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The Crown March 12, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Politics and Law.

Source: Politics in Canada: Culture, Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy, 5th ed., Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson (Toronto: Prentice Hall, 2001)

Following British tradition, the supreme authority of the Canadian state resides in the sovereign. Government functions are carried out in the name of The Crown. In Britain, the Crown has been defined as “the sum total of governmental powers synonymous with the Executive.” In Canada, the term ‘Crown’ refers to the composite symbol of the institutions of the state. The Crown may be involved in court proceedings. It also assumes a variety of other duties and responsibilities – for example, government property may be held in name of the Crown.

The Crown retains some rights from the feudal period, but most of its present authority comes from constitutional and statute law. The few “prerogative powers” can be traced to the period of authoritarian rule in Great Britain when the Crown possessed wide discretionary authority. With the rise of Parliament and the gradual movement toward popular sovereignty, the authority of the Crown eroded to a very few reserve powers. Although Parliament and the political executive still govern in the name of the Crown, there is little question that the monarch is severely limited. Even the ability of the monarch to say on the throne is no longer a right. In the cases of both James II and Edward VII in Britain, it was clear that they could not retain their crowns unless the ministers and Parliament were prepared to accept them.

The reigning monarch, current Queen Elizabeth II, is the personal embodiment of the Crown. The contemporary functions of the monarch are largely ceremonial and non-partisan. The monarch reigns, but does not govern. As British constitutionalist Walter Bagehot put it, the monarch’s functions are mainly of the “dignified”, not the “efficient”, type. By this Bagehot meant that the monarch does not actually govern the country, but rather carries out a myriad of ceremonial responsibilities that generate mass support for the government, while the ministers carry out the “efficient” procedures that operate the machinery of government.



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