Chapter 5 Chapter Overview & Learning Objectives

The Executive

The executive is usually considered to be the strongest, or most dominant, of the three branches of government—with the legislature and judiciary being the other two branches. Yet the executive needs to be viewed in proper perspective. The prime minister and cabinet are not the only members of the executive; there are other components of the executive branch. Neither does the prime minister wield absolute control over Canadians, nor does the executive hold more power than it did in the past.

The authors proceed to identify and describe the three components of Canada’s executive and their respective roles: the formal executive, the political executive, and public service management or the public service executive. The formal executive refers to the Queen, or monarch, who serves as the head of state. With the Queen’s residency in the United Kingdom, the governor general acts as the monarch’s representative in Canada, as do lieutenant governors at the provincial level. As such, the governor general fulfills primarily ceremonial duties in a non-partisan fashion.

Meanwhile, the political executive is seen mainly in the form of the head of government, otherwise known as the first minister, usually called the prime minister, or, provincially, the premier. The first minister’s power of patronage is used to appoint cabinet ministers and senior partisan advisers to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in order to assist in exercising the executive’s governing responsibilities.

Public service management or the public service executive consists of non-partisan government employees holding a number of high-level public service positions in government.  Headed by the Clerk of the Privy Council, some of these public service executives include deputy ministers of line departments that deliver programs to the public as well as other senior public officials in the Privy Council Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, and Department of Finance.

This chapter’s professor profile spotlights one of Canada’s leading scholars in Canadian public administration, Donald Savoie. Professor Savoie is known as one of the founding academics in the discipline of public administration whose career has resulted in over 40 published books and numerous accolades for his research and scholarship in Canadian public administration. The chapter ends with a thought provoking insight on the level of power held by the political executives at the federal and provincial levels.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, students should be able to:

  • identify and describe the three main components of the executive branch of government in Canada: the formal executive (the Crown), the political executive (prime minister, cabinet, and senior advisers), and the public service management or public service executives
  • grasp how each component of the executive, and the executive over all, functions in Canada; and
  • understand how the normative issue of accountability is fundamental to the subject of the political executive.
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