Trump Wouldn't Survive Canada

October 1st, 2018 | R. Rados
donald trump canada

It's easier to get rid of a prime minister than it is to get rid of a president. The Westminster system doesn't usually allow someone like Donald Trump to make it very far. Party leaders who have done and said far less than Donald Trump have been removed and ousted in Canada by members of their own party. It doesn't matter if they were elected to a majority government and given the title of Premier or Prime Minister, party leaders in Canada and the UK can be removed by their party's members and caucus at any time. If Donald Trump had managed to win a hypothetical leadership race for the Conservative Party in Canada or the UK, he would have lasted six months into his first term—if he was lucky.


All those Canadians who have been hoping for a straight-talking, unfiltered, no holds barred candidate to drain the Ottawa swamp might eventually get their way, but their candidate would rise and fall so fast that historians wouldn't have much to write about. Especially leading up to an election, political parties are less tolerant of candidates and members like Donald Trump. Patrick Brown and Maxime Bernier are recent examples.


It's because of party politics and the Westminster parliamentary system that the likelihood of Canadians getting their own version of Donald Trump is slim to none.


When Donald Trump was first elected, the Republicans were divided. That division slowly started to resolve itself when it became clear that Trump's base was highly loyal and highly dangerous—and that Trump would “sign whatever Republicans put in front of him”. It took more than a year for Republicans to stop publicly resisting. Some never stopped, but instead chose to resign or not seek re-election. John McCain resisted all the way to the grave.


In Canada, things would have been different. Mechanisms that exist in Canada's party system and the Westminster system allow a caucus or party membership to take their resistance against their own party leader a few steps further, rather than roll over and wait for their leader to sink them and their party.


Unlike in Canada, the executive branch of the United States is independently elected. Although parties select candidates to run for president, they have no authority to usurp or remove a sitting president—even if he is their de facto leader. Donald Trump is a Republican, but he could just as easily be an independent. The Republican Party has no way to remove him from office, except through impeachment and conviction in Congress—which requires some sort of unethical or criminal behaviour to justify. The true leaders of the Republican Party and its legislative policies are the majority leaders in the House Of Representatives and Senate.


The executive branch in Canada, which includes cabinet ministers, is mostly controlled by the prime minister—who is elected to his party's leadership by party members and then by the general population through individual ridings. In Canada, the executive branch is determined by a majority of elected representatives belonging to a particular party. The prime minister, unlike the US president, is inherently and directly tied to his elected caucus in the legislature. This is why Republicans have no authority to remove Donald Trump, whereas Liberal Party members and the Liberal caucus could act against Justin Trudeau at any time.


A prime minister or premier can also be removed with a no-confidence vote, whereas a US president cannot be. The quickest way to remove a president is via the 25th Amendment, which requires proving a president has been mentally or physically incapacitated.


Now think about how far someone like Donald Trump would have made it in Canada's parliamentary system. With Stormy Daniels, groping accusations, allegations of collusion with Russia and angry tweets calling out his own Justice Department, chances are Donald Trump would have lasted six months or less as Canada's prime minister. Not to mention his sinking approval ratings, which would be a liability for any party looking to stay in power. To even make it into the PMO, Trump would have had to survive his own party during a turbulent and unpredictable general election campaign. We all saw how fast the Ontario PCs moved to oust and replace Patrick Brown following unsubstantiated sexual misconduct accusations just six months before a general election.


Love him or hate him, most polls have shown support for Donald Trump in Canada hovering between 20-25%. Trump supporters love pointing out how polls have been wrong, but a series of polls from various separate companies have all said the same thing: Canada is a different country when it comes to personality. We all love watching American television, American movies, American sports and eating American food—but when it comes to our politicians, we like them as stale as our coffee and apologies. Canadian media is as bad and lopsided as America's mainstream media, but the Americans have always had a habit of questioning everything. This means that—unlike Americans—Canadians happen to believe everything the news tells them without ever questioning the motives of journalists. This makes the ascendance of a Canadian Donald Trump even less likely.


Not only would Canadian media cover an incendiary Conservative like Trump unfairly, Canadians would never bother to verify or question any of it. Every allegation, every fake scandal and every mischaracterization would go largely unquestioned in Canada.


All of this would make it nearly impossible for a politician like Trump to survive his own party, let alone a general election. If a Canadian Trump did somehow manage to survive and walk into the PMO by winning a majority, the party politics of the Westminster system would take him out quicker than a lightning strike.  

A Majority Government


Let's imagine that a Canadian Trump wins the Conservative Party leadership and a general election, even after a pussy-grabbing video leaks to the CBC and his inflammatory tweets have absorbed most of the air time on Canadian news channels leading up to the election. Most of the headlines and stories that cover his candidacy are negative and littered with allegations of sexism, homophobia, racism and xenophobia—but he still wins a majority government with 38% of the popular vote.


38% isn't a lot. The only reason prime ministers survive such low public support is because of how the Westminster system is designed and because of how party politics pretty much guarantees the one thing that a prime minister requires to stay in power: the confidence of the House Of Commons.


Without party politics, the Westminster system would be a disorderly mess. To keep any kind of stability, or to keep a prime minister in power, unofficial factions and pacts would eventually have to emerge to form a consensus. The Westminster system naturally produces political parties and coalitions as a necessary function, meaning that there likely wouldn't be a Westminster system without party politics. Party politics is the natural consequence of this system of parliament and this system of parliament wouldn't tolerate a Donald Trump for very long—even after a general election.


With the amount of division that Donald Trump caused within his own party, a coup would begin forming almost immediately after his party won a majority government in a Westminster system. You might think that any candidate who could survive such a media onslaught and still win a majority government would be immune to an internal coup or an ouster, but you'd be wrong.


Again, 38% is not a lot. Winning an election with less that 40% of the public's support is a recipe for disaster in any other kind of democracy. In many democracies with proportional representation, winning less than 40% of the popular vote makes governing impossible without forming a coalition or agreement with other parties and leaders. Winning only 38% of the popular vote means that 62% of the country voted against you. These kind of numbers always make opponents feel emboldened, no matter what team they're on.

Now imagine Canadian Trump's opponents on his own team. Knowing that their party will still retain a majority government, no matter what happens, they're even more emboldened. They could oust Canadian Trump and have the Conservative caucus elect a new leader and prime minister without having to go through another general election. They could then spend the next three or more years trying to neutralize the fallout by implementing some of Canadian Trump's popular policies while putting on a less Trumpian face for the rest of Canada.
Side Note:
In 2013, Angel Merkel won 41% of the popular vote in Germany, but it was still not enough to form a majority government, forcing Merkel to form a coalition with opposing parties.

All of this would materialize in under six months following a Trump majority government. There is no better example of what can happen in Westminster politics than what we have seen in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull was one of the most recent casualties of a Westminster coup. Before him, Tony Abbot was the victim of what Australians call a “leadership spill” within his won party.


Ontario's Progressive Party leadership race caused similar division within the Ontario PC party and included accusations by Doug Ford that the party elites were trying to supress him. If any of this is true, Doug Ford's days as premier could be numbered if the “PC elites” truly have it out for him.



A Minority Government


Canadian Trump's chances of surviving a minority government are even less. If he were to stir up as much division inside his own party as American Trump, it would be game over before the game even starts.


In a situation where the Trump Conservatives were polling in majority territory, only to have their numbers squashed because of a silly tweet or Trump's asinine antics, a Trump minority government would last a few weeks at best. Members of his own caucus would be quick to lay the blame on him and be eager to elect a new leader for the next election—which would probably happen fast.


After electing a new leader and, thus, a new prime minister, everyone would be eager for a no-confidence vote to end it all. Anti-Trump Conservatives and opposition NDP and Liberals would want to go right back to the campaign trail to try again. Liberals and New Democrats would bank on the new Conservative leader's weakness and lack of appeal, while Conservatives would bank on their new leader's softer, more electable tone.


No matter which way you try to look at it, a Canadian Trump would be nothing more than a flash in the pan. The Westminster system just wouldn't allow an incendiary, controversial flamethrower like Donald Trump to last very long.