History

The Question of Government: The Case for Parliament

(Written last year, re-published here)


Last year, we learned about World War 2 in my Canadian History class, and had an assignment to write an argumentative essay on a chosen topic. I chose one that was both interesting and could provide me with lots to learn from the experience:

Compare the Canadian Parliamentary system and the American Congressional system. Evaluate which system works best.

I started off by borrowing a pile of books from the library and skimming through those for some information. I looked through some school databases and browsed the web. The more I researched, the happier I was with my topic choice. Reading about politics was extremely interesting, but I soon realized with dismay that writing everything I had learned in a 1100-word essay was practically impossible.

My teacher was definitely very smart about the assignment – there were certain checkpoints (finish our outline, write the first draft, finish the edited draft, etc.) that we had to meet on certain days, and they really pushed me to get the assignment done on time. But still, I ended up spending way too much time researching important things like the evolution of Justin Trudeau’s hairstyles (how I got there, I have no idea), and watching hilarious Canadian election attack ads. As a result, I woke up early in the morning on the day before the first draft was due, sat down at my computer, and NaNoWriMo-style typed up the entire first draft of my essay in one hour. Of course, this first draft was nearly two times the limit. And of course, the first draft was nowhere near the perfect, all-knowing essay I had envisioned when researching. Even my writing style was by far NOT my best work.

Over the next week, I finally brought it down to four words under the limit. All in all, I’d say I learned A LOT from this assignment, but there is so much more to be explored on this topic that there’s no way this essay could cover all the fantastic information about it. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy this tiny peek into this fascinating topic!


There is much to be debated when it comes to politics. Although most of the civilized nations in the world today are democratic, not everyone can agree which system of government is best – the congressional system employed by the United States of America, or the Parliamentary system that Britain, Canada and the other Commonwealth nations have adopted. While neither is flawless, the Canadian system is far superior to its counterpart, the American system, because of its better regulations on government operations, more effective allocation of powers to the Prime Minister, and its encouragement of unity within the House of Commons.

To begin with, the Canadian Parliament has a well-regulated campaigning period and a forward-thinking constitution. Campaign regulations, which are inadequate in the American Congress, ensure that the selected governing body in Canada is kept in check and is fit to rule the people. It is well-known that the American campaign period is prone to lobbying and corruption. According to a business article issued by the Atlantic, “Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million)”.[1] In addition, the structure of the Canadian constitution is remarkably innovative. The Canadian Constitution is heavily based on the British Magna Carta, but also has its own unwritten rules based on long-lasting traditions, proving the responsible and self-sustaining nature of the Parliamentary system. In fact, a mention of the Prime Minister’s position only appeared in a written Canadian Constitution in 1982.[2] The black-and-white United States Constitution, on the other hand, sets in stone even the minute details of the qualifications and process for election of a Presidential candidate. Thus, the fundamental structure of Canadian Parliament is more adaptable to the challenges of a modern government.

Furthermore, the role of the Prime Minister in Canada is better suited to a democracy, for there is no concentration of veto power and the position is open to politically-involved citizens, not just ones of the upper class as is the case in America’s presidency campaigns. As the Head of State and Head of Government, the American President has a lot of concentrated veto power on any bills proposed by Congress, and his veto can only be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses.[3] However, he has limited power to actually impact the outcome of the bills themselves or debate legislature; he and his privately-chosen cabinet of secretaries are not allowed to hold a seat in either of the Houses of Congress. In Canada, the Prime Minister only serves as the Head of Government; the Queen’s representative is the Head of State. Any laws passed by the Prime Minister’s government must be approved by both the Senate and the Head of State – two groups in place to keep the Prime minister and his government in check, while giving him enough powers to bring about necessary change in the government. He is required by tradition to have a seat in the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament, where he typically defends bills, answers questions and attacks, and is involved in the legislative process as much as any other Member of Parliament. [4] Finally, a Presidential candidate must be American-born, over 35 years of age, and have resided in the USA for at least 14 years. Canada, however, makes it easy for all involved citizens to take a role in the government. The two most recent Canadian Prime Ministers, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, were both involved in politics in their teenage years. Hence, Canada’s decision to include the Prime Minister in the House of Commons while giving him reasonable powers, and provide Canadians with the opportunity to pursue political careers at the grassroots levels and beyond proves that Canada’s Parliamentary system is well-suited to a democratic nation.

Finally, perhaps the surest sign of a true, living democracy, is the show of confidence within the Canadian government. In the United States, gridlock occurs very frequently, largely because the terms of office are set in stone – Presidents are elected for a term of 4 years, 1/3 of senators for 6, the rest for 2-year terms, and members of the House of Representatives for 2 years. Moreover, the President is elected independently, which means that he is not necessarily a member of the party with the majority of seats and the plans and bills he supports may be completely rejected by the rest of Congress, and often are. Not only does this create a lack of responsibility for their platform promises among the politicians in Congress, but it slows down progress – a shocking 1.95% of proposed bills actually became law from 2007-2008.[5] Unfortunately, because of the predetermined terms of office, a better government cannot be re-elected. In Canada, the federal vote determines the type of policies the people want, and the elected party is responsible for putting these policies into effect. Furthermore, according to the Confidence Convention, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet must have the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons, or else the government can be dissolved by the Governor General. This element of Parliament has proved very helpful in the past to protect Canadians from being stuck with a government that does not represent them, and to prevent gridlock caused by bills piling up but taking a long time to approve. Hence, the avoidance of gridlock and the possibility to dissolve Parliament easily due to the Confidence Convention making Canada’s system of government highly efficient and effective.

In conclusion, Canada’s Parliamentary system is better-adapted to the changing world than America’s Congress, for its operations are well-regulated, it has a Head of Government that is kept in check and collaborates with the rest of the government, and it benefits from a Confidence Convention. Its counterpart, Congress, is more prone to corruption and gridlock, and fails as a democracy in many situations where Canada’s Parliament would operate smoothly.


Notes

[1] Lee Drutman, “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy,” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-american-democracy/390822/.

[2] Parliament of Canada, “Canadian and American Government,” http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/senatoreugeneforsey/book/chapter_4-e.html.

[3] Steven S. Smith, Jason M. Roberts, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen, The American Congres. (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2006), 95-96.

[4] Parliament of Canada, “Canadian and American Government,” http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/senatoreugeneforsey/book/chapter_4-e.html.

[5] Aaron Blake, “Gridlock in Congress? It’s probably worse than you think,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/05/29/gridlock-in-congress-its-probably-even-worse-than-you-think/.

References

Bejermi, John. 2005. How Parliament Works. Borealis Press Limited.

Blake, Aaron. 2014. Gridlock in Congress? It’s probably worse than you think. May 29. Accessed May 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/05/29/gridlock-in-congress-its-probably-even-worse-than-you-think/.

Colin, Campbell, and Christian William. 1944. Parties, Leaders, and Ideologies in Canada. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited.

Drutman, Lee. 2015. “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy.” The Atlantic, April 20. Accessed May 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/how-corporate-lobbyists-conquered-american-democracy/390822/.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2011. Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Mann, E. Thomas, and J. Norman Ornstein. 2006. The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track. New York: 2006.

McTeer, Maureen. 1995. Parliament: Canada’s Democracy and How It Works. Random House of Canada Limited.

O’Brien, Gary. 2016. Origins of the Confidence Convention. June 11. Accessed May 2016. http://www.revparl.ca/english/issue.asp?param=110&art=599.

Parliament of Canada. n.d. Canadian and American Government. Accessed May 2016. http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/senatoreugeneforsey/book/chapter_4-e.html.

—. n.d. Dissolving Parliament. Accessed May 2016. http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/Education/ourcountryourparliament/html_booklet/dissolving-parliament-e.html.

—. 2009. The Confidence Convention. Accessed May 2016. http://www.parl.gc.ca/procedure-book-livre/document.aspx?sbdid=a24e8688-cc45-4245-8f5c-dd32f4aa9b01&sbpidx=3.

Project Vote Smart. n.d. Government 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law. Accessed May 2016. https://votesmart.org/education/how-a-bill-becomes-law#filibuster.

Rathgeber, Brent. 2014. Irresponsible Government. Dundurn Press.

Smith, S. Steven, M. Jason Roberts, and J. Ryan Vander Wielen. 2006. The American Congress. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, S. Steven, M. Jason Roberts, and J. Ryan Vander Wielen. 2006. The American Congress. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tindal, C. Richard. 1943. A Citizen’s Guide to Government. McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

University of Alberta. 2015. The Powers of the Canadian Prime Minister. October 19. Accessed May 2016. http://ualawccsprod.srv.ualberta.ca/ccs/index.php/constitutional-issues/democratic-governance/895-the-powers-of-the-canadian-prime-minister.

US Consulate. n.d. The President of the United States. Accessed May 2016. http://www.usconsulate.org.hk/pas/kids/ex_president.htm.

Wikipedia. n.d. House of Commons of Canada. Accessed May 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Commons_of_Canada#Elections.

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1 thought on “The Question of Government: The Case for Parliament”

  1. great essay! 🙂 I agree that our govt is overall better than the American system but is there anything you would want to change? The one thing that I really don’t like about our system is that senators are appointed basically for life. The American congressional system does this much better as they’re elected

    Liked by 1 person

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