The election of Donald Trump and the political circus that has resulted has many scratching their heads. What real impact will the Trump government have on the United States? Could a Trump be elected in Canada? If so, what impact would that have?
Due to the design of the American government, Trump will likely achieve very little during his time in office.
The structure of the American system was conceived by a group of men intent on avoiding flaws they saw in the British government that they had rejected. Although their system would be democratic, they were well aware that a tyrant could be elected. So the American founding fathers created three branches of government: the legislative (the House of Representatives and Senate), the executive (the president), and the judicial.
The checks and balances between the three branches have already stymied many of Trump’s efforts.
Given the added impact of the mobilization of the American public since Trump’s election, with people speaking out embracing their democratic rights to a degree that hasn’t been seen for decades, it’s certainly conceivable that the next elected American government will be more responsive to the needs of the common person.
But what if a Trump were elected in Canada?
It would be naïve of us to deny this possibility, however remote it may seem. Given the structure of our political system, a Trump-like prime minister could wreak havoc on much of what we hold dear as Canadians.
Our political structure was not designed as much as it evolved. In Great Britain and later in Canada, the House of Commons gradually gained more power through the centuries as the monarchy and House of Lords (Senate) lost political clout. Today, the monarchy holds no real legislative power and the Senate, while gaining influence, is still quite limited.
In addition, our members of Parliament and provincial legislatures tend to vote according to the directives of their political parties. Given this structure, in a majority government a tyrannical prime minister or provincial premier could have their way with nothing to hold them in check but our slow-moving judicial system.
Fortunately, until now we have elected good people to government. Although I often disagree with the opinions and policies of my elected representatives, I respect and appreciate them because I know they’re working hard for my community and they will listen to my opinions as an informed constituent. The same can be said for their party leaders.
But we are going try to maintain the status quo or we are going to call for our system of government to continue its evolutionary process?
A fascinating parliamentary experiment is taking place in British Columbia. The minority New Democratic government has not formed a coalition government, it’s entered a “confidence and supply agreement” with the Green Party to ensure that the government doesn’t fall on a confidence vote. What’s unique about this agreement is that on bills that aren’t confidence issues, Green members can vote as they choose. At any time, a Green representative could side with the Opposition Liberals.
In addition, the B.C. legislature is calling for a referendum on voter reform in 2018. It proposes some form of proportional representation. This method of choosing a government is much less likely to result in a majority government, thus further limiting the power of the premier.
We have a great deal to be thankful for in our country, and much of it has resulted from the fact that we have a stable and effective democratically-elected government. It’s our responsibility as voters to ask the difficult questions to ensure our country remains a global model of effective democracy for generations to come.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.