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The Parliamentary System

A basic feature of parliamentary systems is

the close interrelationship between Parliament
(the legislative body) and the political
executive (the prime minister and Cabinet).
The members of the political executive are
themselves members of Parliament.
While the political executive is the governing
body, it is expected to be responsible (that is,
accountable) to Parliament for its actions.
The Head of State

In parliamentary systems the head of state

is different than the head of government.
The head of state is an important but largely
ceremonial position that is expected to be
above politics and not usually involved in
making governing decisions.
In Canada, the Governor General is the head
of state (i.e. the representative of the British
monarch in Canada).
The Prime Minister and Cabinet

As the head of government, the prime

minister is responsible for selecting members
of the Cabinet.
The prime minister is normally a member of
the House of Commons (HOC) and thus not
directly elected by voters.
Instead, the prime minister is the leader of
the party (usually the largest) that is able to
maintain the support of the majority of the
members of the HOC.
Majority, Minority,
and Coalition Governments
Majority Government: One party has a
majority of members (50% + 1) of the HOC.
Minority Government: A single party
governs, with less than a majority of the HOC.
A minority government needs to gain the
support of one or more parties to pass
legislation and stay in office.
Coalition Government: A government in
which two or more political parties jointly
govern, sharing the Cabinet positions.
The Canadian Parliamentary System

The system in Canada reflects the countrys

British political heritage, and with few
exceptions follows the Westminster model.
However, the federal system, the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms, and the power of
judicial review exercised by the courts place
limits on what the Canadian government
backed by a majority in Parliament can do.
Nevertheless, the Canadian parliamentary
system can be described as a system of
executive dominance.
The Prime Minister

The prime minister is the leading figure in

Canadian politics, as evidenced by the
following powers:
Cabinet-maker (and Chair of Cabinet)
Party Leader
Chief policymaker
Leading player in HOC
Adviser to Governor General
Chief diplomat.
Cabinet Structure

Certain conventions influence the prime

ministers choice for Cabinet; including:
the need for geographical representation
the presence of French speaking members
the appointment of women
the appointment of members from different
ethnic and racial backgrounds
A problem with selecting a representative
Cabinet is that the prime minister is generally
limited by who the party elects.
Cabinet Practice

The Cabinets role as a decision making body

has generated certain expectations.
Cabinet solidarity the convention that each
member of cabinet is expected to fully support
and defend the decisions of Cabinet.
Collective responsibility the convention that the
Cabinet will defend, explain, and take responsibility
for the actions of the government in Parliament.
Cabinet secrecy the convention that Cabinet meets
behind closed doors and documents remain secret for
20 years.
Parliament is responsible for passing laws
and approving the spending and taxing
plans of government.
It also provides a visible forum in which the
opposition can criticize the government.
Individual members of Parliament frequently
raise issues and concerns of those they
The Parliament of Canada consists of two
chambers: The House of Commons and the
The House of Commons
The House of Commons (HOC) is the
elected chamber of Parliament with each
member representing a particular
geographical constituency.
Party discipline is the basic operating
principle of the HOC and ensures that
legislators will vote according to the party
The party with the second-highest number
of seats in the HOC is designated as the
official opposition.
The Senate
The Senate is the upper chamber of
Parliament, appointed on the
recommendation of the prime minister.
The Senate was established, in part, to
provide for a body of sober second
thought to check the democratic
tendencies of the HOC.
Although the government does not need
to maintain the confidence of the Senate,
legislation needs the approval of the
Senate as well as the HOC.
Reforming the Senate
Reform of the Senate has been a
perennial topic of Canadian politics
In the 1980s, a movement based in
Alberta developed to promote the idea
of a Triple-E Senate (one that is elected,
effective, and based on an equal number
of Senators for each province).
Some, including the New Democratic Party,
argue that the Senate should be abolished.
The Presidential System

The presidential system features a president

and Congress who separately derive their authority
from being elected by the people and have a fixed
term of office.
Presidential systems feature a separation of
powers in which the president and Congress
each have separate bases of authority.
Ideally, the separation of powers creates a
system of checks and balances that prevents
any branch of government or any individual
from becoming too powerful.
The President

In a presidential system, the president is both

head of state and head of government.
That is, the president carries out the
ceremonial duties associated with the head
of state, but also heads the executive branch.
The president is commander-in-chief of
the armed forces, exercises considerable
control over foreign policy, helps to shape
domestic policy, and exercises some control
over the public service.
Cabinet and Executive Offices

The Cabinet secretaries who are appointed

by the president and confirmed by the
Senate head up the various departments of
However, the American Cabinet as a whole is
not a key decision-making body. Some
presidents have avoided holding regular
Cabinet meetings, and the president does
not necessarily follow the advice of Cabinet.
Presidential Term and Selection

The president, along with a vice-presidential

running mate, is elected by the American
people to a four-year term.
Although voters choose among presidential
candidates, technically they are voting for
members of the Electoral College committed
to casting their ballot for a particular
presidential candidate.
A majority of Electoral College votes is
needed to elect a president.
The American Congress

The American Congress is a legislative body

composed of two separate bodies.
The House of Representatives, which is
elected every two years from districts of
approximately equal population size.
The Senate, which is composed of persons
elected for six-year terms on a two-per-state
basis with one-third of the Senate being
elected every two years.
Congress and Legislation

Proposals for legislation must be presented by

a member of Congress.
Although the executive branch prepares
many of the legislative proposals that
Congress considers, Congress is very active
in modifying or rejecting the executives
Congress can override a presidential veto,
but this requires a two-thirds majority in
each body of Congress.
Dividing Power Horizontally: Parliamentary
and Presidential Systems

Parliamentary Systems Presidential Systems

Dual executive (separate head of Single (or unitary) executive:
state and head of government) President is head of state and
Fusion of legislative and executive head of government
powers and personnel in the Separation of executive and
Cabinet legislative personnel
Doctrine of responsible Reciprocal checks and balances
government; on losing a vote of between the executive and
confidence, PM and Cabinet must legislative branches
resign or request early elections No equivalent of the confidence
PM may seek a dissolution of rule
Parliament even though retaining Fixed-date elections for both
support in Parliament branches; President may not
dissolve Congress
Assessing Parliamentary and Presidential
Parliamentary Government Presidential Government

Governments with a stable majority Checks and balances act as

have the capacity to act decisively in safeguard against abuses of power
the public interest by the state
Concentration of power in the cabinet Congress can defeat executive-
clarifies political responsibility sponsored bills without bringing
Non-confidence vote allows for down the government
removal of a government that has lost Looser party discipline allows more
support in parliament scope for representation of local
Excessive power vested in hands of a interests
majority government Absence of dissolution power denies
Stringent party discipline constrains president the means to end
backbench MPs stalemate with congress
Government may be unstable in a Enhances the power of interest
highly fragmented parliament groups at the expense of the public
Fragmentation of power obscures
the lines of political responsibility
Semi-Presidential Systems

A number of countries have adopted

systems of governing involving a mixture of
parliamentary and presidential features,
which are often referred to as semi-
presidential systems.
A semi-presidential system generally features
an elected president sharing executive power
with a prime minister.
France, which adopted this system in 1958,
is the best-known example.
Executive and Legislative Power:
Semi-Presidential System
Unlike the head of state in a parliamentary
system, the president wields substantial powers,
including the power to appoint (and, in some
countries, dismiss) the prime minister.
As well, the president generally has the power (in
some cases with limitations) to dissolve the
legislature and require that an election be held.
As in a parliamentary system, the prime minister
and Cabinet are responsible to an elected
legislative body.