Monday, August 26, 2019

History of constitutional evolutions

The Anne McLennan report -- on whether the office of Minister of Justice and the office of Attorney General can or should be held by a single cabinet minister -- has not much history in it.  It breezily declares that at Confederation it was decided the jobs would be fused, and so they were.
The model of having the same person hold the Minister of Justice and Attorney General roles was deliberately chosen at Confederation, and for good reason. Our system benefits from giving one person responsibility for key elements of the justice system. Joinder of the roles creates important synergies. That person gains a perspective over the entire Review of the Roles of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada 2 system which could not be achieved if the roles were divided; so too do the lawyers and policy experts who work together in the Department of Justice.
For McLennan's purposes, the simple statement is probably enough. She outlines the different systems that exist around the world -- and demonstrates fairly conclusively that splitting the job would have no obvious benefits to Canada. All that is needed, in fact, is for prime ministers to respect the system that does exist. Paul Wells sums it up all nicely here (and also provides a link to the report text, though the link frequently fails to load, in my experience.  This one may be better)  

Even McLennan's mostly ahistorical study, however, demonstrates how governing practices that seem quite fundamental comfortably operate quite differently in various parliamentary systems, even among countries whose constitutions are said to be "similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." And there is usually an elaborate historical process behind each local variant, about which the lawyers and political scientists who opine of these matters are generally uninformed and not very interested.  Pity. 

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