Tag: parliament

Government Shutdowns and Debt Ceilings

Craig Axford | Canada

Government shutdowns and flirtations with default by putting off raising the federal debt ceiling have become regular occurrences in Washington, D.C. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised given the number of representatives and senators regularly expressing disdain for the very institution they were elected to run, but still.

Americans like to believe their nation is exceptional, and it is: it’s the only developed nation on the planet that doesn’t guarantee all its citizens healthcare, higher education is more expensive there than just about anywhere else, it has the only government that it’s possible to shut down without having to resort to violence, and it’s the only nation that flirts with suicide by requiring votes on its debt ceiling.

That’s right. No other governments have even one, let alone two, kill switches built into their system. And why would they? What’s the point? Unless the intent is to erode public confidence in government it makes no sense for elected officials to even contemplate closing down popular national parks or giving all the people in charge of enforcing our public health and safety regulations an extended unpaid holiday?

The habit of shutting down the government now and then (as well as the continuing resolutions passed to avoid them) is an unintended bug in the American system rather than a feature of it. So too is the necessity to authorize more borrowing periodically once the national debt has reached a predetermined threshold. Both of these bugs are extremely dangerous but, unfortunately, they are likely to remain unfixed for the foreseeable future.

America’s founding fathers were revolutionaries. As such, they were no fans of the British government, which by the late 18th century was already well established and quite recognizable to any citizen of the 21st century. Though King George III was the titular head of state, like his contemporary successor Queen Elizabeth II, he had very little actual power to match the privileges that came with his hereditary title. Parliament was already very much in charge.

Nothing like what took place in Philadelphia following the American Revolution had ever been seriously considered, let alone attempted, in London. To intentionally sit down and craft rules for a new government quite literally being built from scratch was a radical idea if ever there was one. To call America an experiment is not an exaggeration. As with any experiment, the outcome is unknown until it has come to a close. The American experiment hasn’t ended, but so far it certainly has produced some unanticipated results.

In creating the modern world’s first republic, America’s victorious rebels were faced with the task of establishing rules for a country that no longer had centuries of tradition to fall back on. The norms of the mother country they had just abandoned had evolved over hundreds of years of power struggles between the aristocracy and the crown, with a nascent merchant middle class increasingly making its own demands over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. The newly independent colonies wanted to distinguish themselves from the nation they had just liberated themselves from, but how?

The US Constitution settled for a president instead of a monarch, while the House of Representatives took the place of the House of Commons and the Senate stood in for the House of Lords. Each elected member of these respective branches is subject to regular fixed terms of office, with the power balanced more or less equally between them rather than resting largely in the representative branch (i.e., parliament) alone. With the exception of the extremely rare and difficult case of impeachment, the US Constitution provides no opportunity to hold any single officeholder accountable for failure during the period between elections, let alone the government as a whole. Federal judges receive lifetime appointments, something else not seen in any other developed representative democracy to this day.

In a parliamentary system, the failure to pass something as routine as an annual budget triggers a crisis. Under the Westminster parliamentary model followed in the UK, Canada and several other members of the Commonwealth, this crisis brings down the government and forces the monarch or her designated representative to dissolve the government and call an election. In unstable periods when minority governments are common, elections tend to be relatively more frequent, while in less turbulent political times a majority government can persist for five years or so before facing a vote.

Likewise, when a parliament authorizes spending beyond the government’s anticipated revenues, it is understood they have necessarily approved an increase in the national debt. Therefore, there is no need to consider raising the debt limit independently. From the perspective of citizens living in parliamentary countries, it makes no sense that the same Congress that approved deficit spending one month can spend time the next flirting with a refusal to allow any borrowing. It’s like having a government that doesn’t know its own mind.

Unfortunately, the kind of crises that bring down governments in parliamentary systems has become commonplace in the United States. Budgets go years without being approved, with Congress lurching from one continuing resolution to the next while various factions hold federal employees and the citizens dependent upon their services hostage until some pet project or favorite policy or another is approved in exchange for keeping things running for a while longer. A Prime Minister Donald Trump would either be facing a vote of the people at this point in the budget process or a leadership challenge by members of his own caucus. One year in office would be unlikely, but four would almost certainly be impossible.

I’ve been living in Canada for the better part of a decade now. On most days I find myself feeling pretty ambivalent about the monarchy if I even think about it at all. That’s not because I can see equal merit in both sides of the argument regarding having someone born into the role of head of state. It’s because I recognize all societies require a sense of continuity and for some countries that can take the shape of a monarchy that has existed in one form or another for centuries. A woman that appears on our money while playing an entirely ceremonial role is harmless, if not for the actual person forced into the job by an accident of birth then at least for the rest of us.

I’m not feeling so ambivalent about having a parliament, however. I have strong opinions about the two Canadian prime ministers I’ve lived under so far. But the extent of my approval or disapproval aside, at least I know that the nearby Pacific Rim National Park will, weather permitting, always be open and that with the exception of national holidays at the local Services Canada office the door will never be locked. Even the UK Brexit debacle hasn’t convinced me parliaments are less effective or ultimately less democratic than the divided governments that have become the norm in the US.

If for some reason, it turns out parliament can’t do its job there will be an election lasting a little over a month while the people try to vote one in with a sufficient mandate to do it. In the meantime, things will go on pretty much as before without any nightly news reports about government employees unable to pay the rent because someone got it into their head they wanted to build a wall. I know it’s incredibly unAmerican to say so, but if you were to put me in a time machine and send me back to 1776, I would tell the founding fathers to get rid of the monarchy if they must, but at least keep the parliament.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com


71 Republic is the Third Voice in media. We pride ourselves on distinctively independent journalism and editorials. Every dollar you give helps us grow our mission of providing reliable coverage. Please consider donating to our Patreon.

Featured Image Source

Advertisements

Maxime Bernier and Canada’s Newest Political Party

By Brennan Dube | Canada

As summer came to a close, Canada’s Conservative Party was in the midst of some very large divisions. Party leader Andrew Scheer was having a tough time bringing together Maxime Bernier’s wing of the party. This division began in Spring of 2017 when Scheer ended up beating Bernier for the Conservative Party’s leadership by a slim margin of 50.95% to 49.05% on the 13thround of voting (Bernier had led the first twelve rounds, but 50% is needed for outright victory). Maxime Bernier has been touted in the past as a libertarian-leaning conservative who very openly voices his opinion against the party’s elites and takes stands that sometimes contradict what the rest of the party advocates for.

In the year following the leadership election, Scheer and Bernier still had not seen eye to eye. Scheer even bumped Bernier out of the shadow cabinet in the Canadian Parliament, something Bernier did not take very lightly to. The two have very opposing views when it comes to conservatism and a vision for Canada. Scheers more center-right approach sometimes has people branding him as a moderate. In contrast, Bernier’s libertarian roots are so prominent that when he lost the leadership race, the Canadian Libertarian party adopted his leadership platform and invited him to take over the party, to which he declined. Maxime Bernier has a grassroots following and is very principled in the way he goes about his politics.

Now, let us fast forward to August 23rd, 2018. Maxime Bernier formally resigns from the Conservative Party and announces that he will be forming his own party. On September the 14th, the party name was revealed to be the People’s Party of Canada. Bernier’s following and grassroots supporters base have given the party a booming start, and in six short weeks, the party has seen immense growth. As of October 10th, the party reported 22,500 members had already joined. This number is incredibly significant as it is approximately the size of 10% of the Conservative Party’s membership total and, at the time of the report, the party hadn’t even been established for an entire month. Tim Moen, the leader of Canada’s Libertarian party has offered Bernier a party merger. This would give the People’s Party a much quicker start considering the Libertarians have established infrastructure since the party has been around since 1973. A merger would also benefit Bernier because the process of being able to file tax receipts for a new party takes several months, but a merge with the Libertarians would make this problem disappear in an instant. While Moen is still open to the idea and many Libertarians have switched parties in favor of the People’s Party, Maxime Bernier has said no merger will take place. Bernier has stated that this is the party he wishes to move forward with, and he invites new joiners but no merger will be happening with the Libertarians or with anyone else.

Many Conservatives have said that this will only help Trudeau’s chances of winning re-election in 2019, while others have written off the party as merely fringe. Bernier denies this party will help Trudeau, as he has previously stated that the party will attract a broad coalition of Canadians who are “disenchanted with traditional politics.” He believes the party will also be able to attract Liberals of the 1990’s who supported strict balanced budgets and some NDP’s who oppose supply management. While the party isn’t as pure as many Canadian libertarians would like it to be, it definitely does have the opportunity of winning seats next election and that is evident with the booming party membership early on. Bernier has said this party will not “appease special interest groups” and it will be solely based on ideas and not focus groups. One downside is that no elected official at any level of provincial or federal government has openly supported Bernier’s efforts, but with strong grassroots backing, this party should still see strong growth and overall support heading into 2019.


Get awesome merchandise. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Featured Image Source

What Canada Can Teach America About Peace, Order & Good Government

By Craig Axford | United States

According to the Canadian historian John Bartlett Brebner, “Americans are benevolently ignorant about Canada, while Canadians are malevolently well informed about the United States.” When my wife and I initially began contemplating a move up north the first half of Brebner’s statement certainly applied to us.

We had visited Canada two or three times, so we were confident that culturally and linguistically most of the country was similar enough to ensure adapting wouldn’t be too difficult. And of course, there was single-payer healthcare. Like every other American we had an opinion on that topic. In our case, it was a favorable one. If affordable healthcare wasn’t going to come to us, we were willing to try going to it.

But beyond a very basic understanding of its healthcare system and the fact that most of the country spoke English, we lacked even a fundamental knowledge of Canadian history. The cultural attitudes that made something like universal healthcare possible north of the 49th parallel while it remained maddeningly impossible below it was even more of a mystery. After living there for seven of the last eight years we are still figuring that out. Now, as we prepare to return to Canada again after a year in the United States, we are looking forward to continuing our field research.

The decision to move north can best be described as prompted more by a push than a pull. Political discourse had already deteriorated in the US by the time we left 2010. In spite of the wave that brought the Democrats back into control of Congress in 2006 and the financial crisis that helped propel Obama into the White House in 2008, getting a debate on proposals such as a public healthcare option remained impossible. In addition, the Tea Party movement was tightening its hold on the Republican party and public figures like Donald Trump were actively promoting crazy theories about things like President Obama’s birthplace.

I had been working for the DNC as a party organizer but felt frustrated as attempts to hold the party’s “big tent” together consistently translated into watered down messages that everyone could more or less agree on but no one could get excited about. The vision once so eloquently and proudly expressed by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy seemed increasingly unlikely to return in my lifetime.

I was tired of hearing bold ideas being consistently dismissed as “impractical” by Democrats and attacked as “socialist” by Republicans. If other developed countries had managed to implement successful programs that few US politicians were willing to seriously consider, then it seemed a safe bet that these nations must necessarily have some cultural or political advantage the US lacked. Canada was the closest, most convenient, and most affordable option available under the circumstances.

Shortly after our arrival in 2010, I returned to school as a student at the University of Victoria. Among my first courses was a class in Canadian government. My understanding of the parliamentary system at the time is best described as a vague impression formed by American high school history courses that focused on the Revolutionary War period and included some antipathy for the monarchy. In the years since I had gotten a glimpse now and then of question periods in the British House of Commons that left me wishing C-Span’s congressional coverage could be as entertaining but unconvinced having a prime minister was necessarily preferable to having a president.

The acronym POGG is so familiar to Canadians that it never occurred to the professor teaching my Canadian government class that she should actually use the full phrase once or twice for the benefit of uninformed students like me. To the only American in the room, POGG sounded like a children’s toy or a game rather than the acronym for a phrase found in the British North America Act of 1867.

Peace, order and good government (POGG) was, it turned out, a line commonly inserted by the British Parliament throughout the 19th century into laws granting colonies greater autonomy from London. In Canada’s case, it was written into section 91 of the British North America Act. Section 91 describes the extent of the Parliament of Canada’s authority. As you might imagine given there are 90 sections that precede it, it lacks the lofty rhetorical quality that America’s founders successfully achieved in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the US Constitution.

“It shall be lawful for the Queen, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate and House of Commons, to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces; and for greater Certainty, but not so as to restrict the Generality of the foregoing Terms of this Section, it is hereby declared that (notwithstanding anything in this Act) the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say, [a list of 29 enumerated powers follows]

But in spite of its placement deep into the pages of the British North America Act and the context, Canadians have given the phrase “Peace, order and good government” roughly the same status Americans give to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It was upon realizing the emphasis Canadians place upon POGG that many of my own frustrations with the United States became clearer.

I came of age during the Reagan years. During most of my lifetime “good government” has been something American conservatives have been willing to consider a possibility only if it comes in a very small package. Ronald Reagan liked to refer to the sentence “I’m with the government and I’m here to help” as “the nine most terrifying words” an American could hear. Some of us are convinced to this day that it was his administration’s primary mission to prove it.

There’s a significant qualitative difference between a debate about the minimum a government can/should do and one about the maximum. The former involves deliberating about the question of how low it’s reasonable to go while the latter is contemplating how high it’s possible to climb. For all the current talk about making America great again, its reach exceeding its grasp has never been in its problem.

Obviously, there are many millions of people living in the United States that don’t share the Republican conviction that government can’t be a force for good or that it’s relative smallness matters more than function. The difference between the US and Canada isn’t that one country has people that have faith in their government while the other doesn’t. The primary difference appears to be that in one country the debate about government’s responsibility to be a positive force is still raging while in the other all the political parties, including the Conservative Party, start every policy debate with that as their premise.

Canada is an evolutionary culture, not a revolutionary one. As such, it’s no surprise that the phrase it so strongly identifies with is less stirring than “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and can be affectionately referred to by its acronym without the slightest hint of disrespect. Moving to Canada made me conscious for the first time that I prefer evolution to revolution and gave me the reason why. Adaptation means allowing people time to reflect upon the society they want and to make the necessary adjustments. Revolution, on the other hand, involves a sudden reactionary change that leaves the details to be worked out later. America is often referred to as an ongoing experiment in democracy precisely because more than two centuries after its successful revolt those details are still being worked out.

Of course, the words “Peace, order and good government” are not by themselves a panacea. Like “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the aspiration is left to each citizen and generation to define. Canadian governments, like their American counterparts, have been guilty of promoting systemic racism and other injustices. Both church and state forced generations of indigenous children into residential schools in an effort to “civilize” and “Christianize” them. The effects of this practice continue to be felt within Canada’s native communities and were the subject of a truth and reconciliation commission whose findings the country is still working to implement.

But that there’s been a truth and reconciliation commission at all is a reason for hope. In contrast, the United States has strenuously resisted launching any similar effort to reconcile itself to its history of slavery and the genocidal atrocities committed against its own native population. Exceptionalism and rugged individualism remain very much a part of the American myth and both of those beliefs keep getting in the way of a true reckoning with the injustices of the past.

The name Canada derives from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” which means “village” or “settlement.” In a very real sense that it took a village to raise a child was never nearly as controversial there. On our first Canada Day in British Columbia, we noticed that the country’s annual celebration of its autonomy had a more communal feel to it. As we traveled into downtown Victoria to join the throngs gathering to celebrate people broke out into choruses of Oh Canada! on the bus. On the lawn of BC’s parliament, citizens gathered to listen to the performers on the large outdoor stage and dressed in red and white t-shirts to compete with other major cities across the country to form the largest human Canadian flag.

This was a city coming together to celebrate their country in a way we had rarely if ever seen in the United States. It was a day of organized chaos that included everything from browsing at the booths merchants had set up along the waterfront to watching street performers and drinking beer on the outdoor patios of local pubs and restaurants. I was used to family get-togethers on the 4th of July, but not such large community ones. This was as much a commemoration of humanity and cosmopolitanism as it was of Canada. Village or settlement indeed.

In August of 2017, we encountered a visa snafu. Somewhere along the line a box that should have been checked wasn’t or one that shouldn’t have been was. As a result, my application for a new student visa was denied and I needed to leave the country. My entry into a master’s program at Royal Roads University was deferred for a year while we worked it out. In a few days we’ll be crossing the border into Canada again at which point we’ll know for sure whether we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed. This time, we hope, everything is in order. We have preliminary approval so we’re optimistic.

It’s not that we don’t love the United States. We do. But we like having a parliament with members from five parties instead of a Congress with members from two (Bernie Sanders and Angus King notwithstanding). Nor will we miss the gridlock that has come to define US politics and which divided government is literally designed to perpetuate. America’s ongoing debate about the role of government has once again devolved into a tribal partisan battle that challenges the value of even having democratic institutions in the first place.

Canada isn’t perfect, but as far as we can tell it has at least put many of the fundamental questions that America continues to wrestle with behind it. That’s not to say Canada is immune to the same undemocratic populist sickness that currently infects its southern neighbor, but it does have a stronger immune system.


To support 71 Republic, please donate to our Patreon, which you can find here.

Featured Image Source

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

Other articles that you may enjoy:

5 Nationalist Movements to Watch

By Colin Louis | U.S.

All around the globe nationalism is on the rise. The ideas of right wing populism and nationalism are starting to grow into large movements all over the free world. People are beginning to shift to these ideas. The following five countries are turning nationalist.

5. The UK

Recently, the U.K has shown signs of shifting further to the nationalist right. The Brexit vote provided evidence that the UK is moving further towards nationalism and populism. Brexit clearly signals that nationalism and euroskepticism is on a significant rise in the U.K. The recent UKIP leadership election could help them continue this.

4. Ireland

Irish politics serves as a reminder that nationalism comes in different forms. In the case of Ireland, it’s left nationalism with much momentum. The concept of left nationalism is a form of socialism mixed with nationalism, not to be confused with National Socialism, which is a far more authoritarian belief. Sinn Féin, led by Garry Adams, won around 14% of the vote in the recent 2016 election. Sinn Féin did very well compared to its past performance and that of other less nationalist parties. 14% might not sound like much, but the ruling party, Fine Gael, only received around 36% of the vote.

3. Germany

In the most recent German elections, the new nationalist party, Alternative Für Deutschland (AFD), won a considerable amount of seats in the German parliament. This sent a signal to incumbent Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that the German people are moving further from the European Union and her administration. Germany has always attempted to stray away from their Nazi history and refrain from nationalist movements. Although the election of AFD provides evidence that Germany is losing this mindset.

2. America

The recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States signals a shift further towards his movement of American nationalism. The policies Trump promised he would put in place, such as protectionist trade deals with China, are designed to put America over the rest of the world. The movement Trump sparked now runs rampant through the Republican Party. The Republican Party didn’t necessarily hold these views until Trump nearly hijacked the party. His America first movement destroyed the Party establishment and put these ideas into action.

1. Netherlands

The one that may surprise people the most is the Netherlands. The once center left nation recently took a swing right in the 2017 elections when Garret Wilders and the Party for Freedom ran a hard anti Islam and European Union campaign. Wilders has come out in support of banning the Koran, even going as far as to compare the book to Mein Kampf. Wilder’s Party won enough seats to place them as the opposition party in the Dutch House of Representatives. Even parties that have never run a hard line anti- Islam campaign are shifting in support of more nationalist ideas. Prime Minister Mark Rutte put out an advertisement that stated, “act normal or leave.” Rutte later said that this wasn’t meant to attack ethnic groups, but instead people who did not share their values. This signals that Wilder’s nationalist movement has spread most everywhere in the Netherlands.