Okay, so here is a basic breakdown about the differences between the Canadian and American systems of government. Obviously it’s more complicated than this, but I think this is helpful in explaining just how exactly the Canadian government can have so many damn federal elections in so short a time.
Head of state:
- America: President
- Canada: Queen of England
Head of government:
- America: President
- Canada: Prime Minister
Type of government:
- America: presidential-congressional—made up of the president, the Senate (voted in by the people), and the House of Representatives (voted in by the people). The President cannot be in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. They cannot introduce bills, argue policy, or defend attacks in Congress.
- Canada: parliamentary-cabinet—made up of the Senate (appointed by the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) on the suggestion of the Prime Minister), and the House of Commons (made up of Members of Parliament voted in by the people). The Prime Minister and their cabinet have to have seats in the House of Commons. They can introduce bills, argue policy, answer daily questions, and defend attacks in Parliament.
How shit gets done:
- America: Because of the way the American system has fixed terms for all of Congress, the president may belong to one party while the opposing party has a majority in either the Senate or the House of Representatives or both. So for years on end, the president may find their legislation and policies blocked by an adverse majority in one or both houses. There’s nothing the President can do because they do not have the power to dissolve either house to force action. In addition, the president may have a policy they want to get passed and they may convince a senator or a representative to present it to Congress. But then each house can add things to the bill, remove things, change things, and what comes out the other side is very different from what the President had been hoping to pass. This is the same situation for anyone who introduces a bill. In the end, a President does have veto power, but this can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses.
- Canada: No terms of office are rigidly fixed in Canadian government. This means that the government can pass their introduced policies and legislation as long as they maintain a majority in the House of Commons. When the government loses this majority, they must call for a new election, or make way for another party to take over the government. This eliminates the problem of being locked for years in fruitless battles like can happen in the American system of government. In Canada, the government and the House of Commons cannot be at odds with one another over a matter of importance for more than a few weeks without forcing action to solve the problem. This is why this current election is our fourth since 2004—none of those elections have resulted in a majority government.
And a smack down by The Honourable Eugene Forsey:
Presidential-congressional government is neither responsible nor responsive. No matter how often either house votes against the president’s measures, there he or she stays. The president can veto bills passed by both houses, but cannot appeal to the people by calling an election to give him or her a Congress that will support him or her. Parliamentary-cabinet government, by contrast, is both responsible and responsive. If the House of Commons votes want of confidence in a cabinet, that cabinet must step down and make way for a new government formed by an opposition party (normally the official Opposition), or call an election right away so the people can decide which party will govern.
An American president can be blocked by one house or both for years on end. A Canadian prime minister, blocked by the House of Commons, must either make way for a new prime minister, or allow the people to elect a new House of Commons that will settle the matter, one way or another, within two or three months. That is real responsibility. —from How Canadians Govern Themselves by Eugene Forsey (which is a good read if you are interested in that sort of thing.)