By Marvin Ross
I recently watched a discussion between Samantha Bee (a Canadian) and Stephen Colbert on the Daily Show around the time of the Kangaroo Court Impeachment. Colbert asked about impeachment in Canada which Samantha tried to answer before they went back to exchanging quips.
She did say it does not exist in Canada and while Canada is not immune from a Trump (as Ontario has in the Trump wannabee, Doug Ford), I do not think that what is happening in the US could happen with the British Parliamentary System we have. Let me explain.
The US Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) are tasked with the job of passing legislation which must them be signed by the president. Unfortunately, the president can veto any law he does not like or approve of and it can only be passed by a 2/3 of both houses defeat the veto. The president may also unilaterally sign treaties with foreign powers subject to approval by 2/3 of the Senate. The president also appoints his cabinet but those cabinet members are not elected but rather approved by the Senate.
And here we have the problem. The president is elected separately from the members of Congress by the Electoral College and he acts separately from the Congress. He is not held accountable to the Congress and his appointments to cabinet (while needing to be ratified) are not elected by the citizens and are only accountable to the president.
The result is lame presidents like Obama who had no support in Congress because the Republicans had a majority or Trump who does his own thing without being accountable to Congress.
Under the British system, each political party elects a leader and elected not by those in parliament but by all members of the party. The leader is a politician who has to run for office in his/her constituency and be elected. If that party wins a majority in the elected House of Commons, then the leader of the party becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister sits in the Commons and is subject to daily question period where members fire questions at him and hold him accountable for what is happening. These can become quite rowdy as we’ve seen in Britain over Brexit. Can anyone imagine Trump having to show up daily in Congress to be questioned?
The Prime Minister must satisfy two groups – his own constituency which he/she represents and his party which can call a leadership review if they are sufficiently angry with his behaviour. After the current election in Canada in 2019, the losing Conservative Party became fed up with their leader and he has been turfed.
As for the cabinet, that is another significant difference. Members of the cabinet are chosen from the pool of elected members of the House of Commons. Again, they are responsible and accountable to their constituents at home and to the members of their party and to the House of Commons.
The other aspect of the Parliamentary system involves majority and minority governments. The party winning the most seats can have a clear majority holding more than 50% of the total seats or a simple majority where they have more seats than anyone else but fewer than 50%. In the latter case (called a minority government and mentioned by Samantha Bee) the government can be defeated by a vote of non confidence and be forced to call another election before their four year mandate is up.
All of this, in my opinion, makes the British Parliamentary system far more responsive to the interests of the people and less likely that we would see a Trump.
Now I did mention Ontario’s Doug Ford (brother of later mayor of Toronto Rob well known in the US) who acts like Trump and did win a majority. His election was more of a non confidence vote in the previous government which had ruled too long and with whim people were getting fed up.
Doug set out to undo many of the policies accepted as necessary by the voters. He immediately tried to change funding for kids with autism and was forced to backtrack when parents descended upon the legislature. He went after the educational system to freeze wages, increase class sizes and make certain numbers of courses into e-learning. Teachers are involved in work to rule, rotating strikes and have the support of the majority of the citizens. This youtube clip of Question Period in Ontario after the budget is actually quite funny. The premier praises his finance minister for his brilliant budget but shortly after this (with attacks from all over) he fired the guy.
A number of his early policies are before the courts and those cases that have been decided have not been in his favour. His popularity across the country is about the worst of any politician ever and he is often booed when he shows up to public events like the celebration for the Toronto Raptors win.
Given the fragmentation of the US constitutional system, I can’t see any of this every happening there. Hatred of Britain clouded the vision of the Founding Fathers and gave the US what I consider to be a deficient system of government.