A constitution is a set of rules that people of a certain nation have come up with and agreed upon. It is used for moral, political guidance and to govern the people.
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A Constitution can be written like that of United States or unwritten like that of Britain. In every sovereign state there are laws governing their political society, limiting the powers of the administrators and their subjects. Those laws are found in the constitution showing how the state is organized in terms of administration, judiciary and legislature.
Countries have different ways through which their constitution came to existence. Some of them could be due to wars revolutions, gain of independence or any other major happening in the country. Canada was a colony, which formed its constitution after independence thus there was no comprehensive document instead there are many acts, orders, schedules unwritten documents and principles.
Constitutionalism is ideology or orientation that advocates for a constitutional government, in that, authority is derived and limited by a body of fundamental laws. Constitutionalism supports government by rule of law and not arbitrary judgment and officials in public office are bound by the constitution in their actions.
This idea is associated with political theorists such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes and has been criticized by some scholars because there are various questions that arise from it. The system supports limitation of the government using the constitution which is a set of laws made, implemented and adjudicated by same government.
Canada’s constitution goes back to 1867 when Canada was formed through the British North America act but it was not until 1982 that Canada’s constitution was patriatised through the Canada act and the Constitutional act and she became completely independent from the queen. Canada’s constitution is written but also has some parts that are unwritten. It establishes the authority of the executive, legislature and the judicial arms of the government.
It gives to the different levels of government found in Canada such as federal, provincial, and municipal, powers to create and implement laws. It also highlights the civil liberties and privileges and how the constitution can be altered. Canada’s constitution is very complex because it was not created from one draft instead many pieces were put together. Guy (253) noted that “One of the main requirements of this constitution is federalism; it structures the government into two levels of authority, that is, federal and provincial.”
Guy (55) observes that “Federalism in Canada was provided in the constitution during the confederation via the 1867 British North America Act which was renamed the constitutional act 1867 whereby, this act set out the jurisdictional powers of both the federal and provincial levels government.
The provincial level governed through institutions, such as hospitals, correctional facilities, and educational institutions.” It also gave the provinces powers to impose direct taxes on these institutions and to share jurisdiction in agriculture and immigration meaning that both levels of government are allowed to create laws for these two areas.
Financial management has been a major challenge for the constitution since there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes direct taxation.
Section 91 of the act deals with federal powers, the first part says that powers not given to the provinces are left for the federal government, such powers are military ,navigation, census, sea, coast, fisheries, criminal law just to mention a few, this makes the federal system to have a wider taxing power hence more revenue.
Another issue is that the federal government has been given power over the provinces, an issue that has brought great controversy, while these powers have been used in the past they have now been superseded by a an written law convection act of 1867.
Modern constitutionalism in Canada
Canada being a democracy has fallen victim of the tenets of modern constitutionalism which include, human rights, rule of law, making of constitutions and separation of powers ;which involves the division of governments into the three major parts legislature, judiciary, and executive, this way the three are able to check each other to ensure constitutionalism.
Rule of law is applying the constitution equally to all its subjects despite the class, race or group of origin. Some of the measures used to ensure this are habeas corpus, prevention of retroactive legislation and judicial review.
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Constitution making process must involve public debates and discussions before the constitution is adapted. All these concepts are after one thing, which is limiting the government and respecting the supremacy of the law.
Guy (76) say that “this has led to many amendments to the Canadian constitution so as to abide by this tenets, some of them are the charter of rights and freedoms, division of power between the federal and the provincial governments, recognition of the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada.” In addition it also requires the two levels of government to meet every year to address issues affecting them.” Some of the important amendments made are discussed below.
The London Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian charter of rights and freedoms was created on 17th April 1982 and it guarantees equality rights and freedoms. The section prohibits forms of discrimination in respect to denomination, education, race, genders. These rights are applicable to every natural person and the charter limits both the federal and the provincial governments from making laws that interfere with the rights of the people of Canada.
With the introduction of the charter, there has been a drastic change in the Canadian courts, they are now more active in protecting individual rights and freedoms, they have a broader view of equality, recognize substantive equality which means that law makers and the government should ensure that laws made create a good environment for everyone despite personal attributes or group membership.
This type of equality requires challenging stereotypes, though people still complain that the courts have not done enough yet to protect the individual.
The rights and freedoms are; “Fundamental rights are freedoms of; belief, thought, expression, press, conscience, religion, belief, assembly and association.” Democratic rights; these are rights to vote, maximum duration of officials in public office, parliamentary sittings and their duration. Mobility rights such as; right to life, liberty, security, unreasonable search, freedom from detainment, right to legal counsel, rights against self-incrimination, language rights (this is use of the official languages), English and French (Guy 96).
Meech lake accord
Meech lake accord was a collection of amendments that had failed to be made to the Canadian constitution and was intended to persuade the government of one of its provinces Quebec to support the 1982 Canadian constitution because it had declined to do so .
They demanded to be allowed to keep the French language and religion, give rise to the power of the clergy and be identified as distinct society by itself both geographically and in culture, the supreme court had ruled that the new constitution applied to all provinces but Quebec was in opposition. A new premier was elected in Quebec just at the same time as this argument was in place he agreed to negotiate and gave conditions that were to be followed for them to agree to the constitution.
This accord was negotiated at the Meech Lake in 1987 and five modifications were made but they had to be approved by other provincial and federal legislatures to prevent change of the constitution amending formula. The accord received support from ten premiers and also national polls showed that the people were supporting it, however this changed due to the “distinct society clause”, and the people said that Quebec could not be treated differently.
After many debates, meetings, commissions and negotiations the demands even increased to include gender, and natives’ issues in the accord. Time lapsed and polls were held and it was unsuccessful but Quebec did not change there position it hence the failure. A series of constitutional conferences were held and negotiations were made but things were still the same and this led to the Charlottetown accord.
The Charlottetown accord
The Charlottetown accord was comprised of proposed amendments to the constitution of Canada. The accord’s aim was to solve the disputes of power between federal and provincial jurisdiction, codification of the Canadian character and diversity, recognition of Quebec’s demands, the aboriginal self government principle, changes in the house of commons and appointment of the justices of the Supreme court which Quebec demanded that three of them be elected from the province since they were the only ones that practiced civil law. The accord unlike the previous one was presented to the public in a referendum which was unsuccessful.
The United States constitution
The United States constitution is the source of all legal authority in existence in all states; it is over 200 years old. It is the shortest written constitution and was adopted on September 17th 1787 by the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. The document has been amended twenty seven times but has still remained relevant for application.
The first ten amendments are called the bill of rights and are the source of the Canadian charter of rights and freedom. It is different with that of London in that, it was written as one formal document unlike that of London that is collected from different pieces and even some are unwritten (Guy 118).
Political Parties, Interests and Pressure Groups
A political party is a political organization with ideologies on how to run a country. The objective of these parties is to gain majority seats in parliament so as to influence legislation. They engage in political rallies, nominations, electoral campaigns and national elections. They are termed as vehicles trough which political leaders gain power and get their positions in government.
Political parties are essential in management of public affairs. The origin of political parties is said to be politics of the United States and its forefathers who were revolutionaries like Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton.
The first parties were formed in 1796 in America’s formative years, the two groups were conflicting on how the new government was to formed, the federalists wanted a central government and supported the ratification of the constitution, industrialization, a national bank and building of roads and canals.
The anti federalists in contrast wanted rights of the state in manufacturing and was opposed to the government building roads and other moneyed interests. The group evolved to be the Democratic – Republican Party and ascended to power in the1800 election. The federalists achieved their objective for a constitution and after that the party weakened.
After the civil war in 1812, the Democratic – Republican Party was divided over the issue of who to support for the primary election. There were also other issues like slavery which brought controversies which led to some members breaking out and went to form smaller parties and among them was a major party the Whig party. It was much financed because it was led by wealthy business men. Democrats who were against slavery left the party and together with other small parties they formed the Republican Party.
The two parties are still America’s major parties until today in a multiparty system in place. There are many types of parties today but the main distinction between them is cadre and mass based parties. The two forms can be found in one county, but there are also other categories such as communists, socialist, conservative and liberal. All this characteristics can sometimes be found in one party hence they are not specific.
Functions of political parties
Political parties are vital especially in democracies, because they aggregate and articulate the needs of the people and are avenues for political debates and discussions in the society. They draw people with similar ideologies and interests together and provide them with a means through which they can acquire political power.
In addition, they provide an opposition to the government hence keeps it on its toes enabling good public service. They also educate and socialize the people about political issues and the electoral systems in order to enable the people make informed political decisions and take viable options.
Another factor that determines the nature of political parties’ is political systems; the main ones are single, two parties and multi- party systems. In single systems there is only one political party which is legal and dominant, it is common in communist countries like china and Nazi Germany, positions in the party are highly valued the system is associated with tyranny and dictatorship.
The two party systems have two dominant parties; plurality voting system is the major of the system existence and is mainly found in United States and Britain. The multiple system is characterized of many parties and coalition governments are common due to differences between parties.
The history of Canada’s political parties
The history of Canada’s political parties is traced back to when it was a colony of Britain and France. During the American Revolution loyalists migrated to Canada and a majority of them believed there was a need for a governing class which was to be comprised of the chief families and wealthy business men. After the 1812 war, there were two groups the reformers and the conservatives.
The reformers opposed the ruling class idea and the special privileges they were accorded, thus they advocated for equal rights. They staged a rebellion to oppose this issue but it failed to achieve its objectives. Since then Canada has been characterized by liberalism and conservatism a factor that has shaped the country’s politics until today.
Pressure groups are people that are organized and aim to influence the government’s decisions and policies or sometimes focus on an issue and pursue it. Pressure groups and political parties have many differences both in structure and function .Political parties focus on attaining power and maintaining it while pressure groups focus on national interest. Some promote a particular issue while others deal with issues as they come.
Pressure groups influence policy formulation and implementation in various countries, they provide substantive information to the decision makers, offer campaign finance and carry out lobbying activities. Some of the successful groups in Canada fight for the rights of women, gender representation, free health care and education for the less fortunate. Currently there are pressure groups pursuing issues like, abortion, the environment, gun control, and capital punishment (Guy 148).
Elections and Electoral Systems
Psephology is the study of statistical analysis of elections and the word itself has its origin from the Greek language and it means ballots .The analysis uses several elements such as opinion polls, voter’s returns in previous elections, campaign finance and any statistical data about elections. The various applications used in the analysis are Gallagher index, Mackerras pendulum and the swinggometer
Concepts of voluntary and compulsory voting
Elections are held to determine who is best fit to govern a country among the contesting candidates. The vote of each and every citizen is very important since every vote casted determines the result of the election and hence participating in the decision making process. However it is a personal choice whether to vote or not, although in some countries people are forced to vote.
There is two voting systems voluntary and compulsory, in compulsory voting citizens are forced to vote or attend a polling station on the voting day failure to which one is punished through fines, community service or even imprisonment if the first two are not done.
Those that do not want to vote can go with the ballot paper or spoil it at the polling station, because the important thing is that they get to the polling station. The old and the sick are provided with mobile polling booths so that they also get a chance to vote and are assisted on how to do it.
The main argument for the system is that it prevents access to the vote and prevents any factors that may make people not to vote for example employers, transport and weather. It is a measure to involve the socially disadvantaged or politically inactive, enables the population to be politically active, decreases the role of money in politics since not much campaign is done and also reduces the risk of political instability created by charismatic leaders like Hitler.
Arguments against it term it as a violation of citizen’s freedoms and may also lead to donkey voting which may affect the electoral process. The system is commonly found in Australia In voluntary voting people are allowed to vote according to their own wish, it is the system used in many countries for example the America, Canada Britain, Spain and Italy among others
An electro system is a method by which people vote in an election or referendum, the system comprises of the rules of voting ,counting of votes and the final result. The voting system also determines the form of ballot, allowable votes and the subgroups of voting. The major voting systems are the, majority system, proportional representation also called plurality and the fast past the post voting systems. The electro system of a country affects the outcome of the election due to the rules that are used, but still the exact amount of influence is difficult to tell since each election has its own features and dynamics.
In the majority system only one representative is to be elected and that would be the most qualified personality. The system gives the big parties a greater chance to win the election while the smaller parties are marginalized, although this system also creates a stable parliamentary majority but still does not represent a pluralistic modern society.
The method appears to be straightforward and simple but in the end it leads to complicated policies that are not transparent to voters and hence compromises democracy. The proportional representation method ensures that each vote made counts; it’s an hybrid of single and majority system. All parties present a list of candidates and then voters are allowed select a list hence they vote for the parties not the aspirants.
The parties are then given seats according to the number of votes they get; this is because political parties’ present ideas of governance and the more the better since small parties gain power and it ensures democracy and proportionality, although it can lead to a weak government. Since coalitions are common, independent candidates do not also get a chance and the link of a representative and his party is lost. It is common in developed western countries like Switzerland (Guy 178).
Canada 1993 Federal Election
Canada federal elections are nationwide elections done to elect their leaders. The election may be called any time but a least one must be held in a span of five years and past the post system of voting is used. A federal election was held in 1993 to elect the members of the House of Commons with fourteen parties being involved in the election, it was one of Canada’s eventful elections because more than half of the electorate changed parties.
The election was called by the by Prime Minister Kim Campbell when she was almost to exit office. She wanted to help her party the progressive conservative party to win in the elections but they gravely lost. Two new parties were formed leading to the division of the conservatives into: “the Bloc Québécois, which gathered about half of the votes in Quebec and the Western based Reform Party which gathered about equal number of seats.”
During the campaigns the Liberals were very consistent and organized in contrast to the Conservative campaign. “The Liberals came up with a manifesto, which was exceptional to the other parties’ and provided a new limited public works program and a national child care program.
The Bloc Québécois pledged to support interests at the federal level, by running candidates exclusively in Quebec while fighting for Quebec’s independence from Canada, they also promised to create a smaller government, lower taxes, support the North American Free Trade Agreement, and oppose the Goods and Services Tax” (Guy 145).
The liberal party won because they had a strong base in the two major provinces Quebec and Ontario. They dominated Canada’s elections for the next decade until they were greatly challenged by the sponsorship scandal and fighting within the party which reduced them to a minor party.
The primaries in the United States
The United states primaries is one of the initial stages in the election of their president, they are run by state and the local governments and are used to determine how many delegates each candidate will receive from the state. The two main political parties nominate the aspirants they want for president at the national conventions, the nominated candidate is then voted for by the voters, hence ensuring that the candidates are chosen by the voters’ not party leaders. There are two ways of voting in the primaries.
Guy says” in open primaries, voters engage in one of the primary elections, irrespective of their party and they are not required have to make a public statement of their party choices, but they have to decide which primary election they want to vote in that particular election.”
This way they do not have to publicly declare their choice and also it enables the candidates to get a chance to be chosen despite their political affiliation. Guy also points out that” the closed primary election system is very restrictive in terms of participation, only party members are allowed to vote, and voters can not switch parties on the primary election day”.
The proponents of these system say that it enables; voters to have more power in the candidate selection process hence reducing the power of party leaders and also reduces the influence of organizations, it also enables them to intensify their campaigns and mobilize new supporters while the tiring election campaign during the primaries prepares the candidates for the competition with their opponent(s) in the general election.
However, there are some critics about the system; people say that states are not true representative of the state and therefore advocate for a single national primary, candidates also have to spend large amounts of money for primary election campaigns before the general election campaign starts, hence creating moneyed politics, the candidates must also strive to get positive media coverage, they also have to make early relations and networks with the members of their parties to gain support for the primary elections.
The system in my opinion has greater advantages than disadvantages and more countries should think of establishing it as a method of choosing their candidates (Guy 220).
Conventions and debates in Canada and United States
Guy says that” another characteristic of the United States presidential nominating process is a national convention which is held every four years by the parties that intend to have a candidate in the national elections”. The purpose is to elect a party nominee for the position.
National conventions in Canada are the same with those of the United States; the only difference is that delegates to choose the party leader are elected by associations like women groups and young clubs. The conventions in both are aimed at selecting the best candidates for the job and to foster democracy.
There are also debates held before the general elections involving the two final candidates of the major parties. They are not very essential but are necessary so as to enable the voters to know clearly the intentions of the candidates once they are elected and also create a chance for the candidates to challenge each other publicly.
In the 1992 elections of the united states, there were three candidates, George Bush of the republican party, Bill Clinton for the Democrats and Ross Perot of the independent party.
The democrats won because there had been some huge economic problems facing the country under the leadership of the republicans and people did not trust them to re-elect them again having been in office for twelve consecutive years. In that election, Democrats gained full support of the legislature, executive and both houses of US Congress, and also won the 1996 re-election.
Canada 2006 Federal Election
In Canada, minority governments happen when no party has managed to convincingly has garnered majority of the votes in the legislative house, thus the party with a majority seats forms the next government. However, minority governments should have backing of the other parties to remain in authority, thus they are less stable as compared to majority governments.
Guy (236) states that “The current Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Joseph Harper who is also the leader of the Conservative Party that won the 2006 federal elections whereby the party was formed after a merge of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties.”
Harper dominated media coverage, the first weeks of the campaign and although his party faired baldly in the polls, Harper’s personal polls, started to go up. To counteract this, the Liberals started propaganda against the Prime Minister, but these did not change Canadians’ perception as Harper was a popular leader.
Guy (56) also noted that “The Conservatives gathered more than 38 per cent of the popular vote, an increase of seven per cent from 2004 election; while the Liberals came second with 30 per cent and the NDP third with 17.5 per cent.” Canada has much trust in their current prime minister for he has shown he is a rare leader who has even won many awards including the Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism by B’nai B’rith International which has never been awarded to any one in Canada.
He has also led the conservatives into forming the best government in Canada, through his desire to turn the Canadian senate into an elected rather than an appointed body. The Conservative Party won a stronger minority in the October 2008 federal election, but going by factors the party is likely to win a majority vote in the next election (Guy 345).
Guy, James. People, Politics, and Government. Ontario: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.