ELECTED DICTATORS:Canadian style, vs. Uncle Sam's checks and balances

By William Bedford
Published April 6th 2005 in Canada Free Press

According to reports in the U.S. media, the Democrats are worried that George Bush and his fellow Christian fundamentalists, now that they have control of both Houses of Congress, will feel free to ride roughshod over all opinions contrary to their own. Since the U.S, unlike Canada, is blessed with a system of checks and balances, no president, no matter how popular he may be, can impose his will on the nation. The U.S. Democrats would really have something to worry about if they had to contend with a Canadian style government, where, unlike the U.S., there is nothing to stop a prime minister, when he heads a majority government, from ramming through whatever bill he pleases.

In order for an American president to wield this kind of power, he would have to be able to order every senator and congressman in his own party to vote as he tells them to. Take, for instance, the phony three-way face-off between Ottawa. Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall over the funding, or should that be the de-funding, of Ontario’s infrastructure. This is a classic example of the nonsense that passes for leadership in our system of government. If our MPs had to answer to their constituents, as their U.S. counterparts must do, we’d have a lot less of this grandstanding.

The real danger in all this buck-passing by politicians is the serious flaw in our political system that permits prime ministers and premiers, when they hold a majority of seats in their respective parliaments, to behave like banana republic dictators. We are so fed up with smarmy politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths, in both English and French, that millions of us don’t bother to vote at all.

Canada is in dire need of politicians who believe in government of, for, and by the people, but we won’t get it so long as we allow a majority government to wield dictatorial powers. And we certainly won’t get good government from politicians who regard governing as a business. If governance was that simple, we could abolish elections altogether, and let the top bank and business CEOs run the country. And, when you think of it, that might be an improvement on our current system.

It's said that power tends to corrupt, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just look at a few of the awesome powers that a Canadian prime minister wields: The right to appoint Governors General, Ambassadors and Supreme Court Judges. The right to call an election whenever the polls are favourable. The right to ram through any bill, no matter how unpopular it may be. The good news is the growing public realization that some form of U.S, style checks and balances is required if we are to curb the powers of our political leaders. Maybe we should require politicians to swear a political kind of Hippocratic oath, especially the part about doing no harm. Canada used to be known as a society that worked.

Now, we have a demoralized military, turmoil in our schools and hospitals, a crumbling infrastructure and a growing number of homeless people. These problems are the fault, directly or indirectly, of incompetent politicians. We should quit gloating over how complicated and expensive the U.S. system of governance is, and get to work on reforming our own antiquated system. We could start by cutting back on the number of politicians we allow to represent us. (If the U.S. had the same number of federal politicians per capita that we do, they’d be saddled with over 1,000 senators and more than 4,000 representatives). We also should demand an elected senate, proportional representation, a fixed term of office for prime ministers, and more free votes by ordinary MPs.

A few years ago, the New Brunswick Liberals, under Premier Frank McKenna, captured all the seats in the provincial election, thereby allowing them to govern without any opposition at all. If that political nightmare occurs in Ottawa, and it’s bound to happen, sooner or later, before we reform our political system, we’re all going to find out what it’s like to be stranded in that putrid stream without a any means of propulsion.