Buckley in The National Post: Incentive to Advance the National Interest

In an essay appearing in Canada's The National Post, Professor F.H. Buckley provides a rebuttal to an earlier argument that Canada's system of Parliamentary government gives too much power to prime ministers. 

Buckley likens getting legislation passed or repealed under the U.S. system of government to waiting for three cherries to line up in a Las Vegas slot machine.

"Absent a supermajority in Congress to override a presidential veto, one needs the simultaneous concurrence of the president, Senate, and House," he says. "In a parliamentary system, however, one needs only one cherry. In Canada, neither the governor-general nor the senate has a veto power. All that matters is the House of Commons, dominated by the prime minister's party."

Buckley maintains that prime ministers are, in fact, accountable. "In good times, they lord over their party, but they can be removed when they are a drag on it, as happened to Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and Jean Chrétien in 2003," he points out. "When a leader has adopted unpopular measures (think the Iraq War in 2006, or Obamacare in 2010, to borrow from the American context), a prime minister is, therefore, more likely to reverse course than a president who is elected for a fixed term."

"The genius of the Anglo-Canadian parliamentary system is the manner in which a prime minister is given the incentive to advance the national interest," Buckley explains. "A party leader who seeks support across the country must have the interest of the country as a whole in mind. If he concentrates government spending in one region only, he will lose support in other regions. That’s why strong a prime minister and a Parliament of nobodies better serves the country than the separation of powers and earmark-seeking Congressmen, like the late John Murtha of Pennsylvania (of the John Murtha Airport, John Murtha Center, etc.)."

Canada's system of government is looking good to Americans, The National Post, May 4, 2012. By F.H. Buckley.

"Before Standard and Poor’s downgraded U.S. public debt, Barack Obama mused that the American system of separation of powers might not be all that it is cracked up to be. It results in gridlock, and had raised the specter that Congress would fail to raise the debt ceiling. 'We did not have a AAA political system to match our AAA credit rating,' Obama noted. After last August’s downgrade, the imbalance has presumably been corrected, with a downgraded fiscal system to match America’s second-rate constitutional system.

"By contrast, the Canadian system of government has never seemed more attractive, if one judges these things by their results. Notwithstanding its generous social-welfare safety net, Canada is ranked as economically more free than the United States by the conservatives at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, which puts Canada in sixth, and the U.S. in 10th place, in the group’s most recent international survey. On per capita government spending, the two countries are tied, and on corporate taxes Canada is way ahead. On public debt levels, it’s no contest.

"And yet, curiously, many Canadians continue to envy the American constitutional system."

Read the article