The prime minister is the highest political office in Canada. As the head of government, the prime minister is the one in charge of governing the country. But a prime minister isn’t elected to that office as a president would be in a country like the US. So, how does one become a prime minister in Canada?
The prime minister by convention is the leader of the party with the most seats in the parliament. But the person who’ll become prime minister must first contest and win the federal elections. Powers include appointment, majority leader, and head of government, military, and handling foreign affairs.
Even though becoming a prime minister in Canada seems simple enough, it can get complex when no party has a full majority in the parliament. This article discusses how to become a prime minister and the powers.
Steps to becoming a Prime Minister in Canada
Canada operates a parliamentarian system of government, with the prime minister being at the helm of things. There are several steps to becoming a prime minister, but they can be summed up under two headings which are.
1. Contest and Win the Federal Elections
The person who’ll be the prime minister also has to be a member of the parliament, which means they have to contest for a seat in the House of Commons. There are 338 seats, and Canadians vote for those representing their constituency in the parliament every four years. There are rules on who can contest, such as being at least 18 years on the election date, being a Canadian citizen, etc.
Also, one has to be a member of a political party to become the prime minister since it’s the leader of the majority party that’ll emerge. Even though it’s possible to contest in the federal election as an independent candidate, it’s unlikely that one can become a prime minister without party affiliation. The party leader is usually elected through party elections long before the federal elections.
2. Party Nomination
After the federal election, the party with majority members in the House of Commons nominate its leader to be the Prime Minister. Even though the party leader could decline the nomination, this is highly unlikely. This is because parties have very high standards when picking party leaders who’re chosen through elections. They’re usually people with track records and years of experience in governance and administration.
Even though Canadians don’t directly elect the prime minister, there’s an explicit promise that by voting for a local member of the parliament, the people are also voting for the member’s party leader who’ll become prime minister.
What Happens When a Party Doesn’t Have Full Control of the Parliament?
By convention, the party with majority seats nominates the prime minister. But there are situations where no party has full control of the parliament since Canada has multiple political parties. For example, in a case where parties A and B, the two major parties in Canada, have 161 and 148 seats respectively in the parliament. Then, there is another Party C that controls 29 seats. Either party A or B can have the Prime Minister by forming a coalition government with Party C. But Party C holds all the power because the government will fail if it withdraws its support.
In the case of Party C withdrawing its support, the governor-general who is the head of state representing the crown could call for new elections or let Party A with a slight majority establish a minority government. If a minority government is established, the leader of Party A with a slight majority will become the Prime Minister. However, this isn’t usually the best thing to do because minority governments are quite unstable.
Powers of the Prime Minister
The position of the Canadian prime minister is a very powerful one. Whoever holds it will have to play multiple roles within the political system. The roles and powers of the Prime Minister include:
1. Head of Government
The Prime Minister is the head of the executive, which means they have to make all the decisions regarding the country’s governance. To reduce the burden of this task, the prime minister appoints cabinet members who handle various aspects of government. The cabinet could be very large with as many as 30 ministers, and several advisers and officials work with the prime minister.
2. Leader of the Party Controlling the Parliament
Even though the prime minister is the leader of the government, he remains a member of the parliament and, thus, the majority leader in the House of Commons. The prime minister must ensure party members vote according to party lines and support the agenda. The Prime Minister usually has a say in almost every law passed in the parliament since they control the majority of votes. The only time the Prime Minister might have a problem furthering their agenda in the parliament is when the party only has a slight majority, which means the prime minister governs a minority government.
3. Power to Appoint
Another power of the Prime Minister is the power to appoint various officials that constitute the government. For example, the prime minister appoints the governor-general, the appeal court judges, Supreme Court of Canada judges, the speaker and other leaders of the Senate, heads of the Armed Forces, Bank of Canada, and other key departments at the federal level.
If you’re wondering how the Prime minister has the time for all these appointments while running a country, the prime minister doesn’t. In most cases, they delegate the appointments to other officials who’re more familiar with the position, and in some cases, a hiring board handles the appointment. The Prime Minister is only involved in the key position.
4. Head of Military and Foreign Policy
The Prime Minister is also responsible for the foreign policy of Canada. Both the Prime Minister and the foreign minister handles all negotiations with other countries. But when it comes to war, only the prime minister can send the Canadian military to war. In most cases, such a decision is put to the vote in the parliament.
The position of a prime minister is a very powerful one in Canada, with a lot of duties attached to it. Becoming a prime minister is also a complicated process. You have to be a party leader, run and win the election, ensure your party has a majority in the parliament before you can be nominated and asked to form a government.