“Canada’s time-honoured system of responsible government is failing us. This principle, by which the executive must be accountable to the people’s elected. Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, and Lori Turnbull. Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Respon- sible Government, reviewed by Dave Snow, Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government (Toronto: Emond Montgomery, ), .

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Reforming Responsible Government book review. This is a strong claim, but not a new one. For example, on dissolution, Eugene Forsey and other scholars have suggested that if a prime minister requested a dissolution not long after a general election perhaps within six months the governor general, based on the reserve powers of the office, could refuse the request and invite the leader of the opposition to try to obtain the auxoin of the House of Commons.

Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government

Others dispute what is sometimes seen as a lesson of the King-Byng crisis of and take the view that the governor general does not have such discretion. Less than two months after the October 14,election, the three opposition parties issued a public written declaration of nonconfidence in the Harper government.

On December 8, Harper requested constirution prorogation of the House of Commons. The governor general agreed to his request, and the prorogation was in effect until January 26, In the interim, the three-party agreement fell apart, and a nonconfidence vote was not introduced when the House returned.


Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government (book review) – Policy Options

The tactic succeeded because, in the absence of a clear consensus about what the governor general should do, she was obliged to accede to the request. Trenchant writing, such as in the passage just quoted, makes this book a livelier read than the title might suggest.

The authors nevertheless sometimes slightly overplay their hand. Certain countervailing forces, such as the work of some of the officers of Parliament, are discussed. But the treatment is selective. For example, the auditor general is hardly mentioned.

The authors conclude by presenting a constitition argued reform agenda. Although they also address certain aspects of House of Commons procedure and the powers of party leaders, they devote more attention to outlining four reforms intended to alleviate the ambiguity about ” and potential abuse of ” constitutional conventions. There should be a requirement that the House of Commons be summoned with 30 days of a general election and not delayed for several months, as occurred in The fixed election legislation adopted in should be amended to require a two-thirds majority vote in order to dissolve Parliament for an election earlier than the date set in law.


Some of these changes would alter the power of the governor general. To have legal effect, they would therefore require a constitutional amendment approved by Parliament and all the provincial legislative assemblies.

This makes a certain amount of sense, but prior conditions need to be met: Who will champion the changes destined to alleviate the ambiguity surrounding the constitutional conventions they analyze so thoughtfully? How can party leaders even the opposition leader, who may expect to become qucoin minister be persuaded to give up such powers?

It is not cynical, only realistic, to ask these questions. After decades of trying to reform various political institutions, including the Senate and the electoral system though not at the federal leveladvocates of even modest changes to our democratic institutions are rare.

We should nevertheless applaud this engaged, and engaging, contribution to public debate on these issues. I shall close on a personal note.

The authors were awarded the Donner Prize for costitution, awarded annually to the best public-policy book written by a Canadian. Skip to content Policy Options. Leslie Seidle June 1, Contact Us irpp irpp. Subscribe to our newsletter.