Differences in the Constitutional Structure of the Central Government in the U S and Canada Essay

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Constitutional Structures of U.S. And Canada

In a well-organized essay of no more than ten double-spaced, typewritten pages:

Describe the essential differences in the constitutional structure of the central government in the United States and Canada.

One of the main differences is that while both countries have a federalist system, Canada has a parliament while U.S. does not. Canadian elections can be called every four to five years, either in the winter or spring, while in the U.S. The terms of office are absolutely fixed by the Constitution -- two years for the House of Representatives, four for the president and six for the Senate. These elections are always held on the first Tuesday in November and cannot be changed or delayed, not even during wartime. Even during the Civil War, when eleven Southern states had left the Union, these elections were still held as scheduled. In Canada, the Prime Minister is always the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, while there is no guarantee in the U.S. that the president will have the a majority of the House and Senate.

Sometimes the opposition party in the U.S. will control one or both of these legislative houses, which would not be possible in a parliamentary system. In addition, a government that loses the majority in the House of Commons or suffers from a vote of no confidence is required to step down and call new elections. There is no such provision in the U.S. Constitution, although the Congress does have the power to impeach and remove presidents of justices of the Supreme Court. In practice, this has almost never happened, and only two presidents have been impeached since 1789, while one resigned before Congress impeached him. Members of the Canadian House of Commons (305) and the U.S. House of Representatives (435) are elected from single-member constituencies, and almost always they are from the two major political parties -- Liberals and Conservatives in Canada or Republicans and Democrats in the United States.

Both the U.S. And Canada have Senates, but their roles and functions could not be more different. In Canada, the Senate has 105 members compared to 100 in the U.S., but it plays only a ceremonial role, like the House of Lords in Great Britain. Its members are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister and can serve up to age 75, while in the U.S. Senators are elected every six years (Originally, they were appointed by the state legislatures, two for each state, but the Constitution was amended to provide for their direct election). Unlike Canada, where the House of Commons alone passes laws and budgets, in the U.S., both the Senate and House of Representatives must concur on these, and often the final form of legislation is determined in a conference committee between the two. Moreover, the president must approve all legislation, and if he vetoes any bill Congress can override it by a two-thirds vote. All treaties with foreign powers must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which also votes to conform Supreme Court justices as well as ambassadors and Cabinet and sub-cabinet officers. In Canada, on the other hand, all Cabinet members are politicians elected to the House of Commons and appointed by the Prime Minister, but there is no law or custom in the U.S. that requires federal officers to be members of Congress or even from the president's own party. Canada also has a British governor-general, which is mostly a ceremonial position, although theoretically this official does have the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections under certain circumstances. Obviously, no such office has existed in the United States since the 1776 Revolution, nor is the British monarch the ceremonial head of state.

Compared to Canada, Britain or any other parliamentary system, the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts are considered a separate and coequal branch of government. Since the early-19th Century, they have had the power to judicially review and overturn both state and federal laws, although in the past the policy of judicial self-restraint prevented them from using this power very frequently. There is some evidence that the original Framers of the U.S. Constitution intended for the Congress to be the superior branch of government rather than three equal ones, and they spent far more space enumerating the powers and duties of the legislature and relatively little on the courts and executive. They did intend for the president to be head of the executive branch and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, which were powers that monarchs once had -- but only Congress had the power to declare war. As in Canada, one of the original functions of the Supreme Court was to resolve disputes between the states (or provinces in Canada) and between lower levels of government and the federal level. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court had to consider cases involving the Bill of Rights, which originally had ten amendments in 1789 but has been expanded since. In contrast, Canada did not have a formal Charter of Rights and Freedoms until 1982, although in both countries the role of the courts in protecting individual and minority rights expanded greatly in the 20th Century. In the U.S. The Bill of Rights has been largely federalized compared to the 18th and 19th Centuries and these rights have been applied to all citizens. In both countries, the rights of women, indigenous peoples and racial, religious and ethnic minorities have also expanded greatly in the last 100 years, and the courts have often played a more important role in these changes than the legislatures.

II. Give your opinion, which you might support with examples from the history of the operation of the constitutional systems of the two countries, of the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems.

In both countries, the role of government at all levels has expanded greatly in the last 100 years, including the provision of medical care, education and other social services. Many times, the U.S. Supreme Court has acted as a very conservative and restraining influence on this expansion, as when it ruled the income tax unconstitutional or overturned New Deal legislation in the 1930s. Unlike Canada, U.S. legal philosophy often centers on the original intent of the Founders and writers of the Constitution, which is often an absurd and archaic notion since in the 18th Century they obviously did not intend to abolish slavery, grant equal citizenship to blacks and women, or have the federal government finance health care and educational programs or old-age pensions. Canadian courts have always discouraged such appeals and analysis to original intent, which is a much better system. In Canada, the parliament is generally free to pass all necessary legislation without fear that the Supreme Court will overturn it on conservative, original intent grounds. For example, the U.S. had to pass constitutional amendments to abolish slavery, grant the vote to women, give citizenship and voting rights to blacks or allow the federal government to collect income taxes, while in Canada legislation passed in parliament was sufficient to accomplish all this. In the U.S. there has always been a danger that a conservative Supreme Court will block, delay, water down or overturn necessary changes in society.

Canadian constitutional history has been of less interest o historians, lawyers and political scientists in that country than for their counterparts in the United States. For Canada, the origins of the federal government date back to the British North America Act (Constitution Act) of 1867, which was actually an Act of the British Parliament in London. In contrast, the U.S. had declared itself independent of Britain at the beginning of the American Revolution in 1776, although it was noteworthy that the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence had far more popular resonance in 1976 than the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1989. In the U.S., the words of the Declaration have always been closer to the popular heart than those of the Constitution, which is generally revered only for its Bill of Rights. Even that was only added as an afterthought by the Framers, since they realized that the Constitution would never have been ratified at all had these first ten amendments not been included. Even at the start, the Constitution was always something of a misfire on the popular level.

In Canada, confederation came about because Sir John McDonald, a conservative nationalist, believed that unity would strengthen the country in the face of possible military and economic threats from the United States. Originally, confederation provided a federal government for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, although Newfoundland and Price Edward Island initially refused to join, and Quebec only did so because of a guarantee that the French language and Catholic religion would be protected under the new system. Nova Scotia joined at first and then attempted to withdraw, but the British Parliament informed its delegation that their attempt to secede had come too late. Canada's parliament also…[continue]

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