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Breakfast with a president

For the past month, regardless if you are watching Canadian or American television, you would have undoubtedly seen coverage about an election. In Canada, we saw the Canadian people elect the third straight minority government in just over four years. This $300 million dollar exercise saw only 59.1% of eligible Canadian voters take part – the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history. In the United States, the air waves have been saturated with campaign ads from the Democrats and Republicans as both parties spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to woo the American people to vote for them on November 4, 2008. Historically, voter turnout for U.S. presidential elections have been declining. However, this year’s race may see this trend reverse itself.

Shortly after the January 2006 Canadian election, I wrote an article that touched upon some of the differences between Canada’s parliamentary system and the American’s presidential system. In Canada, we have a constitutional monarchy. This essentially means that our head of state is the Queen of England. On a day-to-day basis, however, the Governor General represents the Queen. The Parliament of Canada is made up of two houses – the upper house, called the Senate, which is made up of appointed members and the lower house, called the House of Commons (or the “House”), is made up of elected Members of Parliament (or M.P.s).

In Canada, we don’t vote directly for the man or woman who we want as our Prime Minister. Instead, we vote for the local person who we want as our Member of Parliament. The party that elects the most MPs is invited by the Governor General to form the government of Canada. Our Parliamentary system is based on the premise of responsible government. Essentially, the government of the day can continue to govern so long as they have the confidence of the House. If, or when, the government loses the confidence of the House in a “non-confidence vote”, an election may be called.

Because of the nature of our parliamentary system, Canadians cannot directly vote for the person they want as Prime Minister. This is in direct contrast to the American system, where they do have the opportunity to vote not only for their local and state candidates but also for the President directly. In my previous article I posed the question “Is one system better than the other?” While attending the October 27, 2008 fundraising breakfast for the PCCM, former President Fidel V. Ramos answered that question during his address to the attendees.

The former President was in Canada to promote the work of Gawad Kalinga and to promote the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation, Inc. (RPDEV). During the breakfast he talked about some of the reforms he has been fighting for since his time as president. One of these reforms is his proposal to change the Philippine political system from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. Mr. Ramos explained that the American style system currently in place in the Philippines does not work and he wants to see a more parliamentary system put in place – similar to Canada’s but one that is truly Filipino.

As a political junkie, I was fascinated to hear the President’s thoughts on this issue (and I was very fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak to him briefly about it later that day). I must admit that I’m a novice when it comes to Filipino politics. Growing up in Canada, it’s not easy to get materials about the Philippine government and its political history. I know more about the Canadian, American and even the British systems than I do about the Philippine political system. However, the President’s comments have made me want to learn more about it.

According to Mr. Ramos, he’d like to see a parliamentary system put in place because of a variety of reasons.

  • The presidential system is very expensive.

  • Filipinos are asked to elect 24 national senators. Mr. Ramos asked during the breakfast, how is a candidate supposed to shake the hands of 42 million voters?

  • Personal interests of senators - Since the senators are elected nationally, Mr. Ramos (joking) said that all but one of those senators think of themselves as president. The last senator wants to be the Pope. (As a sidebar, I must say that I enjoyed Mr. Ramos’ humour – he had the entire audience laughing throughout his address.)

  • Parliamentary systems are more democratic.

  • In a presidential system, if there is corruption at the highest levels it is hard to remove a sitting president.

  • Due to the instability of the system, many coup attempts are made and this is unfair to the soldiers and police.

  • The most important reason Mr. Ramos favours a parliamentary system is because of the “non-confidence vote”. The non-confidence vote allows a parliamentary system to replace a government that has lost the support and confidence of the people through a peaceful and organized fashion.

Mr. Ramos has been fighting for these reforms since he was president in the 1990s. He admits that it’s a long battle particularly because of the entrenched interests in the current system. But more importantly, a fundamental change in a nation’s political system must be fostered from the ground up and not dictated from the top down. In other words, if the Filipino people do not desire a change, it will be very hard, if not impossible to impose it upon them. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Ramos will be successful in his quest for change. Judging from his track record as a military, political and community leader, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practicing in Winnipeg with the law firm of MONK GOODWIN LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, business and commercial transactions, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or

The content of this article are not intended as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Should you require legal advice on a specific issue relating to the contents of this article, please seek the services of a legal professional. 

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