What Are the Differences in Canada & America's Political System?

The U.S. and Canadian governments choose officials and balance power differently.
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The United States and Canada, bordering countries with a shared history of British rule, are both democracies, but each uses distinct methods of government. Canada, for example, is a constitutional monarchy governed by a prime minister and a parliament. In contrast, the United States is a republic governed by a president and Congress. These political systems function in contrasting ways that create unique differences between the two governments.

1 Heads of State and Government

One of the most fundamental differences between Canadian and American government is that Canada is a constitutional monarchy while the United States is a type of democracy known as a republic. As a constitutional monarchy, Canada's head of state is the British monarch, who is represented in Canada by an official known as the governor general. The head of state chooses the Canadian head of government, its prime minister, and has the power to act as a restraint on the prime minister's power. The United States has no division between head of state and head of government. The American head of state is its president, who is elected for a four-year term by a national vote.

2 Parliament and Congress

The Canadian Parliament and United States Congress have similar structures and functions, but operate in different ways. Congress is made of two bodies: the House of Representatives, whose members are voted in once every two years, and the Senate, whose members are voted in once every six years. Parliament is also divided into two bodies, the House of Commons and the Senate. Unlike Congress, however, only the members of the House of Commons are publicly elected. These elected officials hold office until Parliament is dissolved or for a period of five years, whichever comes first. Members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the governor general and serve until they step down or reach a mandatory retirement age of 75.

3 The Prime Minister and the President

Like the American president, the Canadian prime minister is the head of government, and is customarily an elected official, although this is not required by the Canadian Constitution. The prime minister is chosen by the governor general, and is usually the leader of the political party with the most members in the House of Commons. The position has no term limit, and a prime minister may remain in office until there is a change in the majority party. In contrast, the American president is elected by a nationwide vote for a term of four years. A president may serve no more than two terms and remains in office regardless of the dominant political party in Congress.

4 Division of Powers

A significant difference between the Canadian and American political systems is the division of power among governing bodies. The United States was founded on the principle of division of powers. To prevent any branch of the government from becoming too powerful, the United States Constitution divides the government into three equally powerful branches, each serving as a check against the other two. The Canadian system, in contrast, is founded on the concept of consolidation of power. The prime minister is always a member of Parliament and has the authority to override majority opinion and personally decide government policy. In addition, the prime minister can control dissent with the ability to require any member of Parliament to resign at any time.

Agatha Clark is from Portland, Ore., and has been writing about culture since 2001. She specializes in intercultural communication and is completing a Bachelor Arts at the University of Oregon with double majors in linguistics and Spanish. Clark is fascinated by expressions of human psychology and culture. Before refocusing her educational path toward language, she originally went to school to become an artist.