Does the Prime Minister Wield too much power?

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is hosting a debate on this well-worn topic. (May 10, Tabaret Hall, University of Ottawa, 6:30 p.m. Sheila Copps and Andrew Coyne are participants. Sound familiar?

This year’s Donner Prize winners, Mark D. Jarvis, Lori Turbull, and the late Peter Aucoin tackle the same issue in their Democratizing the Constitution; Reforming Responsible Government, proposing rules to constrain the prime minister’s power over confidence votes and the summoning, prorogation, and dissolution of Parliament. (I had better read this book.) But curiously they also suggest that leaders should be dissuaded from acting on behalf of party interests. It will never fly. More important: party politics ensures political freedom by keeping debates alive and legitimating political opposition. Every step away from partisan politics is a step towards oligarchy.

In the National Post of Friday, May 4, F.H. Buckley, Professor, George Mason School of Law, takes a refreshingly unfamiliar tack. He likes the Westminster system! He believes it superior to the American Congressional form of government. “Getting legislation passed or repealed in the United States is like waiting for three cherries to line up in a Las Vegas slot machine. Absent a super-majority in Congress to override a presidential veto, one needs the simultaneous concurrence of the president Senate and House. In a parliamentary government, however, one needs only one cherry. In Canada, neither the governor-general nor the senate has a veto power … All that matters is the House of Commons, dominated by the prime ministers’ party.” Note Buckley’s emphasis on repealing laws. A stiff system like the American Congress can leave in place policies discredited by experience.

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