Canadian Political Structure

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Primus inter pares ? What are the sources and the limits of the power of the Prime Minister?

Primus inter pares… Latin phrase meaning 'the first among equals' or 'first among peers'. The title was also used by Caesar Augustus to hide behind the fact that even though the Senate of Rome was officially governing the Roman Republic, he in practice retained his autocratic power like his predecessors had done.

Which of these definitions should we take for Prime Minister of Canada?

What are the powers of the Prime Minister? What are the limits to this power?

We will see that the powers of the Prime Minister come from the constitution, from making nominations, from being able to call elections. We will also look at the powers that reside in the cabinet system. We will then try and look at some of the limits of this power, and describe how some of these limits can actually be cancelled or reversed


When one looks at the Canadian Constitution, there does not seem to be any mention of the prime minister except for section 49 of the 1982 act which talks about a Constitutional conference that the Prime Minister will need to have with the premiers of the provinces to discuss the changes to the constitution. (White 1998, p.313)

But if one looks more closely at the Act of 1867, or if one reads between the lines, one can see in the first paragraphs that it mentions “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom” (White 1998, p.277) This, along with sections 11 to 14 indirectly means that Canada will have a Westminster Parliamentary System and that Canada will adopt a system with a Prime Minister and a Cabinet and a Privy Council.

Britain already had many years of experience about what the prime minister’s d...

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...e, Jean Chrétien. Montreal: Lanctot Editeur, 2002.

Levine, Allan Gerald. Scrum wars: the prime ministers and the media. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1993.

Massicotte, Louis. "L’annonce de Jean Chrétien - La démission forcée d’un premier ministre, les précédents." le devoir, 7 avril 2010.

Savoie, Donald. Governing from the center. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

—. Power: Where is it ? Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010.

Simpson, Jeffrey. The Friendly Dictatorship. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001.

Spector, Norman. "prorogation jean chretien did it too." The Globe and Mail, january 9, 2010.

Thomas, Paul G. "Governing from the center: Reconceptualizing the role of the PM and the Cabinet." Policy Options, dec 2003-jan 2004: 79-85.

White, Walter. Introduction to Canadian Politics and Government 7th edition. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1998.
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