The Right to Refuse First Ministers’ Advice as a Democratic Reform

Tyler Chamberlain




Recent years have seen a rise in concern over excessive power of the Canadian Prime Minister Office.  One area of note is the potential to abuse the prerogative power to advise the dissolution, prorogation, or summoning of parliament.  This paper will review and evaluate two solutions – fixed election dates and codified conventions – before proposing and defending an alternative solution, namely strengthening the Crown’s right to refuse advice of First Ministers.  This solution will be presented via Eugene Forsey’s Classic Theory of Parliamentary Government, which conceives of the Governor General as the guardian of parliament against the forces of centralization motivating the PM and cabinet.  Such a conception, I will demonstrate, allows us to see how an empowered Governor General could serve as an effective check against the potential partisan misuse of the executive prerogative powers.

The final section will reflect on the tension between strengthening the power of unelected Governors General and the project of democratic reform.  I will conclude by suggesting that a proper conception of democratic reform in a Westminster system must balance responsiveness to voters with the ability of the House of Commons to hold the Prime Minister and Cabinet to account.


Democratic reform; reserve powers; Eugene Forsey

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125