the finance department. As the person in charge, the minister of finance is in a position of unparalleled influence. The only one who can overrule the finance minister is the prime minister. Donald Savoie adds that the enhanced importance of the budget enables the prime minister and the minister of finance to introduce new measures and policies under the cover of budget secrecy and avoid debates in cabinet and long interdepartmental discussions. (pp. 281–283)

6. How does the role of the Prime Minister’s Office differ from the role of the Privy Council Office?

The Prime Minister’s Office is partisan, politically oriented, and operationally sensitive. The Privy Council Office is non-partisan, operationally oriented but politically sensitive. The Privy Council Office does strategic planning, is active in the formulation of policy, and monitors the activities of the departments to ensure coordination. The Prime Minister’s Office is focused on the political needs and priorities of the prime minister, contributes to policy formation, and serves as the prime minister’s eyes and ears. (pp. 284–286)

7. How does a bill become law?

A bill goes through numerous stages before becoming law. These stages include: first reading, second reading, committee stage, report stage, third reading, and royal assent. It also needs to go through both houses before the Royal Assent stage. (pp. 305–306)

8. It has been said that the current version of an appointed Canadian Senate is un-democratic. What are some of the arguments for and against an elected Senate?

The arguments for an elected senate include: a more democratic legitimate body that will be accountable to constituents, an elected senate could champion the issues most important to their regions, and the public would have an opportunity not to elect a senator tied to any scandal or misconduct. Arguments against an elected senate include: constitutional issues, an elected senate position may result in less women and minorities serving in the senate, and there might be ambiguity with their role in the Senate. (p. 295)

9. What are the six functions of the public bureaucracy?

Provision of services to the public; provision of services to other parts of the bureaucracy; generation of policy advice and the integration of policy in a particular field; adjudication of applications and/or the interpretation of regulations; disbursement of funds to groups or individuals; the production of a good or the operation of a service that is sold to buyers. (pp. 290–291)

10. Is a completely representative bureaucracy is possible?

You can begin answering this question by considering the idea of bureaucracy that is wholly unrepresentative of the Canadian population. Think about the possible costs to society when a major segment of the population is almost shut out of the bureaucracy. This was the case of French-Canadians prior to the time of Lester Pearson. Was this part of French-Canadians’ sense of grievance? Would it be fair if women, who make up roughly half of the population, were represented by a tiny percentage of the public service? What would we think of a country, say, in Africa, whose national government excluded a major tribe? It would appear that there could be costs, in terms of national unity and fairness, associated with a completely unrepresentative bureaucracy.

You can then return to the issue of a completely representative public service. Would the effort to achieve this excessively undermine the merit principle? Can all of the diverse communities that make up Canada be mirrored in the bureaucracy? Is that possible? For instance, it is reasonable to aim for a public service whose Aboriginal members are representative of the Aboriginal population. But is it reasonable to aim for a public service that is representative of all of the Aboriginal nations in the country? You may want to consider the idea that perhaps a completely representative bureaucracy is not what is really sought; only a public service that is reasonably representative of the population, that is, reasonably representative of the major communities within the society. (p. 292)

11. Why did the Senate become less willing to defer to the will of the House of Commons after 1984?

The election of 1984 gave the Progressive Conservatives a majority of seats in the House of Commons. However, the Senate was dominated by Liberals. They balked at a number of bills proposed by the Conservative-dominated House, most notably the GST bill. This tension was eliminated when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney used a clause of the constitution to appoint eight additional Conservative senators. The same situation greeted Prime Minister Harper, and he was able to appoint 18 Conservative senators, thus making the Senate more hospitable to bills from the House. (pp. 294–295)

12. What role does Question Period play in the functioning of Canada’s Parliament?

Question Period is the primary forum through which the opposition can scrutinize and criticize the government. It is the opposition’s main chance to influence the issues that will be discussed in the media and the way the government will be portrayed by the press. (pp. 301–302)

13. What is meant by the term “democratic deficit” with respect to Canadian politics?

It refers in part to the excessive centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister and cabinet and the marginalization of Parliament. (pp. 303–304)

14. How and why do judicial decisions tend to serve or protect the status quo in society?

As a legal process, judicial decision-making serves to interpret the law and the existing values embedded in the law, and also tend to rely greatly on the notion of precedence. (pp. 307–309)

How informative is the notion of “judicial independence”?

The term has both a legal, constitutional meaning, and a broader class-oriented meaning. Thus, a person needs to be cognizant as to the context in which the term is used. (p. 304)

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