Aucoin, Jarvis, and Turnbull’s Reforms

… an Atlas resource page in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

In their 2011 book, Democratizing the Constitution – Reforming Responsible Government, Aucoin, Jarvis, and Turnbull analyze the ambiguities in Canadian constitutional conventions and propose specific reforms.

The authors summarize their proposed reforms as follows:

“We offer a four-part reform to address the constitutional dimensions of our democracy problem:

“First, to constrain the prime minister from abusing the power to summon Parliament after an election, we propose a requirement that Parliament be summoned within 30 days after the date of an election.

“Second, to reduce the capacity of the prime minister to destabilize parliamentary operations and undermine the effectiveness of the House and its committees in performing their critical functions in a parliamentary democracy, we propose that the dates of elections be fixed at four years. Elections would occur every four years on a specific date unless a two-thirds majority of MPs approves a motion to dissolve Parliament for an early election. This would remove what has become the virtual right of the Canadian prime minister to call an election whenever he or she wants, even after losing the confidence of a majority of MPs. It would also eliminate a partisan advantage that can be used against the opposition.

“Third, to remove any disagreement about what constitutes a vote of non-confidence and to eliminate the power of the prime minister to dismiss some votes as not actually withdrawing confidence, we propose the adoption of a “constructive non-confidence” procedure. Under this procedure, the opposition can only bring down the government via an explicit motion of non-confidence. This motion would also identify the member who would become the prime minister and form a new government with the support of a majority of MPs in the House. The motion would have to be supported by a simple majority of MPs. It would require opposition leaders and their MPs to vote non-confidence in the government only when they are prepared to form and/ or support a new government from the opposition side of the House. It would also make clear that the House could change governments between elections. This reform would also dramatically reduce the ability of both the prime minister and the opposition to use confidence measures (and elections) as a form of brinkmanship.

“Fourth, to constrain the prime minister from abusing the power to escape scrutiny on a vote of non-confidence, we propose that the consent of the House of Commons be required before proroguing Parliament. To be an effective constraint on the prime minister of a majority government, the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons should be required.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis, and Lori Turnbull, (2011). Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, pp. 34. Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications.

Other resources

Mark D. Jarvis & Lori Turnbull: Canadian prime ministers have too much power, National Post, 2 May 2012, at, accessed 12 August 2016.

Mark D. Jarvis: Why does Canada not disclose its rules concerning ‘caretaker’ governments? National Post, 4 April 2015, at, accessed 12 August 2016.

Book Review by Leslie Seidle (2012): Policy Options,, accessed 12 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 15 August 2016.

Image: Emond Montgomery Publications, at, accessed 12 August 2016.