It is curious, and frustrating, that provincial school curricula across Canada never seem to adequately instruct children on how our country works or is supposed to work! Consequently, generations of Canadians lack a basic understanding of who is supposed to be doing what in keeping our country strong and free.
Canada is a federal constitutional monarchy with the Queen as head of state. At the federal level, laws are made by either the House of Commons or the Senate—although only money (tax) bills can originate in the House of Commons, supposedly in accordance with the wishes of the public and approved by both chambers. Once approved, the legislation is signed, without controversy, by the governor general, who provides the Royal Assent, and the bill then becomes law. If the law later comes into dispute, the courts are required to interpret or clarify the law. That’s the theory. The reality is considerably different. The following outlines how key institutions and expectations surrounding the nature and function of Canadian government have been seriously undermined and degraded over the last 60 years to a point that it has entirely changed the culture and values of Canada.
How Canada Actually Works
The Queen Is the Head of State
The Queen is the head of state, but a figurehead only. When she is absent from Canada (which is almost always), the governor general is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister, to represent her. Because the Queen serves as the head of state, her image appears on our currency, stamps, and allegiance is pledged to her, her heirs and successors.
The Governor General’s Role
The governor general’s role is to represent the Queen, to unify the country, and represents stability and continuity.
The essential job of the governor general is to be apolitical and to welcome, respect and support the traditions of Canada. The governor general carries out duties which, at times, may be tedious, but are useful in that they tie the country together in a way that is above politics. These duties include, among others things: reading the Speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament: providing Royal Assent to legislation; serving as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces; at the request of the Prime Minster, hosting foreign dignitaries and visiting other countries; receiving the credentials of foreign ambassadors; and greeting and awarding Canadian organizations and individuals for their service to the country.
This system rests on the principle that the governor general does not get involved in politics. However, there is an exception to this. This occurs when the prime minister requests the governor general to either prorogue (close down) Parliament so that a new session of Parliament can be initiated, or dissolve Parliament so that an election may be held before the statutory requirement of an election every four years has elapsed.
The decision by the governor general regarding a request of dissolution can be controversial should the governor general, instead of agreeing to the prime minister’s request to dissolve Parliament, decide to call on the leader of the opposition to form a new government. This occurred in 1926 and led to the so called “constitutional crisis” known as the King-Byng Affair.
In the October 1925 election, Arthur Meighen and the Conservative Party won 116 seats in the House of Commons to the 101 seats won by the Liberals under King. Not surprisingly, Meighen declared victory, but King refused to resign. Instead, King formed an alliance with the western-based Progressive Party, who had won 22 seats, to maintain a Liberal minority government and thus, King remained in power.
It did not take long for King’s minority government to become embroiled in yet another scandal known as the Customs Scandal, fuelled by one of King’s appointees in the Department of Customs and Excise taking bribes. Soon, allegations of corruption were made implicating the highest levels of the federal government, including King himself. In a supreme example of tone deafness, King recommended that Byng appoint the disgraced Minister of Customs to the Senate. Not surprisingly, this placed strains on King’s alliance with the Progressive Party who were already having second thoughts about supporting the Liberal government.
As the scandal deepened, King sought to avoid a censure of Parliament and a vote of non-confidence by seeking a dissolution of Parliament and a new round of elections. Governor General Byng declined the request.
King was eventually “forced” to resign at the end of June, 1926, and Meighen went on to form a Conservative minority government that lasted only until July 2 before being defeated and another election was call for September of 1926.
The election of September 1926 was framed by King and the Liberals as a “constitutional crisis” as to whether a British governor general could interfere with the rights of Canadians to govern themselves. The Liberals only won a plurality of seats in that election, 116, however, short of the 123 seats needed for a majority government. It did, however, form another minority government with the support of eight Liberal-Progressives members. Interestingly, the Conservatives won the popular vote at 45.35% to the Liberal’s 42.9% in that election. The governor general, Lord Byng, returned to Britain at the end of 1926. He was then appointed to the House of Lords with the rank of viscount, mirroring Britain’s confidence in his judgement. Since then, the governor general has never refused to grant a prime minister’s request.
Decrease in Support for the Role of Governor General
Canada has arguably had bad luck, especially in the last 20 years, with governors general, such as Adrienne Clarkson, Michäelle Jean, and Julie Payette. These three failed in the role because of the perception that they regarded serving Canada as secondary to the advantages the position provided to them, which includes a $150,000 annual pension for life, and a $206,000 annual expense account for life, for which sum they did not have to give account.
The unfortunate attitude of these former governors general to their role has contributed to a decrease in support for the role of governor general and the monarchy in Canada. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted February 11 to 16, 2021, 43% of Canadians believe the role of the governor general should be eliminated and 50% do not support the Queen as head of state. Incidentally, that poll also found that 65% believe that the financial benefits for the governor general were far too generous!
There are many problems with removing the Office of the Governor General, including the politicization of the role of head of state and the balance of, and checks on, government power. These problems were very much in focus when Australia considered removing the monarchy as head of state in 1999. At that time, a referendum was held on whether Australia should cease to be a constitutional monarchy and become a republic. Australians rejected the removal of the monarchy by a 54.9% vote because of the problem they had with replacing the Queen as head of state by way of a president. No one wanted a politician, either a former or current one, to fill the role, but no one else seemed appropriate. As a result, Australia remains a constitutional monarchy today.
Canada’s Constitutional Base – The Separation of Powers Between the Federal and Provincial Governments
Canada’s primary Constitution is the British North America Act (BNA Act) passed in 1867, which sets the framework for the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government and exhaustively sets out the legislative responsibilities of the federal and the provincial governments.
Section 91 of the BNA Act provides that the federal government has, among other powers, the responsibility for: trade and commerce; postal service; banking; military; navigation and shipping; fisheries; Indigenous people (and land reserved for them); criminal law; currency and coinage; and the definition of marriage (the constitution of a valid marriage) and divorce.
Section 92 of the BNA Act sets out the responsibilities of the provinces, which among other powers, includes: health care (including hospitals and long-term care facilities); municipalities; licensing of businesses; the solemnization of marriage (procedures as to licencing and performing a marriage); property rights and civil rights (which include human rights) in the province; and social services, such as childcare, welfare programs, etc.
There is, however, a twist written in section 91 of the BNA Act (responsibilities of the federal government) which has caused controversy over the years. This refers to the provision in section 91 which states that the federal Parliament may make laws for the Peace, Order, and Good Government (referred to as the POGG Clause), on all matters that do not come within the Classes of Subjects assigned by the BNA Act exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces in section 92.
Over the years, federal governments have used the POGG clause to impose controversial policies on Canadians; these include: control of alcohol; conscription during World Wars I and II; wage and price controls; rent control; and the War Measures Act. More recently, Justin Trudeau used the POGG clause to impose a carbon tax on the provinces to the fury of some of the provinces. The federal carbon tax is presently before the Supreme Court of Canada for deliberation.
Federal Provincial Agreements
Canada is a federal state, wherein legislative authority, and hence political power, is divided between a federal government and its provincial counterparts. Canadian federalism has always been a process of give and take – usually the provinces giving up jurisdiction (and hence power) and the federal government taking it. Over the years, this process of Canadian government has been known by many names such as Co-operative Federalism, Executive Federalism, Fiscal Federalism, or Conciliar Federalism. No matter what name given, it is about managing the inevitable tensions between centralization and decentralization.
There have been occasions when provincial governments have willingly agreed to allow the federal government to assume responsibility over a provincial matter because, not to put too fine a point on it, the federal government has the monetary resources. This occurred in regard to our national health insurance plan, the Medical Care Act passed in 1966. In reaching this agreement to allow the federal government to assume this responsibility, the provinces accepted, in return, federal transfer payments to pay their costs in administering this health plan.
There are many problems with the national health care plan, the least of which is the fact that he who pays the piper calls the tune. In other words, federal funding of provincial health care systems invariably leads to federal control over a matter which is, by definition, a provincial matter.
On February 4, 2021, Trudeau indicated he was committed to providing a framework for national standards for long-term care facilities (LTC) in Canada, which are a provincial responsibility. He did so expressing impatience and frustration with the patchwork of regulations that were being applied across the country on LTCs and the alleged provincial “foot dragging” in respect to them. The LTCs are important to the provinces, however, since they have to be aligned to provincial health priorities and to the geographic diversity of the population. Trudeau claimed he had authority for the takeover of the provincial LTCs under the Canada Health Act. The Act requires there be equality of health care across Canada.
It is doubtful however, that the responsibility of LTCs in federal hands will improve the situation. The federal government has recently offered more evidence that supports its reputation for incompetence in its handling of health care issues. The delayed availability of the COVID-19 “vaccine” is an example. Another example is Trudeau’s failure to provide clean water and decent housing on Indigenous reserves despite his often-repeated concern and respect for the indigenous people.
Universal Child Care
In November 2020, the Trudeau government announced that it intended to establish a national, universal childcare program. Consequently, Canadians will soon see federal Development Minister Ahmed Hussen hustling across the country trying to negotiate a deal with the provinces to establish such a program.
It is apparent Trudeau is intent on extending his powers by power grabs over provincial matters. We should ask, is this to the advantage of Canadians?
The Charter of Rights (1982)
The Charter of Rights changed everything in Canada. It came into existence by way of calculated misinformation, parliamentary manipulation, and a deliberate failure to disclose to the public the true facts about the effect of the Charter on Canadian democracy. The major change the Charter has introduced is that Parliament no longer has the final say on laws, but instead, the final arbiter of laws is the unelected judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. Not only the Supreme Court, but all the courts now have the power to revise, amend, or dismiss the laws passed by Parliament if the judges believe that such laws are contrary to their own interpretation of what the Charter allows or requires.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau deliberately misled the public during the Charter debate by claiming that the Charter would only enshrine historical rights for Canadians, which would no longer be subject to removal by a government. This explanation was nonsense. Canadians have always had rights (such as, freedom of speech, opinion, right to a fair trial, religion, etc.) acquired over the centuries, and these were not diminished in any way before we had the Charter. Similarly, Britain has never had a Charter of Rights but has experienced no elimination of rights. Canadians were gravely misled on the Charter. Unfortunately, most Canadians at that time (as they are today) were unsure of constitutional powers, procedures and rights, and as a result, there was little backlash over Trudeau’s imperious imposition of the Charter. Trudeau’s desire to alter Canada’s form of government has produced a dramatically different country, unlike what it was prior 1982.
Canada on Uncharted Waters
As a result of the Charter, Canada embarked on uncharted waters, whereby two of the traditional pillars of democracy – the judiciary and parliament – were fundamentally changed. They were undermined and manipulated by the political elites to such an extent that these institutions no longer exist for the public’s benefit and the common good, but for the interest of these elites. The result of the changes in these institutions is that the public’s role in government has been reduced to being a mere spectator in setting our country’s values and culture. Canada is no longer a democracy, since power under the Charter has been transferred to a handful of unelected judges who solely decide policies and for which they are not held accountable.
The Parliament buildings in Ottawa are magnificent. Their presence reflects the history of Canada, its successes, and sufferings. The buildings are presently undergoing extensive renovations which will continue for the next ten years, costing billions of dollars. No matter how beautiful these buildings, however, they are now only an empty shell and meaningless in the conducting of our national affairs. In short, their presence has become a showcase only, or pretence, that our government is a functioning democracy. It is not.
This is because Parliament has been largely crippled and rendered ineffective by the consistent and continuing centralization of power, control and privilege in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Privy Council Office (PCO), i.e. bureaucracy. The tight control of the government by the PMO even prevents cabinet ministers from choosing their own staff, who are selected instead by the PMO and the PCO, to enable the latter to be quickly alerted to any deviation from policies and instructions developed by the PMO, its political staff and senior bureaucrats.
This perverse situation began with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who began centralizing power in the PMO when first elected in 1969. This system has continued under successive prime ministers, both Liberal and Conservative. The result is that the PMO today enjoys almost total political/policy control in Canada. The opposition party leaders and their advisors have also become more powerful under this system as the cult of the leader has overtaken individual MP accountability and independence.
The Exclusion of MPs
Responsibilities have been removed from the elected Members of Parliament who are now obliged to support a system whereby the decisions are all made by party leaders and their advisors. This is unlike the U.K. Parliament, whose elected members are still somewhat independent, with only a few exceptions and vote according to their conscience, and represent the views of their constituents. In contrast, the Canadian MPs’ very existence is dependent upon the party elites since the party leader approves all nominations regardless of the wishes of the constituents in the riding. Further, an MP who publicly criticizes the party’s policies can be peremptorily removed from the caucus and denied the nomination in the next election, thus ending his or her political career.
Precisely 17% (1122) of the more than 6600 federal candidates for nomination from 2003-2015 faced contested nomination races, 2778 did not, while 2700 candidates were directly appointed by the political party. This creates a strong disconnect between the public and its representative in Parliament.
Further, the House of Commons’ committee chairs and vice-chairs are appointed by the party leaders, not by the committee itself, as was formerly the case. MPs must also vote on the committees as ordered by the party leader regardless of the MP’s conscience or the views of the constituents which he/she is supposed to represent.
Speaker of the House of Commons
The role of the Speaker in the House of Commons has also been severely restricted in recent years. The Speaker of the House of Commons formerly had the responsibility, during Question Period, to recognize the MPs who wished to speak on topics of their own choosing. The Speaker today, however, is required to accept the list of speakers provided by party house leaders on issues previously selected entirely by the party elites and their advisors. The MP must read the prepared statement, without deviation, provided by the party leader’s office.
As a result of these practices, individual MPs are denied the opportunity to address issues in Parliament on matters of concern to themselves or to their constituents. Indeed, the public’s voice is not heard in Parliament at all today. The MPs’ role has been largely limited to addressing matters relating to the constituents’ pension, passport, and immigration concerns and providing a rubber stamp for all party decisions.
- The Judiciary
Since the Charter of Rights came into effect in 1982, the judiciary has become the most powerful institution in Canadian history. The Charter of Rights has been used by the judiciary as a tool to achieve power which has dramatically changed Canada’s culture and values, causing Canada to become one of the most left-wing, “progressive” nations in the world. The judiciary has done so by rejecting laws based on time-tested Judeo-Christian principles, according to which Canada had previously flourished. Instead, the judiciary has created new laws, not by making decisions based on objective facts, scientific evidence, and long-established legal principles, but rather, based on their own personal ideology and perspective.
The court’s manipulation and abuse of the Charter to increase its own power and influence, was contrary to the clear intention of the drafters of the Charter. Instead, judges have thrown aside judicial restraint, abandoned legal precedent and used, as the basis for their judgments, their own personal perspective to make laws which they arrogantly believe are preferable to those passed by Parliament.
The truth is that judges have no special or inscrutable knowledge, or ability to make decisions on public policy. The Charter cases it hears are based on the narrow arguments of the litigants which all too frequently are based on the wishful-thinking and agenda of individuals or organizations which have the financial clout to bring such costly litigation forward.
Judges are further limited by the fact that, unlike Parliament, they do not have access to all the social facts relevant to the issue before them; they do not have the luxury of time or the facilities to adequately reflect on or publicly debate issues; and they do not have free access to research facilities available to parliamentarians. Nor do they have the powers or institutional competence to make full and public inquiries as do parliamentary committees. Judges also lack knowledge about alternative policy options, and do not have access to the practical experience and views of the public and elected representatives on issues which are increasingly complex, economically, socially, and scientifically. In short, although judges are well-educated and well-connected, they do not have the background, understanding or competence to make public policy decisions, which they are now so freely doing, and for which they are not held accountable.
The problems we face today in Canada today are not new. For thousands of years, ever since the rise of the Greek city-state, politics has been about the exercise of power and how best to limit that power to avoid the excesses of tyranny. That is as true for the times of Socrates and Plato as it is for our own day—some things never change!
Canada has a heritage developed over the millennia which has established that the only legitimate exercise of government power rests on the consent of the governed. This is called “Responsible Government.”
Unfortunately, in 2021, “Responsible Government” has become all but impossible to recognize, let alone realize, because of the insidious changes in Parliament and the judiciary. As a result, Canada has become a country which many Canadians no longer recognize or even like. It has become a country in which many Canadians feel they are strangers, and no longer are a part of its future. In short, today many Canadians simply feel disenfranchised and alienated—while they may work, live, and pay taxes here, they are not a part of the country’s destiny.
Canada’s domestic malaise carries over to our foreign standing as many now regard Canada as having lost its ability to carry its weight, internationally being regarded as unserious and without gravitas. Bluntly stated, we are regarded as a nation of fools (and perhaps we are) because of our apparent miscalculation of the real world and our infantile obsession of seeing that world through the rose-coloured lens of liberal fantasy.
The hard reality is that the vast major of policy decisions currently being made in Canada are in the hands of the liberal, progressive Laurentian Elite, consisting of those mainly educated and living within the Montreal–Ottawa–Toronto Triangle. It is this small group of elites who are controlling our nation’s destiny and ensuring that Central Canada remains the focus of power and influence. They insist that Canadians (whom they believe are not as knowledgeable as they) must follow their decrees as the only correct and sustainable path to Canada’s future.
Although the Laurentian Elite presently controls the levers of power, it does not understand that many Canadians do not respect them or their ideas. More Canadians are beginning to “think outside the box” and come to different conclusions than their Laurentian Masters, leaving the Laurentian Elite in increasing isolation in a bubble of its own conceit. It’s time to finally burst the bubble of that conceit, reclaim our political heritage and, through education and engagement, return Responsible Government to Canada.
 For a more detailed account of the judiciary’s role in Canada’s government, see From Democracy to Judicial Dictatorship in Canada: The Untold Story of the Charter of Rights by C. G. Landolt, P. Redmond, and D. Alderson, (2018) available at Amazon.ca.