Our system is far better than theirs

January 26, 2018   ·   0 Comments

WE OFTEN WONDER how different things would be if King George III had opted to let Britain’s North American colonies all gradually achieve independence from the mother country.

Our strong suspicion is that the path trod by the 13 Colonies would have been a lot like that witnessed nearly a century later in what remained of British North America.

Instead, the American Revolution led to a loose federation of the 13 states, with a new Constitution that called for a central government to have limited powers, with the states each having their own forms of criminal law.

And to protect the new nation from some of the problems witnessed in Britain, the framers of the U.S. Constitution opted for a presidential form of government in which overall power was shared by three branches – the executive (presidency), Congress and the judiciary.

In 1776, the 13 Colonies had about 2.5 million residents, with slightly more than half in the six southern colonies and Virginia having by far the most population with more than 500,000 residents, about twice as many as New York and Massachusetts. While most of the new states had more than 100,000 residents, Delaware had only about 45,000 and Rhode Island and Georgia both had fewer than 60,000.

In the circumstances, it’s perhaps not surprising that each state was given two seats in the powerful Senate, which seemingly was given as much clout as Britain’s House of Lords had in 1776.

Obviously, no one could have known that by this point in U.S. history one state (California) has 40 million residents and six others have fewer than a million, with Wyoming’s two senators being chosen by fewer than 600,000 electors.

That’s undoubtedly one reason the U.S. has fallen so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in so many areas such as health care, metrication, monetary units and credit card options.

As matters stand, very little gets accomplished even when, as is currently the case, one party controls all three branches of government with a Republican president and Republicans having a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last weekend saw paralysis set in when it took three days for the Republicans and Democrats to agree on a spending bill that ended a three-day shutdown of the government, something that has happened several times in the past and yet is unthinkable in any country like Canada or Britain with parliamentary forms of government. (The bill is apparently just enough to prevent another shutdown before February 8.)

Whatever else might be said about our current system of government and its members who won election despite having a minority of votes cast, it at least makes it possible for our federal and provincial governments to get things done (albeit not necessarily to keep their election promises).

As we see it, our parliamentary system is vastly superior to that found south of the border, and probably is marginally preferable to pure proportional representation, which would make it virtually impossible for one party to have a majority of Commons seats.

The one change we would like to see is an end to “first past the post” victories where no candidate gets a majority of votes, with run-off elections being held after the general election between the top two candidates.

We’ll likely never understand why that option hasn’t been considered by the Trudeau government, since the Liberals might well benefit from such a system. It would at least guarantee that every member of the Commons would have enjoyed the support of  majority of their riding’s residents.

But with or without runoffs, our system is surely more democratic (and successful) than that found below the border.

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