Friday, 31 January 2014

Presidential and Prime Ministerial Administration

President Obama's apparent determination to wield executive power to achieve his ends has provoked much discussion this week.

The tendency for leaders to use various methods other than legislation to fulfill their objectives should be familiar to Canadian readers. Minority governments in parliamentary systems are in much the same place as an elected President who does not control the legislative branch(es) of government. They have to get their way through other means.

Quebec's current minority administration is a good example. A major plank in its electoral agenda was to cancel a proposed fee hike for university students. It did so, but by decree (executive order, if you prefer) rather than by legislation, because it would not have commanded a majority in the Assemblé Nationale. (The next time someone has enough support to hike tuition in Quebec, they probably should do it by legislation!)

As has been noted in the context of President Obama, there are many ways for the executive to get its way, ranging from formal orders all the way down to informal pressure. The channels of government influence are often murky. Consider the Quebec government's approach to the Conseil du statut de la femme, an independent agency which advises on matters relating to equality rights. Last year, the Conseil announced that it was opposed to the government's proposed 'Secular Charter'. The government appointed four new members (while insisting that the Conseil was not independent because the word "independent" does not appear in its constitutive statute). Lo and behold, the Conseil recently announced its support for the Charter!

So not only do the available means vary greatly, but they may be relied upon by Prime Ministers as much as by Presidents.

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