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Chapter 8: How Parliamentary Government Works in Canada

CBC Archives

The Place of the Monarchy in Canada's Government
The British monarchy as embodied by Queen Elizabeth II sits atop Canada's constitutional structure. It is from this authority that the power of all institutions of government is derived. As such, the Queen has tremendous symbolic significance. In this report we see a formally attired Queen address Canadians as part of a solemn centennial ceremony on Parliament Hill, July 1st, 1967.

Clarkson as Activist Governor General
The monarchy's position in Canada's government is mostly symbolic. But there are times when the Queen's representative, the governor general, has to make decisions affecting the functions of Canada's institutions of governance.  For example, the governor general has the power to suspend or dissolve Parliament. Some governor generals take a more active role politically than others. One of the more active governor generals was Adrienne Clarkson, the first governor general of Japanese origin.  In this clip from The National of Clarkson's inaugural speech she makes several references to her immigrant heritage, speaking of her family arriving in Canada as refugees in 1942 after the fall of Hong Kong.

Clark Government Falls on Budget
In Canada's system of government, a prime minister must maintain the confidence of the House of Commons—this means that if a prime minister is defeated on an important piece of legislation, he or she has lost confidence and usually must resign and call an election.  This is what happened to Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1979.  With three Tories of 136 out of the House (in hospital and overseas) and five Social Credit abstentions, Clark was up against 112 Liberals and all 27 NDP members. His government was brought down, 139-133. Not seven months after he became prime minister, Clark was hitting the hustings once more after he saw the governor general to dissolve Parliament.

Sheila Fraser as an Independent Auditor of Government Spending
Canada's auditor general is tasked with holding the federal government accountable for its stewardship of public funds. Senior civil servants broke "just about every rule in the book," Auditor General Sheila Fraser comments in this news conference. Fraser examined three contracts worth $1.6 million awarded in the so-called sponsorship scandal. She described government handling of contracts as "appalling" and "unacceptable," and called in the RCMP to investigate. The office of the auditor general is an example of a non-elected institution of Canadian governance.

Policy Implementation: The Auto Pact
A signing ceremony like this one from January, 1965, attracts all the attention but most of the work leading up to an agreement such as the Auto Pact is done by civil servants behind the scenes.  Here we see Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and President Lyndon B. Johnson formally agree to a limited free trade agreement formally called the Canada–United States Automotive Products Agreement, or the Auto Pact. It is an example of the administrative state at its most active: formulating a broad policy initiative with ramifications for years to come. Indeed, the Auto Pact remained in place until 2001 when it was abolished. 

CRTC and Canadian Content
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is one of the more visible examples of the administrative state. Among other tasks, the CRTC regulates Canada's broadcasting airwaves through, for example, stipulating how much Canadian music must be played on radio. As we learn in this report, these Canadian Content (Can-Con) regulations infuriated rocker Bryan Adams when his hit ballad "Everything I Do" was deemed non-Canadian by CRTC bureaucrats.

Cutting Canada's Deficit
Keeping Canada's finances in order is one of the most important responsibilities of government. In this report, Finance Minister Paul Martin declares his commitment to reduce Canada's deficit from the $46 billion at which it stands in 1993. He unveils his plan to eradicate the deficit at a Montreal business school.

TVO's The Agenda

Mosaic versus the Crown?
Canada is a Commonwealth nation. Will a more ethnically diverse Canada feel less connected to the Crown? Or does the House of Windsor embody universal values? Steve Paikin talks to Akaash Maharaj and Donald Blair about their views on the monarchy.