The Real Reason Justin Trudeau Seems More Progressive Than Pres. Obama

May 18th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn't exactly the political superhero that some Americans make him out to be.

Trudeau, for all his good looks and progressive policy proposals, benefits from a form of government that makes it significantly easier for him to achieve progressive political feats, especially compared to his American counterpart President Barack Obama, Vox reports.

We're talking about the differences between parliamentary and presidential systems of government.

There are a couple of key differences between Canada's parliamentary government and America's presidential government when it comes to passing legislation. For one, the prime minister is selected when the party he or she represents clinches a majority in the House of Commons, one of two parliamentary chambers tasked with approving or rejecting legislative proposals.

The prime minister also plays a significant advisory role in determining who gets seated in the senate, Canada's other parliamentary chamber. All of that is to say that when Trudeau took office last year, his party and supporters occupied a majority in both legislative bodies involved in passing laws.

That makes it a lot easier to push forward a particular agenda than it would be if, say, members of the opposing party occupied a majority of seats in Congress, as Republicans currently do in the U.S. under the Obama administration.

In general, there are fewer "veto points" — individual or collective entities that can reject proposals for policy change — in parliamentary systems than there are in presidential systems.

"The basic argument is that because presidential systems are characterized by multiple veto points (e.g., a House, Senate, and president) whose members are able to block attempts at policy change, the systems’ responses to social and economic challenges are often problematic," wrote Dr. Thomas Hammond, a professor of political science at Michigan State University. "In contrast, the existence of only a single veto point— the majority party—in [parliamentary] systems enables these systems to respond to challenges more readily."

So while Trudeau's American supporters are certainly entitled to celebrate the political reform policies the prime minister has pursued, it's somewhat unfair to compare him to Obama.

Trudeau has become something of an iconic liberal figure in the minds of American progressives, and for good reason. He's championed progressive causes such as women's rights, the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and tax cuts for for middle-income Canadians paired with increased taxes on the wealthiest citizens. He's even advocated for the legalization of marijuana.

But many of the reform policies that we applaud Trudeau for (and sometimes criticize Obama for failing to match), are politically unfeasible because the president is blocked by these "veto points" and opposed by Republicans who occupy a majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Think about what it takes to pass a law in the U.S. presidential system, as Dylan Matthews Voxsplains:

"[I]n the US, for something to become law it has to make its way through committee markup in the House, and pass the full House, and get marked up in the Senate, and pass the Senate, and arrive at a compromise version in conference committee, and have the conference report pass the House, and have the conference report pass the Senate, and have the president sign it. Also there's little party discipline in either the House or Senate, and the Supreme Court strikes stuff down more than the judiciary in Canada or especially the UK does."

Applaud Trudeau if you so choose, but keep in mind this key governmental distinction.

[h/t Vox]

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