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Lecture 1

POL 1101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Congress, Westminster System, 6 Years

Political Science
Course Code
POL 1101
Wolfgang Koerner

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Scholars have always studied and compared the Canadian’s parliamentary system and the
American’s congressional system, trying to determine which one was more effective and which
one had the better capacity to uphold democratic principles. This argumentation will contribute to
this discussion, by comparing the strengths and the weaknesses of the two systems. The points
presented in this argumentation will not support one system over the other, but rather will
highlight the weaknesses and strengths of each. The argumentation will look at the effectiveness
of each system and prove that the Canadian’s traditional Westminster system is more effective at
passing bills than the American congressional system. However, the way power is spread in both
systems will also be looked at and it will be shown that it favors the American system. Finally,
the stability of the American system compared to its Canadian counterpart will also be examined.
First, the Canadian parliamentary system is much more efficient at adopting legislations
and resolutions than its counterpart in the United States. In the United States, legislative and
executive powers are divided into separate branches of the government. The executive,
represented by the President, his cabinet and the Chief of Staff, is elected independently from the
legislative power, represented by the American Congress. Congress is a bicameral system
composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House of
Representatives are elected for 2 years, and senators are elected every 6 years. The senate’s role is
to provide a meaningful support to the Lower House, through deliberations. Their job is to defend
the interests of the population and control the activities of the House. The senate also has the
power to ask for changes on a bill, or even kill it if senators do not like it at all. Senators can also
initiate bills, except money bills. Finally, any piece of legislation that is to be adopted needs to be
accepted by the Senate in addition to the vote in the Lower House. The American Senate is
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similar to what we have here in Canada. As mentioned earlier, the executive and legislative
powers are separated in the American system. This separation of power was set up in order for the
legislative to keep an eye on the executive’s actions and vice-versa. It is a system of checks and
balances, as seen in class. The executive does not sit in Congress, and cannot initiate legislation
on its own. It has to do it through its representatives in Congress. The problem with the
American congressional system is that this separation of power is often causing the democratic
process to encounter problems and stalemates, especially if Congress is composed of a majority
of congressmen in opposition to the President’s party, a situation Barack Obama has to deal with
right now. The legislative authority has the authority to initiate and pass bills and resolutions and
review them in the Senate, as stated in Article I of the American constitution but the President,
representing the executive, has to sign legislations to make them valid. He also has the power to
veto them as well. Also, the executive has to pass their platforms in Congress, meaning that every
bill initiated by the legislative party in Congress representing the executive has to go through
both chambers. For that reason, if the executive and Congress are dominated by a different party,
it is unlikely that they will be willing to work together, since the Democrats and Republican
platforms diverge on many aspects. One party defends liberal ideas, the other conservative ideas.
Bipartisanship has been extremely difficult to achieve in recent years, and thus it has been really
difficult for recent American presidents to push forward their platform when working with a
Congress led by the opposition. As a result, the democratic system is put on hold (Kristof).
Effective ways to break the gridlock were voters referendum. They allowed some states to
legalize marijuana, to reduce prison sentences and tighten gun control (Kristof). Others rights
granted to the president include the negotiation of treaties, and the appointment of Federal judges,
as stated in Article II of the American constitution. But these powers are limited and in no way
compensate for the time lost in Congress.
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In comparison, Canada’s system is much more efficient. The executive and legislative authorities
are part of the same organization, composed of the House of Commons and the Senate. In
Canada, the executive, composed of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, are part of the legislature.
They are elected members of the House of Commons. As a result, the executive, in the case of a
coalition or majority government, has the ability to pass their bills and push forward their
platform much more easily, since the leading party does not have another power checking on
them and reviewing their actions. In theory, that would be the job of the representative of the
crown, which is the Governor General, and of the Senate. But in practice, he very rarely
interferes with state matters and has more of a symbolic role. Since the Prime Minister appoints
the Senate, it also rarely puts any roadblocks in the government’s way, and if it does, they are
really light and compromises can be found easily (Coyne). One problems Canadians Prime
Ministers can face is a Senate led by the opposition, like it is the case today. Harper appointed
Senators during his 10 years as Prime Minister, and they get to keep their seat until they turn 75,
unlike in the United States. However, it would be illegitimate for them to block every bill going
through the Upper House since they are nominated and not elected (Coyne), which is different
from the American system. They do not represent the will of the popular vote, but the ideas of the
Prime Minister who appoints them. What they will do though is make the government’s job more
challenging, and ensure compromises are made to include some conservative’s interests (Coyne).
So, because the executive and in connection the legislative power as well have less restrictions
than the United States’ executive and legislative powers, the will and desires of people is more
instituted within a parliamentary system, because the executive doesn’t encounter as much
roadblocks or stalemates in the implementation of its political platform compared to the United
States’ way of adopting legislations. Also, since the legislative contains the executive in Canada,
bills adopted in the House of Commons come directly from the Prime Minister’s agenda. This is
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