Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shutdowns and Senate reform

It was actually kinda surprising, last night, to see that given a choice between saving the full faith and credit of the United States, returning the government to work, and preventing economic disaster, on the one hand, and pursuing their crazy ideological obsessions, on the other, a sufficient number of American Republicans actually chose the option that was, you know, not completely insane. These days, whodathunkit?

Best analysis I saw of the American crisis came from Spanish political scientist Juan Linz, who actually died during the shutdown but who had foreseen it all years ago. In 1990, Linz observed that in systems with separation of powers between president legislature and executive, “No democratic principle exists to resolve disputes between the executive and the legislature about which of the two actually represents the will of the people.” The Republicans may have been crazy, that is, but in bringing their own country to the brink of disaster, they were only using the powers the constitution provides to them. (h/t: an American journalist called Jonathan Chait.) Linz wondered why the crisis of 2013 had not happened already, and constantly.

There has been a certain amount of smugness expressed from parliamentary countries, based on the observation that in such systems separation of powers exists but is not complete. Confrontation between executive and legislature is possible, but in the end the legislature yields, or the government is replaced, or an election produces a new legislature and government.

Strikes me that the only way Canada could enable the kind of impasse the United States has recently seen would be to establish a truly Triple-E Senate. If “equal” and “effective” mean what they promise, a Triple E Senate would presumably be able to hold hostage, say, a government budget supported by the Commons, thereby rendering government unworkable by fully constitutional means. (I'd be glad to be corrected on this -- did triple-E theory allow for some resolution of such a confrontation?)

Maybe this is why Triple E works well as a banner for Western grievance when the Reformers are out of power, but does not get implemented when they are in power. Yesterday’s speech by the governor general promised either Senate reform or Senate abolition. As understanding grows that any senate reform can only make governance worse,I'm thinking, the drift toward a consensus on abolition seems likely to continue.

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