Parliamentary vs. Presidential political systems: structural differences.
[First Published on October 03, 2013 and makes reference to the American debt crisis of the time, as well as the consequent shutdown of the American government. This is similar to the government shutdown provoked by the moron-in-chief about a year ago if memory serves.]
Another JuicyLesson from Canadian Jerry. 🇨🇦
Before we can understand how this shutdown of the American government was allowed to happen, we have to look at how their system of government is structured compared to ours. We shall see that the present stalemate in the United States could never occur here due to the major differences which exist in both the structures and operations of the Canadian and U.S. political systems.
Canada, like the United Kingdom, has a Parliamentary system of the government while the United States and France have governmental systems classified as Presidential.
In Parliamentary systems, parliament – our legislative branch of government – is sovereign; in the United States sovereignty rests with both the House of Representatives and the Senate, their legislature in other words, as well as with their executive, i.e. the President and his cabinet. This means that in Canada, Parliament which includes both the Senate and the House of Commons – the latter which includes the Prime Minister (P.M.) – have the final say in the passage of legislation while in the U.S.A., the President, who does not have a seat in the legislature like the P.M. does here, may have the final say in the passage of laws or it could be that the passage of laws may fall to their legislative branch.
In the United States, the legislative branch and the executive branch may end up disagreeing on whether to pass laws or on other actions such as impeachment of the American president. In Canada this cannot happen since our executive branch, i.e. the Prime Minister and his cabinet, are structurally part of the legislative branch and thus have seats in the Commons. There is no mechanism/mention of impeachment with regard to our prime minister in our Constitution.
Other specific structural differences in these two political systems include:
Both systems have legislative, executive and judicial branches. The legislative branch is responsible for making/passing laws. The executive branch administers laws while the judicial branch interprets them. In the U.S. these branches are separate; in Canada the executive and legislative branches sit in the same House of Commons.
The legislative branch in Canada is composed of the elected House of Commons and the Senate which is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. In the American system, the legislative branch of government is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both directly elected according to the principle of universal suffrage, one person = one vote.
The executive in a Parliamentary political system is made up of the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and the Governor-General. The P.M. gets his position as a result of being the head of the party getting a majority or a plurality (in the case of a minority government) of seats in the House of Commons. The cabinet is chosen by the P.M. from amongst the elected members of his party. The Governor-General, our ceremonial head of state, is appointed by the British sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, who like his cabinet is indirectly elected. In the U.S., the executive is composed of the President, directly elected by the people every four years, the cabinet, appointed by the President, and the ceremonial head of state, the Vice-President who is swept to power on the President’s coattails. Since the American cabinet can come from anywhere, cabinet appointments must be ratified by the Senate. In Canada, cabinet appointments do not have to be ratified because these people are chosen mainly from amongst people who have already been elected unlike as in the United States.
The judicial branch in both countries is composed of judges at the federal and provincial/state levels. In Canada federal judges are appointed by the Prime Minister; in the U.S.A. judges, except for those on the Supreme Court are elected by the people. In both countries, Supreme Court judges are appointed by their respective heads of government – the PM here and the President in the United States. In the American system, as with cabinet appointees, Supreme Court nominees must be vetted by a Senate committee.n
Both countries have bicameral legislatures at the federal level which means there are two houses in each country’s legislative branch of government. In Canada, the House of Commons, like the American House of Representatives, is elected according to the principle of representation by population, commonly referred to as “rep. by pop.” meaning that larger provinces here and the more populated states there send the most representatives to their respective legislatures. Thus California, the most populous U.S. state, elects fifty-three (53) representatives to the House while the seven smallest states send only one representative each. The same situation exists in this country where the more populous provinces – Quebec, Ontario, B.C., and Alberta elect more Members of Parliament than smaller provinces like PEI which only sends four members to the Commons compared to Ontario which controls 121 of the 308 total Commons seats. There are 78 M.P.’s elected from Quebec. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. The appointed Canadian Senate, with 105 members contains an equal number of senators, 24, from each of our four major regions – the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, and the Western provinces – with the remainder of Senate seats, a total of nine, being assigned to the smaller regions; in the United States each state elects two Senators. Both Senates are meant to allow for equal representation for smaller states or regions which get shafted in terms of the apportioning of seats in the House of Representatives there and in the House of Commons here.
The Senate in the United States has more power than the House of Representatives (House). As already stated above, the American Senate is elected unlike ours which is appointed. Senators here can serve until the age of seventy-five (75); Senators in the U.S., on the other hand, serve terms of 6 years, with one-third (1/3) of the Senate having to stand for election every two years. Members of the American House are elected for terms of two years at a time, while Canadian M.P.’s remain in power until a new election is called. This may involve shorter terms in the case of minority governments or maximum terms of five (5) years as laid out in the Canada Act (1982), our constitution.
The U.S. Senate is a much more powerful force within the American political system than Canada’s Upper House is in ours, because the Senate is appointed in Canada. In a democracy, ultimate power must be held by elected people, people who can be held accountable to the electorate. Since our Senate is not in theory accountable to the electors in this country, ipso facto it should have less power in terms of the political system as a whole than both the elected American Senate and our own elected House of Commons.