Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science


M. M. Atkinson




The prevalent conception of the British and Canadian parliamentary systems is one of executive-centred, party government control of the legislative process. This conception assumes that first, the governing executive will be drawn from that political party which controls the majority of seats in the House of Commons, and thus can withstand a vote of confidence in the House of Commons; and second that the prime minister and cabinet dominate the formal, parliamentary portions of the legislative process. "[The prime minister and cabinet] have a virtual monopoly of the relevant information, access to outside interests, the capacity to manipulate caucus, and control over the legislative agenda". Furthermore, using data drawn from analyses of the success rate of government bills within broad time-frames (i.e. the success of government bills post-1945), academic studies have confirmed this conception of parliament noting that the governing party is able to pass successfully: between 70 and 90 percent of its legislative package.

This thesis examines the dominant conception of parliament, as' it applies to Canada. In order to achieve this, the thesis moves through an exploration of how the dominant conception is postulated and. used by those political scientists who study parliament. From this a deductive and testable model of party government is developed. Next, the thesis empirically and systematically tests the hypotheses of the party government model in two majority Canadian parliaments --the 30th Parliament of prime minister Trudeau, and the 34th Parliament led by prime minister Mulroney.

The findings of the empirical tests are revealing. First we find that when policy saliency is tested for mandates, throne speeches and legislative packages it appears that governments do in fact attempt to implement their electoral platforms. In fact, there is a large degree of similarity in the emphasis given to salient policy domains by the respective governing parties when tested at all three points in time. Second, the legislative process for government bills in the two parliaments are examined. Here we note that the legislation for the 30th and 34th Parliaments demonstrates high success rates, and similar patterns of processing. These results suggest, among other things, that we should not underestimate the institutional constraints acting on governments in their attempt to pass their legislation.

The final two chapters further examine the institutional constraints acting upon government legislation. In particular, the role of the opposition parties ill effectively amending and opposing government bills, and their ability to draw-out the sitting time required for the passage of government bills are examined. It is in these two chapters that we find that the two governments do face active opposition parties, but that these opposition parties do not affect the governments' ability to pass their legislative packages intact and free from opposition sponsored amendments. Furthermore, while the opposition do actively sponsor amendments and division votes in the House of Commons, this activity is not consistently applied to all legislation. On the contrary, the opposition parties demonstrate a degree of selectivity when choosing which government bills to oppose. And on those bills where scrutiny is constant we find that the amount of time governments need to! pass their legislation is increased significantly.

Overall, the party government model does operate in the 30th and 34th parliaments. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the power differential of parliament is executive-centred as the governing party successfully implements over ninety percent of its legislative package. However, the data do not suggest that governments are omnipotent, rendering opposition futile. Rather the thesis concurs with Ryle and Giffith when they suggest that, "governments must govern with the opposition in mind."

McMaster University Library

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