Replacing Canada's Westminster System
February 2nd, 2022 | RR
Canada is an inferior country by most standards. We tell ourselves that it isn't, but the international community either ignores us or laughs at us. For smaller developing countries, we're viewed as nothing more than an ATM. We have a prime minister who parades around the world in colourful socks and goes surfing during major national crises, all because it doesn't really matter what Canada does or thinks. When any of our prime ministers speak at the United Nations, the room is empty. All anyone really needs is our money and we have no problem handing it out like a monthly welfare cheque. No matter how much we protest or complain, our votes never amount to much and nothing ever changes. This is because of our archaic Westminster parliamentary system.
It has been noted by scholars and experts that Canada's prime ministers wield more power than presidents of other countries. The United States is considered the most powerful country in the world right now, but our prime minister is able to exert more executive power on a domestic level than Joe Biden. In the course of one year, Justin Trudeau has done more to curtail the freedom of his citizens than what Joe Biden could in the United States. Biden's federal vaccine mandates were struck down by courts within weeks, while Trudeau's federal mandates stayed firmly in place without a challenge from any court or opposition party.
Challenging anything in Canada's Liberal Supreme Court would be a waste of money for anyone willing to try it. Worse yet, it would result in a humiliating defeat and produce more headlines to benefit Liberals and to undermine opposition parties.
The reason for that is simple. Over the course of decades, Canada's perpetual Liberal governments have stacked the Supreme Court and Senate with partisans. Unlike in other countries, senators and justices go through a very minimal vetting process and are appointed without much difficulty by the majority party in parliament. Justin Trudeau can easily appoint whoever he wants to fill vacancies inside the Supreme Court and Senate, without having to face the same public hearings and confirmation processes that Joe Biden and his appointees would have to face.
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Going even deeper than that, Canada's perpetual Liberal governments are also—partly—the result of our Westminster system.
Seats are disproportionately distributed to benefit Ontario and Quebec, making it impossible for BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to hold a majority without the East. Ontario and Quebec alone have enough federal seats to form strong minorities and slim majorities without a single seat in the West. Of course, this isn't because of the Westminster system, but the fact that one majority party is able to control so much—without checks and balances—makes it easier to maintain the status quo. It is because of the Westminster system that a prime minister and ruling party have such a disproportionate amount of control and power.
With Canadians growing less fond of monarchies and the royal family, now would be a good time to start a debate on reforming our democratic system. Rather than making it just a debate about abolishing the Queen from Canadian culture, it should be a debate about abolishing and replacing the outdated, British Westminster system.
Canadians should consider these two superior replacements that have been functioning well for more than 200 years in other countries.
The American System
After the revolution, Americans set out to create a unique system that would ensure that monarchy and dictatorship are never able to rear their ugly heads again. Many wanted George Washington as their king, but he wasn't willing to oblige. America was going to be a republic defined by a constitution and a strong set of rules. Ever since, the American system has persevered and its people have had most of their freedoms preserved for well over two centuries.
Joe Biden's mandates were struck down by a diverse set of courts in a very diverse judicial environment. Many of Donald Trump's actions as president were tempered and shut down by courts, Congress and state laws. The same has been true for every previous president. Having a unique and complex set of checks and balances has made the United States immune to the same kinds of tyranny we have seen in other parts of the world. This is why Americans have been able to own guns and engage in free speech since the beginning of the Union's existence, despite endless attacks and efforts to change the Constitution. A president is unable to override the Constitution or to implement his own sets of rules, no matter how hard he tries. When he tries, federal and state courts step in, or Congress shuts him down.
Congress alone has no authority to amend the Constitution without approval from a majority of the 50 states. In order for that approval to even happen, each state must first pass its own legislation to approve the changes. This makes changes almost impossible, because changing America's rock-solid Constitution would require a kind of homogeneous unity, across at least 30 states, that has never been seen in America.
Along with the Constitution, America has a very unique voting method and a strong set of branches designed to temper the whims of the presidency and Congress.
First off, unlike Canada, each American state is responsible for running presidential and federal elections. In Canada, a federal bureaucracy, called Elections Canada, oversees federal elections in every province. In the United States, each state must administer and tabulate the votes for president, senate and house. Once votes are tabulated, electors chosen by each represented federal party will vote in the Electoral College—usually for the candidate who won a majority of the popular support in each state. The Electoral College, itself, was designed to neutralize majority rule and to ensure that a few populous states could not elect presidents without the support of other, smaller states.
In some ways, our current Canadian parliamentary system acts as an Electoral College by electing seats from each province based on the popular vote. However, for a singular, executive authority—like a president—we would need to make sure that a few provinces don't end up with all the control.
"Challenging anything in Canada's Liberal Supreme Court would be a waste of money for anyone willing to try it."
To emulate the American system, Canada would need to make the Senate and Supreme Court more transparent and the process of filling vacancies more onerous. The Senate would need to be elected by voters in each province, for each province. Any new justices for the Supreme Court would need to be grilled and vetted, in a public setting, by opposition parties and their committees. Once the hearings are complete, the democratically elected Senate would need to confirm the nominations with a majority vote.
Each province would have a certain number of senators elected to represent the province and their parties. The second legislative branch would remain similar to the current House Of Commons, or what is known as the House Of Representatives in the United States Congress.
The process of impeaching a president would be identical to the American system, allowing the House Of Representatives to introduce articles of impeachment and then allowing the Senate to convict or acquit with a 60/40 vote. The executive branch would be made up of cabinets and secretaries, which are similar to ministers in our Canadian system. The only difference would be that the cabinet would require the same confirmation process as the Supreme Court.
A democratically elected head of state and executive branch are what Canada needs. Our current Westminster system affords too much power to a sitting prime minister and his party. For those who aren't fond of the American system, another superior alternative has existed for more than 200 years in Europe.
The French System
If you're looking for a system with similarities to both the Canadian and American systems, the fifth iteration of the French system might be a better alternative. In France, a similar constitution holds together all the branches of government, which are the executive, legislative and judicial branches—and it secures individual freedoms. The country has both a prime minister and a president.
The president is the official head of state and is elected by a majority to his, or her, position in a final run-off vote. The prime minister is appointed by the democratically elected president and presides over most government matters and legislation. In Canada, symbolically, the Governor General is the head of state and has the power to anoint and dismiss a prime minister. In France, the president can appoint the prime minister—usually to reflect the will of the democratic majority in the National Assembly—but does not have power to dismiss the prime minister.
Because only the National Assembly has the power to remove a prime minister, the French president is better served by appointing a prime minister that can hold popular support.
Rather than an electoral college (which France had until 1962), France uses run-off elections between the two most popular presidential candidates determined by a national vote. In the first national vote, several candidates are eligible to run, but the two who win the highest share of the popular vote will face off in a final round—unless a majority is achieved in the first round. This better ensures that the president has the support of a majority of the electorate.
In a situation when the National Assembly and president represent different parties and interests, it is referred to as “cohabitation”. This can happen when voters elect an opposing president and National Assembly. This drastically diminishes the power of the presidency in France and can act as a decent check on the executive branch.
The French system offers a good mixture of direct democracy and republicanism. For Canadians, it would be a more moderate transition than the American system and it could encourage change without rattling the anti-American sentiments of most ordinary Canadians.
One simple change that could move Canada in the right direction would be replacing the Governor General with a democratically elected president. Over time, the new head-of-state's role could be expanded from a strictly symbolic role to include the powers of appointing a prime minister and directing foreign policy.
Most Canadians are often compelled by their innate smugness to dismiss anything American as inferior and “crazy”. They'll often sneer at American politics and the partisan deadlocks, while failing to appreciate the value of it all. Any freedom-loving person should see the checks and balances that inhibit sweeping laws and changes from taking effect as good things, but most Canadians have a tendency to take comfort in their government's ability to make sweeping changes without much opposition or criticism.
It's almost like Canadians are too lazy and preoccupied to care about the debates, lengthy processes and roadblocks that make up a true, genuine republic. They'd rather have a prime minister and ruling party quietly appoint their Senate and Supreme Court—because it's easier and requires less effort on their part. Canadians feel better served when they shrug their shoulders, pound back a shitty coffee and let their prime ministers make all the complicated decisions. Furthermore, they don't want to rock the boat.
Canadians don't like all that messy confrontational stuff, eh.
On the bright side, multiple polls have shown Canadians drifting further away from their constitutional monarchy. Canadians are open to abolishing the monarchy and seeking a more defined and unique cultural future. Even many Conservatives are abandoning their Toryism for a more independent worldview. Together, as we move closer to sending the Royal Family packing, we should consider sending other British traditions away with them.
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