Prime Minister of Canada
|Prime Minister of Canada|
Logo of the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada
|Office of the Prime Minister|
|Style||The Right Honourable|
|Appointer||Governor General of Canada|
|Term length||At Her Majesty's pleasure|
|Inaugural holder||Sir John A. Macdonald|
|Formation||July 1, 1867|
|Salary||$163,700 for being a member of Parliament + $163,700 (CAD) in Prime Ministerial wages for $327,400 total (CAD)|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The Prime Minister of Canada (French: Premier ministre du Canada) is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution. Not outlined in any constitutional document, the office exists only as per long-established convention (originating in Canada's former colonial power, the United Kingdom) that stipulates the monarch's representative, the governor general, must select as prime minister the person most likely to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons; this individual is typically the leader of the political party that holds the largest number of seats in that chamber.[n 1]
The current, and 22nd, Prime Minister of Canada is the Conservative Party's Stephen Harper, who was appointed on February 6, 2006, by Governor General Michaëlle Jean, following the general election that took place that year. Canadian prime ministers are styled as The Right Honourable (French: Le Très Honorable), a privilege maintained for life.
Origin of the office
The position of prime minister is not outlined in any Canadian constitutional document and is mentioned only in passing in the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Letters Patent issued in 1947 by King George VI. The office and its functions are instead governed by constitutional conventions and modelled on the same office in the United Kingdom.
Qualifications and selection
The prime minister, along with the other ministers in cabinet, is appointed by the governor general on behalf of the Queen. However, by the conventions of responsible government, designed to maintain administrative stability, the viceroy will call to form a government the individual most likely to receive the support, or confidence, of a majority of the directly-elected House of Commons; as a practical matter, this is often the leader of a party whose members form a majority, or a very large plurality, of Members of Parliament (MPs). Legally, this may be any citizen of Canada of voting age (18 years and over)—the requirements to gain election to the House of Commons. However, there are no age or citizenship restrictions on the position of prime minister itself, as it is not necessary for the incumbent to be a sitting MP.
In rare circumstances individuals who are not members of the Commons have been appointed prime minister. Two former prime ministers—Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott and Sir Mackenzie Bowell—served in the 1890s while members of the Senate; both, in their roles as Government Leader in the Senate, succeeded prime ministers who died in office (John A. Macdonald in 1891 and John Sparrow David Thompson in 1894), a convention that has since evolved toward the appointment of an interim leader from the Commons in such a scenario.
Prime ministers who are not Members of Parliament upon their appointment (or who lose their seats while in office) have since been expected to seek election to the Commons as soon as possible. For example William Lyon Mackenzie King, after losing his seat in the same general election that his party won, briefly "governed from the hallway" before winning a by-election a few weeks later. Similarly, John Turner replaced Pierre Trudeau as leader of the Liberal Party in 1984 and subsequently was appointed prime minister while not holding a seat in the House of Commons; Turner won a riding in the next election but the Liberal Party was swept from power. Turner was the last sitting prime minister to not hold a Commons seat.
Should a sitting prime minister today lose his seat in the legislature (or should a new prime minister be appointed without holding a seat), the typical process that follows is that a junior member in the governing political party will immediately resign to allow the prime minister to run in the resulting by-election. A safe seat is usually chosen; while the Liberal and now defunct Progressive Conservative parties traditionally observed a convention of not running a candidate against another party's new leader in the by-election, the New Democrats and other smaller parties typically do not follow the same convention. However, if the governing party selects a new leader shortly before an election is due, and that new leader is not a member of the legislature, he or she will normally await the upcoming election before running for a seat in parliament.
In a poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid following the first prorogation of the 40th parliament on December 4, 2008, it was found that 51% of the sample group thought the prime minister was directly elected by Canadians.
Term of office
The Canadian prime minister serves at Her Majesty's pleasure, meaning the post does not have a fixed term. Once appointed and sworn in by the governor general, the prime minister remains in office until he or she resigns, is dismissed, or dies. The lifespan of parliament is limited by the constitution to five years and, though the governor general may still, on the advice of the prime minister, dissolve parliament and issue the writs of election prior to the date mandated by the Canada Elections Act; the King-Byng Affair was the only time since Confederation that the viceroy deemed it necessary to refuse his prime minister's request for a general vote.
Following parliamentary dissolution, the prime minister must run in the resulting general election if he or she wishes to maintain a seat in the House of Commons. Should the prime minister's party subsequently win a majority of seats in the House of Commons, it is unnecessary to re-appoint the prime minister or again swear him or her into office. If, however, an opposition party wins a majority of seats, the prime minister may resign or be dismissed by the governor general. Should the prime minister's party achieve a minority while an opposition party wins a plurality (i.e., more seats than any other party but less than a majority), the prime minister can attempt to maintain the confidence of the House by forming a coalition with other minority parties. This option was last entertained in 1925.
Because the prime minister is, in practice, the most politically powerful member of the Canadian government, he or she is sometimes erroneously referred to as Canada's head of state,[n 2] when, in fact, that post is held by the Canadian monarch, represented by the governor general. The prime minister is, instead, the head of government, and is responsible for advising the Crown on how to exercise the Royal Prerogative and its executive powers, which are governed by the constitution and its conventions. However, the function of the prime minister has evolved with increasing power. Today, as per the doctrines of constitutional monarchy, the advice given by the prime minister is ordinarily binding, meaning the prime minister effectively carries out those duties ascribed to the sovereign and/or governor general, leaving the latter to act in predominantly ceremonial fashions. As such, the prime minister, supported by the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), controls the appointments of many key figures in Canada's system of governance, including the governor general, the Cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, senators, heads of crown corporations, ambassadors to foreign countries, the provincial lieutenant governors, and approximately 3,100 other positions. Further, the prime minister plays a prominent role in the legislative process—with the majority of bills put before parliament originating in the Cabinet—and the leadership of the Canadian Forces.
Pierre Trudeau is credited with, throughout his tenure as prime minister between 1968 and 1984, consolidating power in the PMO, which is itself filled by political and administrative staff selected at the prime minister's discretion. At the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, analysts—such as Jeffrey Simpson, Donald Savoie, and John Gomery—argued that both parliament and the Cabinet had become eclipsed by prime ministerial power. Indeed, the position has been described as undergoing a "presidentialisation", to the point that its incumbents publicly outshine the actual head of state; former governor general Adrienne Clarkson alluded to what she saw as "an unspoken rivalry" that had developed between the prime minister and the Crown. Savoie quoted an anonymous minister from the Liberal Party as saying Cabinet had become "a kind of focus group for the Prime Minister," while Simpson called cabinet a "mini-sounding board".[n 3] It has been theorised that such is the case in Canada as its parliament is less influential on the executive than in other countries with Westminster parliamentary systems; particularly, Canada has fewer MPs, a higher turnover rate of MPs after each election, and an Americanised system for selecting political party leaders, leaving them accountable to the party membership rather than caucus, as is the case in the United Kingdom.
There do exist checks on the prime minister's power: parliament may revoke its confidence in an incumbent prime minister; cabinet or caucus revolts can quickly bring down a sitting premier, and even mere threats of such action can persuade and/or compel a prime minister to resign his post, as happened with Jean Chrétien; the Senate may delay or impede legislation put forward by the Cabinet, such as when Brian Mulroney's bill creating the Goods and Services Tax (GST) came before the upper chamber; and, given Canada's federal nature, the jurisdiction of the federal government is limited to areas prescribed by the constitution. Further, as executive power is constitutionally vested in the monarch, meaning the Royal Prerogative belongs to the Crown and not to any of its ministers, the sovereign's supremacy over the prime minister in the constitutional order is thus seen as a "rebuff to the pretensions of the elected: As it has been said, when the Prime Minister bows before the Queen, he bows before us [the Canadian people]." Either the sovereign or his or her viceroy may therefore oppose the prime minister's will in extreme, crisis situations.[n 4] Near the end of her time as governor general, Adrienne Clarkson stated: "My constitutional role has lain in what are called 'reserve powers': making sure that there is a prime minister and a government in place, and exercising the right 'to encourage, to advise, and to warn'[...] Without really revealing any secrets, I can tell you that I have done all three."
Two official residences are provided to the prime minister—24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa and Harrington Lake, a country retreat in Gatineau Park—as well an office in the Langevin Block, across from Parliament Hill. For transportation, the prime minister is granted an armoured car and shared use of two official aircraft—a CC-150 Polaris for international flights and a Challenger 601 for domestic trips. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also furnish constant personal security for the prime minister and his or her family. All of the aforementioned is supplied by the Queen-in-Council through budgets approved by parliament, as is the prime minister's annual salary of CAD$163,700 Only about half of this income is specific to the role of prime minister, the remainder being the normal salary of a Member of Parliament.
Should a sitting or former prime minister die, he or she is accorded a state funeral, wherein their casket lies in state in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. Only Mackenzie Bowell and the Viscount Bennett were given private funerals, Bennett also being the only former Prime Minister of Canada to die and be buried outside the country and Bowell the only whose funeral was not attended by politicians. John Thompson also died outside Canada, at Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria permitted his lying-in-state before his body was returned to Canada for a state funeral in Halifax.
In earlier years, it was traditional for the monarch to bestow a knighthood on newly appointed Canadian prime ministers. Accordingly, several carried the prefix Sir before their name; of the first eight premiers of Canada, only Alexander Mackenzie refused the honour of a knighthood from Queen Victoria. Following the 1919 Nickle Resolution, however, it was against non-binding policy for the sovereign to grant such honorific titles to Canadians; the last prime minister to be knighted was Sir Robert Borden, who was premier at the time the Nickle Resolution was debated in the House of Commons. Still, Richard Bennett was in 1941, six years after he stepped down as prime minister, elevated to the peerage by King George VI as Viscount Bennett, of Mickleham in the County of Surrey and of Calgary and Hopewell in the Dominion of Canada.
The Canadian Heraldic Authority (CHA) has granted former prime ministers an augmentation of honour on the personal coat of arms of those who pursued them. The heraldic badge, referred to by the CHA as the mark of the Prime Ministership of Canada, consists of four red maple leaves joined at the stem on a white field ("Argent four maple leaves conjoined in cross at the stem Gules"); the augmentation has, so far, been granted either as a canton sinister or centred in the chief. To date, former prime ministers Joe Clark, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, and Kim Campbell were granted arms with the augmentation.
Style of address
Canada continues the Westminster tradition of using the title Prime Minister when one is speaking to the federal head of government directly; this is in contrast to the United States protocol of addressing the federal head of government as mister (as in, Mister President). The written form of address for the prime minister should use his or her full parliamentary title: The Right Honourable [name], [post-nominal letters], Prime Minister of Canada. However, while in the House of Commons during Question Period, other members of parliament may address the prime minister as The Right Honourable, Member for [prime minister's riding] or simply The Right Honourable Prime Minister. Former prime ministers retain the prefix The Right Honourable for the remainder of their lives; should they remain sitting MPs, they may be referred as The Right Honourable Member for [member's riding] or by their portfolio title (if appointed to one), as in The Right Honourable Minister of National Defence.
In the decades following Confederation, it was common practice to refer to the prime minister as Premier of Canada, a custom that continued until the First World War, around the time of Robert Borden's premiership. While contemporary sources will still speak of early prime ministers of Canada as premier, the modern practice is such that the federal head of government is known almost exclusively as the prime minister, while the provincial heads of government are termed premiers (save for within Quebec and New Brunswick, where the premiers are addressed in French as Premier ministre du [province], literally translated as Prime Minister of [province]).
After exiting office, former prime ministers of Canada have engaged in various pursuits. Some remained in politics: Mackenzie Bowell continued to serve as a senator; R. B. Bennett moved to the United Kingdom after being elevated to the House of Lords; and a number led Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Canadian parliament: John A. Macdonald, Arthur Meighen, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Pierre Trudeau, all before being re-appointed as premier (Mackenzie King twice); Alexander Mackenzie and John Diefenbaker, both prior to sitting as regular Members of Parliament until their deaths; Wilfrid Laurier dying while still in the post; and Charles Tupper, Louis St. Laurent, and John Turner, each before they returned to private business. Meighen was also appointed to the Senate following his second period as prime minister, but resigned his seat to seek re-election and moved to private enterprise after failing to win a riding. Following Meighen into civilian life were: Robert Borden, who served as Chancellor of Queen's and McGill Universities, as well as working in the financial sector; Lester B. Pearson, who acted as Chancellor of Carleton University; Joe Clark and Kim Campbell, who became university professors, Clark also consultant and Campbell working in international diplomacy and as the director of private companies and chairperson of interest groups; while Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien returned to legal practice. Former prime ministers also commonly penned autobiographies—Tupper, for example—or published their memoirs—such as Diefenbaker and Paul Martin.
- Historical rankings of Canadian prime ministers
- List of Prime Ministers of Canada
- Prime Ministers of Canada in popular culture
- List of books about Prime Ministers of Canada
- List of Prime Ministers of Queen Victoria
- List of Prime Ministers of King Edward VII
- List of Prime Ministers of King George V
- List of Prime Ministers of King George VI
- List of Prime Ministers of Queen Elizabeth II
- See majority and plurality.
- A 2008 Ipsos-Reid poll found 42% of respondents thought the prime minister was head of state.
- Savoie offered the critique: "Cabinet has now joined Parliament as an institution being bypassed. Real political debate and decision-making are increasingly elsewhere—in federal-provincial meetings of first ministers, on Team Canada flights, where first ministers can hold informal meetings, in the Prime Minister's Office, in the Privy Council Office, in the Department of Finance, and in international organizations and international summits. There is no indication that the one person who holds all the cards, the prime minister, and the central agencies which enable him to bring effective political authority to the centre, are about to change things. The Canadian prime minister has little in the way of institutional check, at least inside government, to inhibit his ability to have his way."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prime ministers of Canada.|
- Official government Web site of the Office of the Prime Minister
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- Library of Parliament of Canada
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