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Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. He or she is not elected directly by the public nor is he or she limited to a number of years in office. On top of all this, the Prime Minister has considerable power because he or she controls the House of Commons - much more than the President of the United States who is separate from the elected Members of Congress. The Prime Minister is 2nd on the Canadian Order of Precedence.


Role and Responsibilities

The Prime Ministership is not created by law, though it is recognized by the law. The Prime Minister is normally a member of the House of Commons (there have been two from the Senate, Abbott from 1891 to 1892 and Bowell from 1894 to 1896). A non-member could hold the office (Turner in 1984) but would, by custom, have to get elected to a seat very soon (Turner was his seat in a general election that year but his party lost power). A Prime Minister may lose his or her seat in an election, but can remain in office as long as the party keeps a majority in the House of Commons, though again, he or she must, by custom, win a seat very promptly (King lost his seat in 1925 but his party retained power; he won a seat in a by-election early in 1926). The traditional way of arranging this is to have a member of the majority party resign, thereby creating a vacancy, which gives the defeated Prime Minister of non-member party leader the opportunity to run in a by-election.

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor General. Ordinarily, the appointment is automatic - going to the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. If the opposition wins more than half the seats in an election, or if the government is defeated in the House of Commons and resigns, the Governor General must call on the leader of the opposition to form a new government.

The Prime Minister used to be described as "the first among equals" in the cabinet, or as "a moon among minor stars." This is no longer so. He or she is now incomparably more powerful than any colleague. The Prime Minister chooses the ministers in the first place, and can also ask any of them to resign; if the minister refuses, the Prime Minister can advise the Governor General to remove that minister and the advice would invariably be followed. Cabinet decisions do not necessarily go by majority vote. A strong Prime Minister, having listened to everyone's opinion, may simply announce that his or her view is the policy of the government, even if most, or all, the other ministers are opposed. Unless the dissenting ministers are prepared to resign, they must bow to the decision.

The official residence of the Prime Minister is found right across the road from Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General. 24 Sussex Drive (officially called Gorffwysfa - the Welsh word meaning place of peace) has been the official residence of the prime minister since 1950. The house is situated on the cliffs above the Ottawa River, in sight of the Parliament buildings. The Prime Minister also has an official summer residence at Harrington Lake, Quebec.

Gorffwysfa, OttawaHarrington Lake, Quebec
GorffwysfaHarrington Lake

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Stephen began his career in public service in 1985 as a parliamentary assistant to a Progressive Conservative MP. In 1987, he became a founding member of the Reform Party of Canada, where he served as the party's first Chief Policy Officer and principal author of the 1988 election platform.

The Right Honourable Stephen
The Right Honourable
Stephen Harper
Following the 1988 election, Stephen returned to Parliament, again to serve as a parliamentary assistant - this time to the first Reform Member of Parliament, Deborah Grey. He later returned to Calgary to resume his role as Chief Policy Officer of the party, and was a key architect of a plan to eliminate Canada's budget deficit in three years. While in Calgary, he also completed his MA in Economics.

In 1993, he was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Calgary West. During his tenure as an MP from 1993-97, Stephen earned a reputation as an effective, energetic MP, and a leading spokesperson on finance and national unity issues, in both French and English. He developed a pan-Canadian approach to public policy, and it was in 1995 that Stephen Harper first wrote about the need for a unification of Canadian conservatives into a governing coalition.

In 1997, after leaving Parliament, Stephen continued his public service, becoming president of the National Citizens Coalition, one of the largest public advocacy groups in the country, committed to fundamental political and economic freedom for Canadians. In this role, he enhanced his reputation as a respected, national, conservative voice. During his time at the NCC Stephen was first approached as a potential federal party leader, when several Progressive Conservative activists and Members of Parliament urged him to seek the party's leadership in 1998.

In March of 2002, Stephen was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance. He was sworn in as Leader of the Opposition on May 21, 2002, as the MP for Calgary Southwest. He immediately set out to rebuild and unify the party after some difficult times. In the fall of 2003, he fulfilled the party's founding objective - to unite all like-minded conservatives, including economic conservatives, social conservatives, Progressive Conservatives in the "Red Tory" tradition, and democratic reformers. On October 15, 2003, he signed an agreement in principle with PC Party leader Peter MacKay to create the Conservative Party of Canada. Stephen received a strong mandate from Conservative Party members on March 20, 2004, to lead the new party.

Stephen Harper was born in Toronto in 1959. He and his wife, Laureen, have two young children, Benjamin and Rachel.

SOURCES: Prime Minister of Canada, Conservative Party of Canada.

See also
Prime Minister's Office
Former Prime Ministers of Canada
Length of Terms of Former Prime Ministers
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Official Residences
Deputy Prime Minister

External Links
Prime Minister of Canada Official Website

Copyright Craig I.W. Marlatt