How to Govern in Coalition or Minority: The Case of New Zealand

How to Govern in Coalition or Minority: The Case of New Zealand

New Zealand switched electoral systems from single member plurality to mixed member proportionality for the 1996 election. The country’s leadership was well aware that this change would mean that no one political party would have a majority of seats in the legislature, so extensive study was undertaken in advance with respect to coalition and minority governments. While this advance work held the public service in good stead, the political parties failed to respond adequately to the new governing dynamics. Even with the leadership of a former senior jurist as governor general, it would take until Y2K for the political elites to learn how to operate within the new paradigm. The procedural improvements made by New Zealand in this period have most recently informed improvements to parliamentary government in the United Kingdom and Australia. This paper examines these and other lessons that New Zealand may offer Canada.

Canada, along with the United Kingdom1, Australia2. and New Zealand share the ‘Westminster-model’, so named because this design has been inherited from that used for the British at the Palace of Westminster. Also called ‘responsible parliamentary government’, a label that emerged here in Canada, it is a parliamentary system whereby the people elect representatives to a legislature and it, in turn, chooses a government. The process is guided by a set of unwritten constitutional conventions. And while these conventions offer specific guidance as to by whom and how decisions should be made, when it comes to the ‘reserve powers’ of the monarch or her governor general – dissolving parliament, proroguing a session and choosing or dismissing a prime minister – they have begun to operationalize differently in each of these countries.

From Coalition Government to Parliamentary Privilege: Lessons in Democracy from Australia

From Coalition Government to Parliamentary Privilege: Lessons in Democracy from Australia

This paper examines Australian developments with respect to the Westminster-model of responsible parliamentary government. Australia has adopted preferential voting and compulsory voting; and it has a long history of governments that are coalitions or that negotiate support from smaller parties and independents, or both. Australia began making its previously ‘secret’ cabinet handbook available to the public in 1982, and followed this up with release of the Executive Council Handbook and ‘caretaker conventions’ to prevent a government from making major commitments during an election. And recently it has reduced parliamentary privileges and codified them in statute. Each offers lessons for Canada. To that end, this paper traces the Australian developments and practices beginning with its electoral system and compulsory voting, government formation (including changing governments mid-term), popular understanding of the powers of the Governor General, the unclassified cabinet and executive council handbooks, caretaker conventions and parliamentary privileges. There are lessons on each for other Commonwealth countries to learn, as several countries including the United Kingdom have begun to realize.

The Westminster Approach to Prorogation, Dissolution and Fixed Date Elections

The Westminster Approach to Prorogation, Dissolution and Fixed Date Elections

The Queen has various reserve powers, or personal prerogatives, including prorogation, dissolution and summoning of parliament, and dismissing and appointing a prime minister. The use of these powers is pursuant to unwritten constitutional conventions and are, in theory, the same for all Commonwealth countries that have retained the Queen as head of state. Yet in practice they operate differently – far more democratically – in England, where the Queen is present, than in Canada, where a governor general has been appointed to represent the Queen and manage these powers on Her behalf. This paper examines the British approach, contrasts it with the Canadian, and shows how Canada could improve its democracy by adopting the British practices.

British and Canadian Experience with the Royal Prerogative

British and Canadian Experience with the Royal Prerogative

This article looks at the Royal prerogative to prorogue Parliament. It, first, looks at the British experience and places the personal prerogatives that govern Parliament in their historical context and, within that context, identifies the legislative precedents for Parliament placing limits on these prerogatives. Second, it looks at the Canadian experience, where prime ministers have deviated from their British colleagues in being adversarial with the head of state over the use of these powers. It suggests that the difference in political behaviour is the result of a combination of temporal, cultural and political factors, which have also resulted in the Canadian Parliament being disinclined to legislate remedies in the manner the British Parliament did when these powers were abused by the Crown centuries years ago.

The 40th Parliament of Canada was summoned by Governor General Michaëlle Jean for November 18, 2008. Just two weeks after she opened the first session, facing imminent defeat on a motion of non-confidence, the Prime Minister asked that she prorogue Parliament. This request was granted and defeat on a motion of non-confidence was avoided.