Reserve Power

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Wikipedia defines reserve power as a is a power that may be exercised by the head of state without the approval of another branch of the government.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

“Most constitutional monarchies employ a system that includes the principle of responsible government. In such an order, the reserve powers are thought to be the means by which the monarch and his or her viceregal representatives can legitimately exist as “constitutional guardians” or “umpires,” tasked with guaranteeing that Cabinet and parliament adhere to the fundamental constitutional principles of the rule of law and responsible government itself.”

Aucoin, Jarvis, and Turnbull (reference below) describe the constitutional uncertainties surrounding the exercise of the governor general’s reserve power in Canada, and thus on the limits to the prerogative of the prime minister to summon, prorogue, and dissolve parliament:

“However, since [1925], no governor general has ever denied dissolution to a prime minister or refused any other advice, even in cases where the government has been defeated on a vote of confidence and the prime minister’s government thus no longer commands the confidence of the House-the prerequisite to being the government.

“Accordingly, at present, constitutional scholars still disagree about the appropriate use of the prime minister’s prerogative powers to summon, prorogue, and dissolve. Some argue that there are qualifications on, and exceptions to, the prime minister’s use of prerogative powers and that the governor general can use his or her personal discretion to decide whether to refuse the prime minister’s recommendation, at least under certain circumstances. The prime minister must go to the governor general to request the use of the powers to prorogue and dissolve Parliament. But there is an absence of clarity-not to mention outright disagreement and political dispute – as to what these qualifications or exceptions are, and when (if ever!) they might be applied by a governor general in refusing such a request.

“This means that there are no firm rules to govern the use of the governor general’s powers in summoning, proroguing, or dissolving Parliament. All experts claim that there are some guiding principles. Some even assert that matters are clear. But others challenge them. Without the clarity of firm rules, however few in number, politicians will inevitably put their own partisan political spin on their interpretation of the constitution to advance their own interests.””

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Constitutional Framework (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Wikipedia, Reserve power, at, accessed 12 August 2016.

Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, and Lori Turnbull, (2011). Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, pp. 9. Toronto: Edmond Montgomery Publications.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 12 August 2016.