Constitutional Convention and Cabinet Manuals

Article 7 / 12 , Vol 34 No 4 (Winter)

Constitutional Convention and Cabinet Manuals

For Canada’s parliamentary democracy to function properly, it is integral that key political actors agree on the fundamentals of our constitution. However, with the recent prevalence of minority governments, this agreement has been called into question. During both the December 2008 ‘parliamentary crisis’ and the 2011 federal election campaign, the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appeared to hold markedly different views on key constitutional conventions than those espoused by opposition leaders and constitutional experts. This lack of consensus led some to fear that a situation may arise in the near future in which lack of agreement on conventions governing the Governor General’s reserve powers could plunge Canada into a serious constitutional crisis.

In order to discuss the lack of consensus on Canada’s constitutional conventions and argue why they ought to be codified, it is first necessary to define what conventions are and explain how they fit into our constitutional framework. The difficulty in understanding and interpreting constitutional conventions comes from the fact that they: