Ours vs. Theirs

Ours vs. Theirs

The strange, idiosyncratic differences between the American and Canadian systems of government have been on prominent display over these last few weeks, as the news cycles of both countries remain dominated by stories of political turmoil.

In Canada, Prime Minister Harper’s decision to suspend parliament continues to generate opposition from the left-wing opposition parties, and liberal Canadians in general, who have staged rallies across the country in protest. Harper’s Conservative Party, of course, does not even control a majority of seats in the parliament, yet due to the vast, sweeping powers the Canadian constitution affords the prime minister, the current occupant is more or less free to do whatever he wants, with or without parliamentary involvement — let alone assent.

In the USA, by contrast, President Obama is flapping around helplessly, trying vainly to push his various legislative initiatives through an increasingly hostile Congress. A Congress whose two chambers, it should be noted, the President’s party has enormous majorities in, yet due to the amount of inter-party dissent allowed in the US system, coupled with the levers of parliamentary power afforded to the minority faction, his nominal “control” of the legislature doesn’t add up to much in practice.

I still think Canadians are getting a worse deal from a worse system, but there are legitimate criticisms of the US system as well. Though Americans famously venerate their constitution, some more brazen critiques of it have been getting more air time as of late, such as this recent, and much talked-about piece in the Atlantic.

Both Canada and America are unique in the sense that their political institutions have remained virtually unchanged since the 18th Century. It’s a product of our long period of continental peace, which has spared us the eras of wars and coups that have changed so many other constitutions around the world so many times. But at times like these, it’s not hard to notice that this legacy has a dark side as well.

^ One Comment...

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