Canada is both a
constitutional monarchy and a representative democracy.
This seeming contradiction actually serves to divide
authority between the federal and provincial governments and
appointed representatives of the British monarch.
Neither political parties nor the Queen’s representatives
can wield absolute power.
monarchies, the reigning monarch appoints representatives to each
government. The Canadian Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, is
represented in Parliament and each provincial Assembly by a governor
general and lieutenant governors, respectively.
These representatives give Royal Assent to bills passed in
the House of Commons and each Legislature.
While the governors can withhold this approval, rarely have
they exercised this power. They
may also dissolve Parliament or the Assembly, or they may dismiss
the government when it loses the confidence of the majority of its
each government must work to achieve consensus among its members to
stay in power.
democracies, members are elected to represent each constituency.
The party with the most elected members forms the government.
Their leader, in Canada the Prime Minister or Premier, is the Head of
leaders do not hold power themselves, although the cabinets to which
they belong share executive powers with the governor general and
lieutenant governors. They
derive this power symbolically from the reigning monarch.
Thus, we still refer to each cabinet as the "Queen’s Privy
Council" and their leaders as the "Queen’s First Ministers".
In the late 1930’s, when
William Aberhart was Premier of Alberta, Lieutenant Governor John
Bowen exercised his power to refuse Royal Assent to certain bills
deemed to be unconstitutional.
The Lieutenant Governor "reserved" Royal Assent to other
bills for the Governor General to consider.
Aberhart was essentially running a "one-man government",
and many Social Credit MLAs opposed his leadership.
In response, Bowen dissolved the legislature before the 1937 spring
session was to end. Normally, this would have led to the
Premier's resignation; however, Aberhart was able to appease the
dissidents by assigning them to the new Social Credit Board.
While Aberhart was allowed to continue, the lieutenant governor and
Social Credit MLAs demonstrated that he could not act
unilaterally without their approval.
governors in Alberta have not had to intervene as Bowen did in the
late 1930's to restore order to government. They continue to epitomize the monarch’s power,
though customarily, they act on the government’s behalf.
The Speech from the
Throne, delivered by the Queen’s
representatives at the opening of each session, is actually written
by the government. They
formally approve "orders-in-council" for all executive acts each
cabinet proposes. Their
power is mostly symbolic, entrenched in the traditions of