Functions of Legislature in Different Government Set-ups
The main role of any legislative arm of government is to amend and formulate laws. For most governments, the legislature’s role is usually defined by the constitution. The legislature is mainly comprised of elected representatives and is therefore assumed to be inclusive of the views of the general population. Another major function of the legislature for any democratic government is to install checks and balances on the activities of the government; especially the executive. This would majorly be expressed through an oversight on the policy-making process and other administrative issues relating to the executive (Jowett, pp. 45-46).
As an independent body from influences of the executive, the legislature is a representation of the people would ensure important issues of governance are brought to the attention of the public. This important function of the legislature is however compromised or enhanced by the system of governance in place. Totalitarian, democratic and authoritarian governments all have different roles for the legislature.
For a democratic government, the legislator can carry out its functions quite effectively without being compromised. In some cases, the legislature has been observed to be very instrumental in dictating the way the country is run (Guy, p. 266). This situation is however noted in big democracies such as the US and Canada. In United States for example, the President cannot pass important legislative bills without the approval of the legislature. This has been witnessed for example through the marshaling of legislative troops to pass the recent healthcare bill under the Obama government
The situation is very different in Authoritarian governments because the office of the president is usually too powerful in such systems. Sometimes, the situation might be that the wishes of the president cannot be questioned by any other wing of government; let alone the legislature. The president is therefore above the legislature hence procedures and actions of government cannot be controlled. This kind of system can be equated to the rule of Hitler during the German, Nazi rule.
In a totalitarian government, the role of the legislature is regulated. This is because the presence of government is in practically all social aspects of life. By superiority of government; it means the wishes of the executive are dominant than the legislatures. The role of the legislature cannot be effectively undertaken in this scenario therefore leaving too much space for the executive to undertake whatever activities it wishes (Edel, p. 271).
Direct Democracy as an Alternative to Elective Representation
Direct democracies rely on the principle of citizen empowerment in making some of the most important decisions of government. This happens in the absence of a representative process whereby a majority of views are incorporated in the formulation of final decisions of governance. Direct democracies would stem their superiority from the lack of representative systems to adequately express the wishes of the people. In addition, representative systems are complemented by political parties which may sometimes compromise on the ideologies of the representatives for selfish gains. Cases have also been documented of legislators or other elected representatives being arm-twisted by their parties in rejecting or accepting certain policies.
The wishes of the electorate are therefore usually neglected and in place, direct democracies preferred. In extreme cases, certain elected representatives of high moral standing have been noted to resign or switch parties in the face of such influences (Tsebelis, p. 27).It is however more practical to incorporate direct democracies in the governance of a small region because of the technicalities associated with gathering information from a large electorate. Small Canadian towns or cities such as Ottawa could therefore use this system effectively to manage its issues as opposed to being applied in the whole country. Nevertheless, this process could be improved through the use of ICT as a tool for collection of data. In small representative regions, direct democracies would be preferable because the views of the public are better represented and free from partisan manipulations (Guy, p. 267).
Parliament in the Canadian Society
The parliament in Canada has unfortunately fallen short of the expectations of its people. Evidence is shown by the way Parliament goes for recess despite urgent, pertinent issues that need to be addressed by it. This move has also been noted to be an instrument used by parliament to avoid a vote of no-confidence from some of its legislators. Moreover, parliament has also been recorded to overturn certain legislative clauses; like the right to a hearing before a suspect is sentenced. Due to a change in this law, the right of a suspect to public hearing has been limited. Canada has also collaborated with other international countries to torture Canadian suspects in other countries and parliament has done nothing about it (Tsebelis, p. 56).
The legislature being as it is, the general Canadian citizenry needs to keep it in check through their power to vote. Elected representatives deemed to be unrepresentative of the wishes of the people should be voted out and new people voted into office. Moreover, Canada hasn’t yet experienced an equal representation of gender in major government offices and parliament (brought about by a failure of legislative policies to secure minority representation). The Canadian public could be more adamant in fair representation through empowerment of minority groups such as women groups to champion their course.
However, governance-related issues could be effectively addressed by the election of capable people into office; for instance, more political responsibility should be demanded by the public from the elected representatives at all times. Governance oversight groups such as the civil society should also be empowered in championing this cause.
Parliament Representation in Canada
In most quarters, the Canadian parliament has always been termed as unrepresentative. This ideology is however wrong because, as the constitution was being formulated, a lot of emphases was made on representation. The parliament was structured to represent the entire population in the most comprehensive way possible (Guy, p. 270).
Arguments have also been voiced by some quarters such as the civil society about the way legislators vote along with partisan interests; such incidences are however minimal to term the whole parliament as unrepresentative. Regardless of the structures in place to ensure all citizens are represented, not all legislators are the same. Parliamentarians such as Bev Desjarlais, of NDP have in the past opposed partisan influences witnessed in the debate on same sex marriage. Other legislators have also had a clear conscience on the matter (Tsebelis, p. 45).
Parliament is composed of an all-inclusive structure of territorial and “one elector one vote”. Through this structure, the House of Commons is effectively represented, each region or province in the republic therefore has an equal say in governance. Representation is hereby crucial because each region has equal powers but corresponding to the number of people it represents. If the senate ensures that public policy sails through; and is well implemented, it would improve the situation further; by ensuring the views of the public are well represented. Public policy should therefore be a hallmark of governance.
Representation of the American Public in the US Congress
The primary function of the US congress is to provide checks and balances to other branches of government including the Presidency and the Executive (Guy, p. 197). The American Congress has however not been able to effectively carry out this mandate to the expectations of the population it represents. Of late, the senate has been noted to cede some powers to the presidency. Recent presidents have been more domineering than was the case in the past.
Though the country is a democratic state, recent occurrences such as the declaration of Iraq war and a subsequent retaliation attacks in Afghanistan have observed an increasingly powerful presidency and a deviation from implementation of the wishes of the public. The passage of the more recent health care bill by current President Obama single-handedly through senate only goes to show the influence of presidential ideologies through the senate. The healthcare bill has been observed to be positive in some quarters though.
The US House of Representatives and the Senate have close resemblance in design but are different in purpose. The senate is less representative of grass-root opinions than the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is comprised of electives of minority groups as opposed to the senate. The entire American population however elects senators into office from respective states. The House of Representatives therefore envisages how policy matters affect their grass-root population but the senate envisages policymaking from a more national outlook. Because of this reason, it looks more prestigious than the House of Representatives.
Bureaucracy revolves around the pillars of procedures and systems in the management of a country’s activities. The given protocols must be benchmarked to provide a standardized way of operation. Bureaucracy started in Western Europe where the term was formed from the word ‘Bureau’. The tool was first used during the French revolution in Europe and thereafter, other countries adopted it. Before governments incorporated it, bureaucracy was used in large empires across the European continent. Bureaucracy must be used as a tool to handle increased government operations and outreach.
Governments have in the recent past perfected the art of bureaucracy around the world. Max Webber’s ideology of bureaucracy revolves around the specification of jobs through a clear definition of roles, clear structures of supervision and coordination, extensive use of documents, establishment of an oversight authority, imposition of clear-cut rules, training of employees about the requirements of the job, and assignment of jobs to staff that can handle it best.
This ideology of bureaucracy still holds water to date. In the face of a more adamant public and civil society, governments have incorporated the use of bureaucracy to effectively deal with this need. It is practically impossible for governments to work without bureaucracy; though this should be moderated to avoid too much bureaucracy which could be counter-productive. Governments in the world could therefore only use much of it (Guy, p. 271).
Administration and Politics
One of the primary roles of politicians is to identify urgent policy areas and remedy the situation through formulation of prudent policies. Politics and administration however need each other in the formulation of such prudent policies. This has necessitated politicians to out-source the services of administrative experts to ensure these policies are effectively applied. This especially becomes important because these experts can be able to provide a fore-sight on the ability of the policy to effectively fulfill its intention. A governance gap is therefore created because most of the powers in policy formulation are therefore vested in the experts. This should however not be an issue of concern because politicians are there to moderate their input (Jowett, p. 22).
If the policy formulation process is autonomously vested in the hands of politicians, impractical or inapplicable policies might be developed. This is because politicians are sometimes elected into office on party affiliation or popularity and not because of their ability to develop prudent policies. This therefore renders politicians inexperienced on technical aspects, crucial in formulation of effective policies. Policy experts therefore provide a practical framework to which such policies could be formulated. The public should therefore be more contented by the participation of experts because policy formulation is a comprehensive process that requires the input of experts.
Provision of Public Service
The provision of public service could either be undertaken through private initiatives or direct services. Public service is however essential to humans because it entails the provision of basic services such as health, public transport and education. Public service might also entail the provision of services that could be termed basic human rights such as supply of clean water. Governments usually supply such services through various governmental agencies including the state fire rescue services and the ambulance services.
The government usually avails public service as one of its primary mandates. Most politicians also ascend into office by guaranteeing their electorate of the provision of basic public services. Public service is therefore fundamental for human life. Such services are usually offered by government-hired personnel and volunteers and may include a variety of services from a teacher teaching students in a public school to a technician repairing part of a damaged electric pole (Jowett, p. 56)
Public service is usually supplied by government because of the inadequacies of the public sector in provision of such services. These kinds of services involve the goodwill of many people and would seldom be attributed to an individual. In some cases the government must provide such services because of the high capital nature involved in the provision of the same services. Setting up a rail or road network in the country for example would be a costly affair for the private sector and so the government needs to come in, to supplement this need. Without the government’s input, it would be practically difficult for the citizenry to enjoy such services. For example, the setting up of an ultra-modern rail network in South Africa for the preparation of the 2010 world cup tournament is the biggest ever witnessed in Africa. South Africans wouldn’t have enjoyed this service if it were not for the provision of this service by its government. Moreover, governments protect their citizens through provision of basic services which if left in the hands of private individuals, would lead to exploitation of citizens (Jowett, p. 33). The government therefore does much justice to its citizens in the protection and availability of essential services through provision of these basic services. As an example, sourcing education for a child in a government school facility would be much expensive than sourcing the same from a private facility.
Sometimes bureaucratic procedures are abused by government officials to fulfill selfish and partisan interests. Because the instruments to create political constituents are in the hands of such officials, government bureaucrats have abused this authority to create these constituents for selfish gains. This abuse of authority is majorly aimed at securing funds through donations because it’s through political constituents that politicians obtain funds from well-wishers. As a result, public policy is trampled upon as politicians strive to hold on to their grip on power. This is because the same political constituents increase voter power (Guy, p. 282).
A clear manifestation of this phenomenon is depicted through the Canadian sponsorship scandal that came to light in 2004. Corruption, misappropriation and misuse of funds were witnessed in the process. Funds meant for sponsorship were awarded to firms who gave minimal or no contribution to the overall cause of the project. The Canadian Federal reserve suffered an image crisis because even as the corruption allegations were ripe, part of the money meant for the project found its way back to the Liberal Democratic Party. The Federal Reserve was unable to account for these happenings and therefore its integrity could no longer be assured. Bureaucrats working in government should therefore be kept under scrutiny to avoid such situations from recurring because most of them are in office to serve partisan interests (Tsebelis, p. 152).
Because of the occurrences such as those witnessed in the 2004 Canadian scandal, it is eminent for governments to impose stringent bureaucratic controls to enable it function efficiently. An establishment of a multi-institutional policy-making approach would be the first step in ensuring that government bureaucracy is not abused. If too much power is entrusted to one institution, the vulnerability of the process is increased. However, many institutions should be allowed to work together to ensure the system is comprehensively checked (Guy 278). For example, the American presidency has not been able to be effectively checked by the legislature alone. If it were possible, more institutions should be allowed to effectively check the powers of this office. This can be evidenced through the prevalence of presidential wishes in the declaration of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It is also of importance that the oversight body can work independently without being compromised by any other governmental body; especially the executive. Legally, structures can also be imposed to ensure that no bureaucratic process goes unchecked. Legal structures should also be in place to insulate weak areas in the bureaucratic process from manipulation. For example, various governmental departments should be interlinked such that they all work as a check to each other. In addition, errors and instances of manipulation can be easily detected.
A resultant ombudsman office should be established in the country to investigate public concerns of accountability and integrity of institutions. This initiative would deter other officials who would want to take advantage of the bureaucratic process for selfish or partisan gains. The civil service could however be streamlined if officials of high integrity are appointed to office and proper structures established to ensure its organization. I would consider being a public servant because the service I would be offering the nation would make a difference. The biggest attraction for this career would be the level of satisfaction I would obtain in contributing to the cause of humanity which is helping another human being.
Ethics, Custom, Law, and Justice
For the realization of a proper, fair and just system of any judicial organ of any country, the principle of justice, ethics, law, and custom must be strictly adhered to. However, individual definitions should be understood in applying the principles in a single framework. A custom is the generally accepted norm, tradition, or practice of a society.
Law is basically, a set of rules that defines social, economic and political landscapes. Laws are usually enforceable through government institutions, agencies and departments. They also act as a basic tool for dispute arbitration in the society. There are however various levels to law but their use depends on their applicability. Ethics is however a set of principles that define good or appropriate conduct but justice is the framework of moral rightness that’s based primarily on ethical standards (Guy, p. 288).
Governments should therefore be consistent with ethical standards as a major instrument for applying justice through its courts. Customs however define the law in that; the law should always recognize it when it comes to dealing with individuals who might be affected by it. Most laws of any society would most often than not, be consistent with the customs of the people and seldom would it go against it. It is therefore very difficult for a law to entrench itself in governance if it contravenes the customs of the subjects. For example, it is difficult for most societies to allow a provision of the law to legalize same-sex marriages because it goes contrary to most customs. However, some societies might legalize same-sex marriage because of its liberal nature. Justice would then be based on law in that, if an individual breaks the law; for example, stealing money from public coffers, the law should be able to punish the person. In the absence of proper punishment, justice would have been denied.
Complexities of Law
Law is naturally complex because of its interpretation and applicability. Most courts therefore must effectively interpret the law in its rightful context because applying law alongside one definition is practically impossible. Considering the extensiveness in the applicability of law, it is therefore unavoidable that many people would come up with various definitions. Law is further compounded because of other existing factors such as international jurisdictions, religious beliefs and customary practices. It is therefore imperative that the law be flexible to accommodate these variations and also be applied correctly to fulfill its purpose (Guy, p. 289).
Universal justice cannot be achieved from law itself because of the dynamics that exist in the world today. This is because different societies have different perceptions of what is right or wrong. The principle of law is therefore influenced by different social systems that exist in the world. For example, contrary to most perceptions of Westerners, Islamic law gave women the right to own property during the late1800s when common law in Europe and the rest of the world never recognized that a woman could own property. It would therefore have been difficult to impose a common law universally to govern the ownership of property. Many situations like this still apply today.
Culture has however been noted to be superior to law because culture can be confirmed in the norms of the society but law can be falsely interpreted to suit individual interests. Culture is a socially practiced way of life that is passed from generation to generation and is deeply entrenched to limits that law cannot. It is also obvious that any society is best described by its culture than by the law that governs it.
Legal Systems and Structures
A legal system is best defined as a system for the interpretation and enforcement of law. The legal systems that prevail in the world today are common, religious and civil laws. These systems provide a framework to which laws are applied in different countries. For instance, civil laws relate to how people relate in civil matters such as contracts while religious laws best define the belief system of a society. It is however noteworthy that these legal systems sometimes infringe on each other, for example, a clause to govern the way property is inherited in Islamic law would contravene a similar law in civil or common law.
The English common law has been noted to be a base for Canadian law because most of the laws that govern Canada today find their parenthesis from practices in common law. Currently all provinces in Canada except for Quebec has their base in law from the common law. Quebec is an exception because it utilizes the civil law to arbitrate issues that might arise within its jurisdiction. Criminal law is the best example of a law that’s applicable in almost all Canadian provinces, but with a parenthesis on English common law. The right to property should also be quoted from the English common law when it comes to the jurisdiction of the Federal Institute of Canada.
A difference however exists between common law and civil law in their applicability, punishments, and fines. Common law is usually applicable when there is an offense against the state and the punishment usually involves imprisonment and fines. Such crimes are varied but common to crimes such as stealing, killing or raping. However, civil law is executable when a person has committed a crime against another citizen and usually warrants fines. Good examples of such crimes are breach of contract or trespass to property (Guy, p. 291).
The most religious-based law, common to the world today is the Islamic law. Islamic law is also a common type of legal system used in most Islamic states such as Egypt. Contrary to popular belief, Islamic law governs other aspects of the society apart from religion. As a result, it is difficult to distinguish Islamic law from political and economic systems because a chunk of it, stems from Ulema which negates the jurists (Edel, p. 24). Islamic law can govern political and economic systems because it doesn’t borrow much from the Quran. It has also been noted; from past research studies that Islamic law could have influenced common and civil laws in some regards (Tsebelis, p. 321). Examples of Nations currently using the Islamic law include Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has now been used to back up National law and is now referred to in matters such as Inheritance and contractual agreements. When compared to other legal systems (common law and civil law) the Islamic law is superior. Civil and Common laws experience challenges out of infringement on religious and customary practices but Islamic law incorporates these aspects comprehensively. In addition, Islamic law is usually applicable in States that observe Islamic practices and therefore experiencing a conflict of interest is rare.
The Judicial system in Canada is a function of both the constitution act of 1967 and the country’s constitution. The primary function of the Canadian judiciary is in interpreting laws and arbitrating conflicts. Canada however needs more courts to reduce the backlog of cases already being experienced. The four-level structure existing in the country should be increased. The Supreme Court is at the top of the court system with 750 other courts below it (Guy, p. 289). The court however sits in Ottawa alone, therefore, creating complexities whereby people have to travel to the city to make testimonies.
Canada needs to increase its court structure with district representation being the main basis of public scrutiny. The population should however be factored in; with states that have more populations having more representation of the courts. Canada could also experience an ideal supreme court if it increases the number of judges. Currently, the court is comprised of a chief justice and eight judges. The number of judges should be increased to fourteen. The age of judges should however be maintained at 75 for efficiency in judgments. With an increase of judges, the number of appeal cases to be heard per year should be increased from 80 to115. Instead of sitting only three months of the year, the ideal court should sit once every two months to comprehensively hear the increased number of cases. This would be a prudent measure in improving the justice system of the Nation.
- Jowett, Benjamin. Politics. California: Courier Dover Publications, 2000.
- Edel, Abraham. Analyzing Concepts in Social Science. London: Transaction Publishers, 1979.
- Guy, James J. People, Politics, and Government. 7th. ed. Scarborough, Ontario: Pearson Education, 2010.
- Tsebelis, George. Veto players: How Political Institutions Work. Princeton University Press, 2002.