Friday, February 15, 2008

Majority governments make Canadian PM more powerful than a President, U.S. envoy says

Canada's "Winner-Take-All" voting system, which frequently hands one political party's leader (and his or her unelected backroom hacks) all the power, is given a little perspective today by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.

Says Wilkins: "In your form of government, particularly in a majority government, your prime minister has much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having," the ambassador said...

Canada's system has an executive and legislative branch effectively controlled by one person.

Can you imagine, Wilkins asked, what it would be like for the U.S. president to be able to appoint cabinet members, senators and judges without lengthy confirmation hearings?

"It would change the dynamics (of Washington, D.C.) overnight," he said.

But before he set Canadians' heads spinning too much, Wilkins did add a caveat.

His boss doesn't face the daily grind of question period in the House of Commons.

Wilkins said he liked the Canadian system better "if my guy's in power," but prefers the U.S. system's checks and balances if he's not.

Wilkins' statements are right on the money. Canada's voting system hands all the power to one person for four or five straight years with little or no checks on that power, no mid-term elections, no PR-elected Senate (like in Australia).

Canada needs more checks and balances on the immense power of our Prime MInisters and Premiers. Fair voting reform, where parties win representation in our legislatures based on the percentage of their votes, would accomplish that without fundamentally changing our parliamentary system.


skdadl said...

I disagree. In theory, anyway (not that it makes any difference to Harper), a PM is supposed to be making a distinction between his executive and political roles. Beyond that, we have in Canada (as do most democracies, with the curious exception of the U.S.) a structural separation between head of government and head of state. The Americans don't, which is a source of much trouble to them.

Matt Guerin said...

How can a premier or Prime Minister make a distinction between their executive and political roles? In the end they are one person. Theory is great. Practice is where the problem lies in Canada.

I also don't see the importance of distinguishing between head of government and head of state. All that matters is where the power lies and if there are any checks and balances on that power. As it stands now in Canada, all the power, political and legislative, lies in one person (and that person's unelected staff) if that person's party wins a majority of seats with as little as 38% of the vote. There are no checks on that power.

The president is the head of state and the head of government yes. But he/she also has considerable checks on that power, that person can't control Congress, that person must deal with possible losses in mid-term elections, etc.

Our PM has no such checks. Realpolitik has eliminated any over the years. The checks of our parliamentary system have been eroded and won't be brought back anytime soon. Parliamentary reform is a naive dream that will never happen. The only way to take back the considerable power of our Prime Ministers or premiers in Canada is to change our voting system so the concentration of power is less dense.