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 Title

No Canada

 Synopsis

Canada's electoral system is not an improvement over the American electoral college system, despite the criticism that the U.S. system drew over the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Originally published in National Review magazine. Republished with their permission.

 Author

David Kopel

 Author Notes

American columnist for National Review magazine

 Essay - 12/20/2000

The Electoral College is an important part of the checks and balances built into our Constitution, and is now under siege precisely because of its role in checking centralized power.

The American Founders foresaw the dangers of large urban centers being able to overwhelm the smaller states. For this reason, each state is represented by two Senators, regardless of the state's population. That Wyoming and New York each have two Senators is inconsistent with "one-man-one-vote," but fully consistent with protecting Wyoming from being bullied by a federal government run on New York values.

Similarly, each state's representation in the Electoral College is determined by the sum of the Senate and House seats, thereby giving extra clout to small states. This keeps the presidential race from focusing entirely on urban population centers. The fact that states vote as states helps maintain state governments as independent centers of power.

Americans - who have largely been ignorant of the national election held in Canada on November 27 - should look to the Canadian political system for the poignant lesson it provides on the value of checks and balances to protect minorities and to discourage centralization. In Canada, power is concentrated in the central government in Ottawa. The House of Commons, like the U.S. House of Representatives, is elected from districts approximately equal in population. Thus, Members of Parliament from the two most populous provinces - Ontario and Quebec - far outnumber the MPs from all other provinces. While American senators are elected two-per-state, Canadian senators are appointed by the head of the national government. Dennis Young, assistant to Saskatchewan's Member of Parliament Garry Breitkreuz, explained:

Our Senate was supposed to protect the interests of the underpopulated provinces of the country but was flawed from the outset. Senators are appointed solely by the Prime Minister. The Senate has enough power to provide provincial or regional balance to the representation by population in the House of Commons, but it doesn't use the power because, in the end, they owe their positions to the Prime Minister who appointed them.

If Senators from the western or maritime provinces were loyal to their home provinces, rather than to the prime minister who appointed them, they would still have difficulty in stopping centralization. Ontario and Quebec have 24 senators each. Most of the other provinces have only six.

Prof. Gary Mauser, of Simon Fraser University (in British Columbia), explains that Canada's parliamentary form of government contains no checks and balances on power: "Majority control of Parliament…combines the executive and legislative branches of government."

Furthermore, the prime minister appoints all Supreme Court justices without any requirement that he consult with, or receive consent from, any other governmental body.

So while America has three genuinely independent branches of federal government (and a legislative branch divided into two independent parts), Canada has no meaningful separation of powers. The head of one part of the legislative branch (the prime minister) controls the executive branch, the Supreme Court, and the Senate. There is no meaningful check on the power of a single man to impose his will on the entire nation.

The Canadian system drastically simplifies the problem of passing controversial national legislation. For example, a previous Liberal administration abolished capital punishment, clearly against the will of the people.

In 1995, Prime Minister Jean Chretien demanded and got the Firearms Act, a national system of firearm registration and licensing. The Firearms Act has been bitterly contested from its inception, especially by gun owners in the western provinces.

The provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have announced their refusal to administer not only the new federal gun control laws, but also the 66-year-old handgun registry. They further refused to prosecute offenders, and threw the whole matter back into Ottawa's lap.

The gun-rights issue helped Canada's main opposition party, the Alliance, in the Western and Maritime provinces; but by sweeping Ontario and picking up scattered districts elsewhere, Chretien's Liberal party returned to power. Of course Chretien had an advantage enjoyed by no American president: the ability to choose the date of the next election.

The concentration of power in any central government is dangerous. If Americans had Canada's government structure, we'd have far more than the 22,000 gun regulations already on our books. Essentially, if the president wanted severe gun control or prohibition, that's what we'd get.

How far Bill Clinton - or Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, and Franklin Roosevelt - would have gone if they didn't have to convince two independent bodies of Congress can't be estimated for certain. But it's likely that the Second Amendment would be a thing of the past by now. As in Canada, the right to own firearms for lawful protection would be abolished, with hunters allowed an increasingly constricted "privilege" to own government-approved rifles and shotguns for hunting. That Americans overwhelmingly support the right to self-defense would have made no more difference than the fact that the majority of Canadians today support the right of self-defense.

Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek noted this half a century ago:

Power has an inherent tendency to expand and where there are no effective limitations it will grow without bounds, whether it is exercised in the name of the people or in the name of a few. Indeed, there is reason to fear that unlimited power in the hands of the people [i.e. majority rule] will grow farther and be even more pernicious in its effects than power exercised by few.

This was precisely the point made by James Madison in Federalist, number 10:

When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government…enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

Yes, there are dangers when a centralized government goes against the wishes of the people (as the Canadian government did on self-defense). But the greater danger is when a government has majority popular support, and can act without respect for the rights of minorities.

Today, Canada is a country steeped in socialism. Typical of socialist societies, its government provides - or at least promises - goodies like "free" universal national health care. But the abject failure and myths of socialized medicine are quickly exposed by the number of Canadians who flock to the U.S. each year to obtain the medical services they can't obtain at home, or who must wait so long that delivery of those services is tantamount to denial. Complained Sara Oster, a 26-year old post-graduate student at the University of Toronto, "I shouldn't be waiting a year to receive an MRI."

It is a simple fact that no country can provide top-notch, free universal health care without bankrupting itself sooner or later.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien was swept into an unprecedented third term by the lure of billions of dollars he promised Canadians to fix their country's medical system. According to Canadian papers, "healthcare [was] the most vigorously debated issue in this election, and it [was] the one that took the forefront at both the English and French leader debates."

Never mind that it was Chretien who created Canada's national health care crisis in the first place by cutting funding from it. But instead of telling Canadians the truth — that no government can provide a "free" medical system - Chretien promised billions of dollars to "fix" theirs.

And never mind that Canada's "excellent" compassionate universal health care is so bankrupt that it even denies women anesthesia during childbirth.

As Canada's majority-approved destruction of the health care system shows, you can fool most of the people some of the time. That's why purely majoritarian political systems like Canada's, which impose no internal checks and balances on the majority party, are so likely to lead a country to disaster. Why, in one of the richest countries in the world, should women be denied pain medication during childbirth?

Which brings us back to the Electoral College. Like a Senate chosen by states, like a system of government with three genuinely independent branches, the Electoral College is part of a broader constitutional system to ensure that a gullible plurality of the electorate - especially a majority centered in a few urban areas (such as the megapolitan clusters of counties carried by Gore) - won't necessarily be able to take the country down the rights-constricting, government-expanding path of Canada.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Senator-elect Hillary Clinton would waste no time in proposing legislation that calls for a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College. It's just a natural progression of the Clinton-Gore administration's attempts during the last 8 years to dismantle the Constitution in every way possible.

If you'd like to live in a country where it's against the law to protect your family from a violent home invader, and where you get "free" health care of lower quality than what a pet receives in the United States, and if you think the American Founders were fools for wanting to prevent the concentration of political power, then by all means try to get rid of the Electoral College.


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