Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government

Mass Market Paperback | June 30, 2011

byPeter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, Lori Lori Turnbull

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<_st13a_country-region _w3a_st="on"><_st13a_place _w3a_st="on">Canada's time-honoured system of responsible government is failing us. Our constitution no longer provides effective checks on a prime minister's power to call elections or shut down Parliament in order to evade votes of confidence or sidestep public accountability. The result: the founding principle of responsible government has now degenerated into whatever the prime minister decides it is.

This timely book examines recent history and ongoing controversies, and presents a thoughtful proposal to democratize the constitution in order to restore power to where it belongs—with the people's elected representatives in Parliament.

The authors give special attention to explaining the institutions and concepts involved, as well as the fascinating history that has led to present day conflicts over our constitutional state of affairs. Its offering of proposals to address the problems it outlines will also make it a must-read for political observers and interested citizens across the country.


"Can there be a timelier book?"

—Andrew Coyne

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From the Publisher

Canada's time-honoured system of responsible government is failing us. Our constitution no longer provides effective checks on a prime minister's power to call elections or shut down Parliament in order to evade votes of confidence or sidestep public accountability. The result: the founding principle of responsible government has now d...

Peter Aucoin is a professor emeritus of political science and public administration at Dalhousie University and a senior academic fellow at the Canada School of Public Service with Government of Canada. Among his many other honours, he is also a Member of the Order of Canada.Mark D. Jarvis is a doctoral candidate at the University of V...
Format:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:220 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.75 inPublished:June 30, 2011Publisher:Emond MontgomeryLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1552394638

ISBN - 13:9781552394632

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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fair A rather arcane treatment of Parliamentary procedures, this book was written in response to the questionable procedures employed by Prime Minister Harper in recent years. For a politician who began his career ostensibly as a proponent of democratizing Canadian government, this book does a fairly good job of charting his descent into most unparliamentary behaviour - even to the extent of thwarting democracy. Unfortunately, the book was out-of-date before it hit the store shelves. The real issue is not Harper 's abuses of Parliamentary procedures, nor the procedural reforms proposed by the authors to correct it. The real issue is the electoral system which allows a majority government to take office with far less than a majority of the votes cast. The authors refer only in passing to the preference voting system in place in Australia. And while they propose it as a Parliamentary procedure for electing committee chairmen, they dismiss it as essentially irrelevant to the Canadian electoral process. And this is exactly what has landed us in our present mess. Ranking candidates in order of an individual voter's preference allows for a voter to state his first choice - even for a hopeless maverick - while having a second choice registered for a more viable candidate, should no one receive over 50% of the first choice votes. The reforms needed lie more in the area of how elections are held, but this area is basically ignored by the authors. Only through the preference ballot - long ago adopted in Australia - can a true reading of the democratic will be reflected in the make-up of Parliament.
Date published: 2013-01-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A most useless volume I found this unfortunate volume a waste of time and money. It is a prejudiced approach and personal attack on individual politicians. The volume is negatively biased towards political personalities and promotes changes to the Canadian Constitution to fit the myopic political views of the authors. I cannot imagine why this book received the Booker Prize in 2012. My summary is: Not worth it!! For a more extensive review, see
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must Read book on the state of Canadian Government & Politics today If you're interested, or active, in politics or just concerned about the state of our democracy, I highly recommend this book. Any trepidation I might have felt at coming to grips with the material was quickly dispelled; the authors have done a great job of presenting the subject in an understandable and interesting manner. The right amount of historical background is given to the emergence of responsible government in Canada to place the issues confronting us today in context. The nature of those issues, the confusion surrounding them, and the dangers they entail are presented in a clear, non-partisan manner. Although this examination is by its very nature at turns depressing and infuriating, the underlying message is definitely not "woe is us". By explaining and critiquing how other parliamentary democracies manage their constitutional challenges, the authors demonstrate that constructive constitutional change is possible without "blowing up" the Federation. The authors conclude with their own practical, and doable, proposals for constitutional and democratic reform. The proposals are clearly presented and an elegant four-part test is proffered against which these, or any other constitutional reforms, should be evaluated.
Date published: 2011-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Constituting Democracy Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government is a stellar addition to the literature on democratic reform. Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull are to be commended for turning an often dry subject matter into a invigoating discussion that is sorely needed. This book is written in a lucid prose that guarantees accessibility to the technical nuances of constitutional theories and practices. More importantly, it offers insights into what is working and what needs to changes with suggestions and examples from other jurisdictions. Rather than a dogmatic or doctrinal exposition that is more political ideology than public administration, Democratizing the Constitution illuminates the challenges and opportunities that exist for a renewed faith in constitutional politics. While it's accessibility will please even undergraduate students, it is also a pithy and insightful work that graduate students and faculty members of political science and public administration programs will find enlightening. Anyone interested in Canadian politics will definitely find this book occupying a coveted place on their bookshelf.
Date published: 2011-08-31