Prime Ministerial Prerogatives

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Prime Ministerial prerogatives are powers and responsibilities traditionally exercised by the Prime Minister.

Jay Makarenko, writing in Mapleleafweb in 2007 enumerated these as follows. Note that the power to dissolve Parliament in Makarenko’s first bullet has subsequently been constrained by fixed-date election legislation (see the Parliament of Canada page at, accessed 26 August 2016).

  • Powers of the Crown: It is customary for the Prime Minister to exercise many of the powers that were formerly under the discretion of the Monarchy. While these powers technically still belong to the Monarchy, they are exercised completely on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, for example, decides when to dissolve Parliament and when to call a general election. It is even customary for the Prime Minister to choose who will be the Governor General (the Monarch’s representative in Canada).
  • Forming the Cabinet: Much of the power enjoyed by a Prime Minister stems from his or her authority to form the Cabinet. It is the Prime Minister who decides who will actually make up the Cabinet, and what portfolios will be assigned to each person. Accordingly, Ministers owe their allegiance to the Prime Minister, who can promote or demote them, ask for their resignation, and, if necessary, dismiss them from Cabinet altogether. These powers tend to keep Ministers both submissive and supportive of the Prime Minister and his/her policies and priorities.
  • Appointing Public Servants: In addition to appointing Cabinet Ministers, the Prime Minister also has the power to dictate who holds many key offices in the public service. This includes the appointment of Senators, Supreme Court judges, deputy ministers, and heads of government agencies, boards, and corporations. The ability to exercise such power helps keep a Prime Minister’s ‘followers’ on side, while allowing a Prime Minister to impose his/her ideological stamp on much of government. In this way, a Prime Minister who believes in a particular vision of how government should function can use the powers of the Prime Minister’s Office to appoint persons of like-minded thinking to key government positions.
  • Organizing Government: In addition to appointments, the Prime Minister also has significant powers over the actual organization of government. Subject to usual routine Parliamentary approval, the Prime Minister has the ability to create new departments and agencies, transform or abolish old ones, and privatize or nationalize industries and corporations. He or she also has the power to assign specific mandates and priorities to individual government departments and agencies, with or without the permission of the responsible Cabinet Minister.
  • Senior Diplomat: Finally, the Prime Minister is often seen as the nation’s chief diplomat. This is particularly true in the modern era of summit diplomacy when Heads of Governments regularly meet with one another on a face-to-face basis.
Atlas topic, subject, and course

Machinery of Government (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Jay Makarenko (2007), The Prime Minister & Cabinet in Canada, Mapleleafweb, 1 June 2007, at, accessed 26 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 26 August 2016.