The Canadian Political System

Constitution

A constitution defines a set of laws that govern a specific group of people. A constitution governs the basic laws of government in any state. The body of laws and rules that define how government works is what constitutes a constitution. A constitution would then define the structures, procedures, powers and duties of a state. The constitution in itself would safeguard the rights and freedoms of its citizens and at the same time limit the government from infringing on the populace freedom (Jowett 67).

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Within the constitution, the right to make other laws other than those stipulated in the constitution itself is guaranteed. In most countries, the constitution gives powers to the legislature to make laws that later become part of the constitution. The legislature therefore has the right to amend the constitution or add on it, through legislative laws. Laws can also be added to the constitution through adjudication. This is usually undertaken by courts through judicial precedents. Implementation of the laws also defines the way the constitution is to be applied. In case of any contention, the courts usually step in, to arbitrate.

A constitution can be termed flexible if it accommodates changes. Constitutions can be easily changed through a common majority of legislators. Most democratic societies have this provision. Flexibility would ensure the constitution remains relevant even in changing times and new issues can also be effectively addressed. Rigid constitutions on the other hand don’t have the provision to be amended. The modification of such a document becomes very bureaucratic and almost impossible. Countries governed by such types of constitutions are usually characterized by totalitarian or authoritarian rule. Rigidity therefore limits the capacity of the law to effectively address new, pertinent issues (Guy 356).

Tenets of Modern Constitutionalism

In modern constitutionalism, the government should be defined by the legislature, judiciary and the executive. These three institutions should have clearly defined roles that don’t infringe on each other. The separation of powers is the most fundamental basis for modern constitutionalism. This does not however mean the three bodies function in isolation; the idea behind it is that they should be able to be independent from each other, but work towards the same goal of proper governance. In addition, modern constitutionalism stresses the need for the supremacy of law in all political, social and economic aspects. The government should also be limited in the way it operates, such that, it doesn’t overstep its mandate; like infringe on the rights of others (Jowett 68).

The Canadian constitution defines these tenets equally among the different branches of government. For instance, this includes the executive. The executive may comprise the monarch, cabinet, House of Commons and the senate which makes laws and the courts. Supremacy of the law as a common tenet of modern constitutionalism; it is also expressly represented by the constitution as the supreme law of the country. It therefore bears high legal stature in the Canadian society. As a result, nobody in the Canadian society, be it the monarch, executive or prime minister could go against the norms of the constitution. For this reason, no one can change the constitution except the legislature. Clear separation of powers has also ensured that the legislature and judiciary work independently from the influences of the executive (Jowett 69).

Limited Government

The concept behind the idea of a limited government was to check the influence government might have in most social, political and economic aspects of the society. The role of government, in a limited way, then becomes solely to protect the rights, freedoms, liberty, life and property of its citizens. This includes the ability of the state to protect basic human rights of the citizenry. The state in a limited government should also protect the citizens from external aggression, theft and breach of contract. These factors should however be the ideal role of any legitimate government but politics has made governments overstep their mandate and infringe on the rights and freedoms of its citizens (Guy 397).

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In the Canadian constitution, the government is checked through implementation of laws and bureaucracies meant to keep it in check. The constitution gives the power to the electorate to choose whichever leader she wants. The people therefore have the power to decide which leaders will represents them in government. If the representatives don’t perform, they are voted out. Independent institutions also keep the activities of the government in check by acting like a people’s watch dog. Existence of the rule of law also protects the freedoms of each individual in the country therefore limiting the influence of government. These factors are important in keeping the government in check, though it can’t guarantee 100% protection against the excesses of government. A lack of such structures would lead to an authoritarian regime detrimental to Canadian society.

Rights and Freedoms of the Canadian Population

Canadians enjoy a number of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The right to speech and freedom to religion is guaranteed in section 2 of the constitution. Canadians therefore have the freedom to worship and speak freely without any limitation. The Canadian constitution also stipulates that all individuals are equal within the law; with more complete rights stipulated in section 5. The constitution also guarantees the right to life and liberties of individuals by ensuring all citizens are secure at all times. These rights are stipulated in chapter 7 of the constitution which also guarantees the right to basic justice. The right to enjoy ones property is not entrenched in the charter but the right to counsel is entrenched in section 10 of the constitution (Guy 378).

Most recently, women rights have been able to secure a right to equal representation which was missing from the Canadian constitution. The constitution as it is currently constituted, fails to safeguard fundamental economic and social rights of individuals. These include the right to enjoy time out of work, right to enjoy leisure time, right to organize trade movements, right to undertake cultural activities and the right to gain from scientific developments. These omitted rights should be added to the Canadian charter because they affect the basic freedoms to which define our social and economic fabric. It also leaves us exposed to external abuse and therefore increases our likelihood of being poor. This therefore leaves the Canadian population less protected from the limitations that inhibit us from carrying out social and economic activities. It also leaves the population unprotected from disturbances coming from unwarranted quarters, such as the police.

Federal Principle in Canada

The Canadian federal system was meant to provide the sharing of powers, with an emphasis on separation of authority between the two levels of government. The aim was to establish a governing authority over communities that were the same in political and social aspects. This was the major underlying principle as to why Quebec was left out of creation of federal divisions. Federalism should therefore be distinguished from regions being subsidiaries of each others and from partnerships. Federalism is therefore based on cooperation of federal divisions and the ability of regions to be diverse in their own sense.

The federal system of Canada should undergo future modifications because of its weakening nature. This could be evidenced since the withdrawal of Quebec; which was one of the basis to which Canada was able to realize federalism. Ottawa’s failure to ensure social unions is well cultivated as the bedrock to which federalism stands out as a blow to federalism. The federal principle is therefore set to change because the Canadian population has realized there is a missing link in the Canadian political process. The systems in place have therefore been noted to ineffectively address the concerns of the Canadian population (Guy 346).

The most contentious issues in Canada’s foreign policy, likely to be realized would be the spending power of federal regions. The past 40 years have attested to this, because spending has been a pertinent issue in the federal government. Taxes and a difference in opinion are also likely to cause problems as the federal policy is evaluated. It is however important that the federal system be re-evaluated to improve the overall state of governance in the country (Guy 355).

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Political Parties

Political parties are usually created in democratic societies as a voice for a group of people with similar ideologies. Because of the rights guaranteed in the constitution, people are able to speak on anything they wish; hence the creation of political parties. Political parties have therefore become an integral part of the political system today. Through political parties, individuals can then speak on any subject so long as the system of government is democratic enough. Mature political parties are usually a characteristic of democratic governments because the freedom of political parties is usually limited in authoritarian and totalitarian governments.

Political parties are important because they attract more attention as opposed to one person speaking out. If an individual speaks out, he/she would probably attract attention but wouldn’t have the same impact as if he/she spoke at a group level. It is therefore clear that political parties attract the attention of governments and the media; something which an individual cannot attain. It is also easier for groups to be acknowledged by the government if they have an idea. The reasoning behind it is that, such parties seek many people to join them in order to make the government think the idea is shared by a large number of people. This is the only way through which government can be attentive to an issue.

Parties can be able to influence policy making processes in a country when party leaders voice out the opinions of the people in government. Many of these parties also send their legislators to parliament, thereby tabling their ideologies in the decision making process of the legislature. If they have the numbers, it’s easy to push any idea through parliament. Vibrant political parties have also in the past been noted to hold political leaders accountable through implementation of party ideologies.

Political Parties in Various Forms of Governments

Political parties play different roles in different forms of governments. This is usually because different governments accord different duties for parties. This means the role of political parties in democratic governments would be different from those in totalitarian or authoritarian governments. Democratic governments accord a lot of freedom to political parties in the sense that they are able to freely carry out their duties independent of the state. Such parties elect their leaders through democratic process which usually involve democratic elections. Their followers usually join the parties according to grouping of similar ideologies. This way, people with similar political interests can be members of the same party and champion similar courses. Such parties have therefore had the role of propelling leaders into governing positions because the parties present their candidates in a fair playing field to compete with other parties. Parties in democratic governments have also in the past been able to share their opinions in parliament and contribute in the decision making process of the country (Guy 389).

However, in authoritarian governments, parties don’t have much freedom because they are highly checked by the executive and more specifically, the office of the president. Party followers are usually recruited through coercion and not because of ideology. Their leaders are also appointed instead of elected. The role of political parties in these types of regimes has been reduced to mere instruments of the executive. Totalitarian governments on the other hand, accord a slight degree of political freedom to such parties but they become highly regulated by the government. As a ripple effect, the role of such parties is limited to government scrutiny. The appointment of political leaders is done through elections but the government also has a say in it. The same goes for how they obtain their masses, though followers join because of similar ideologies. The aggregate political interests in such parties are usually regulated by the government too.

Evolution of Political Parties

Political parties are usually given birth to, evolve and eventually die. Most of the time, political parties are formed to fulfill a certain purpose and once the objective is attained, they are left to die a slow death. In other instances, political parties become a sort of personal project whereby the popularity of the party usually depends on one individual or a small group of people whom if they leave, the party dies.

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In America, political parties have been a machine through which people of similar ideologies ride on, to effect change. Parties in the USA have evolved from being alliance-based to true vehicles of change. Canada has come from a past of colonial constitutionalism, which vested a lot of powers to the ruling elite. Political parties were therefore centered on overturning this rule but today, parties have been formed to champion the rights of the people on governance matters (Guy 389).

Since the Nazi rule in Germany, parties have become more liberal and free from government control. Parties have also evolved from being political tools of the government to championing proper social, political end economic ideologies. The same situation has been depicted in Italy and Spain where parties have become more issue-focused than in the past, when they were used to either remove certain people or ideologies from power. After the collapse of communism in East Europe, multipartism took center stage because more freedom was accorded for different opinions. However, some parties were formed to protect the rights of people from negative capitalistic tendencies while other parties took advantage of the open field to express their ideologies. Some also took the advantage of the change of system to fill newly created positions of governance.

Political Parties and Pressure Groups

In some quarters, pressure groups have been noted to undermine the whole concept of democracy, while to some; pressure groups have only complimented democratic governments. The fact of the matter is that; it’s hard for political parties to accommodate all divergent opinions in a mature, democratic society. This is because political parties only sum up interests and develop a common political entity. Pressure groups on the other hand facilitate certain interests to be heard by the government and in addition, exert a lot of pressure to ensure a reaction from authorities (Guy 379).

In Canada, pressure groups such as the Business Council on national Issues have been very instrumental in exerting pressure on the government to act on various issues. Other pressure groups are: Canadian Tax Foundation (including commercial banks), the Chamber of Commerce, Association of Canadian Manufacturers, and Association of Canadian Medics among others. These pressure groups have been very instrumental in ensuring the Canadian parliament undertakes proper practices for their intended purpose, depending on the nature of the concern. This is because; some of these pressure groups are well funded, organized and stable. Governments cannot deregister such groups though they oppose them because it is in the nature of democratic governments that such groups exist. The pressure groups are a characteristic of any democratic government and in their absence, democracy is denied. Governments would also lose their legitimacy by deregistering such groups because they would lose favor in the public eye.

Activities of Pressure Groups

Some pressure groups that have come up to voice various issues of concern such as abortion or gun control are usually primarily motivated by professional interests or selective concerns. Some of these groups are not legitimate and have never advocated for the rights of the public. Certain individuals have in the past been noted to form such groups to protect personal interests at the expense of the publics’. These individuals have also been noted to fund such groups to perpetrate false hoods that work for their interests. For example, Exxon Mobil in America has gone on record, to fund pressure groups in Climate talks across the globe to disrupt talks (Jowett 45). They have also gone on record to fund pressure groups to dispute the scientific view that burning fossil fuel affects the environment.

These groups have also been very adamant for the realization of their courses and have in the past forced governments to cave in to their demands. There is however a misconstrued notion in the society that pressure groups are there to protect public interest but it’s been determined that this fact might not be necessarily true. The biggest challenge however rests in the ability to distinguish genuine pressure groups that advocate for the right of the people and those that serve partisan interests.

The future for pressure groups is however bleak because most individuals are using them to champion partisan interests. This is an abuse to the legitimacy of such groups and the fact that their activities are minimally controlled by the government, poses a bigger danger. Their funding usually depends on donors and other well wishers and this leaves them vulnerable to being arm-twisted by their sponsors.

Voting

Voting is the primary function of any citizen in a democratic or political process. Voting is therefore a right that should be exercised by all citizens eligible to do so. It is also through voting that we have a say in the way we wish to be governed. Without exercising this right, we leave the process of governance in the hands of a few individuals who then define our future. Voting is therefore power for the society (Guy 391).

A single vote would go a long way in determining the overall form of leadership the country is to adopt. The reasoning behind this fact is purely ideological because to many, a single vote wouldn’t seem to make much difference. If everyone were to think the contrary, say a million people, a difference would be noted. The power of voting therefore lies in numbers and every vote counts to the realization of a change.

Voters turnout in America and Canada would translate to the level of democratic maturity the country is gong through. If many people turn out to vote, it would mean that people have faith in the electoral system of the country and would want to take part in the process. In America, huge voter turnouts would also go to show the strength of the political parties. In Canada, the percentage of voter turnout would show the level of civic consciousness among the people. Various variables can be derived to explain this phenomenon including education, age and the likes. The level of politics can also be determined from such statistics in that, a high percentage of voter turn out would mean there is a high level of political consciousness among citizens.

Electoral System

An electoral system is a legal framework that defines the way citizens in a given country make democratic choices. Since electoral systems define the way elections are carried out, the outcome of such systems is also affected by the same process. The credibility of an election is therefore affected by the electoral system in place. A tamper proof electoral system is usually free and fair at all times. This depicts the true sense of democracy in any country (Guy 392).

The electoral system in place will also ensure the efficiency of the process in the sense that some systems are considered more time consuming and inaccurate than others. For example, the electronic voting system is much more efficient and fast than other types of systems which incorporate the use of ballot papers. Electronic voting as an example is free from human tampering because it could be very difficult for an individual to access a national data base. However, electoral systems not only affect the election process but even those vying for the positions. They bind political parties and individuals to conform to certain rules and regulations such as formulation of party symbols or party representation, depending on the constitution of the country. The Canadian single-member district can be equated to the emergence of a single winner voting system (Crotty 89). It however emphasizes on the one person, one vote system” whereby a person is only allowed to cast one vote for the preferred candidate. It also has the ability to provide moderation of views as opposed to victory being awarded to a candidate who is thought to have extreme views. It allows people to cast their ballot to the most preferable choice of candidate. Proportional representation would however require the architect of the system to factor in a number if issues apart form the electoral system. It is bound to affect the electoral system in psychological and mechanical ways. It is inclined to change what motivates voters and parties at the same time. Issues dealing with electoral districts are more likely to be affected and at the same time, voting is more likely to be translated into seats. This would change the Canadian political system in totality. Nevertheless, Canada should change its political system to accommodate more representation and proportionality. This will ensure the political landscape is evened out and every citizen has an equal say in the electoral and policy making process. This can be achieved by overhauling the electoral process.

Elections in Canada

Elections are supposed to take place after every 5 years but sometimes elections are called after 4 years through dissolution of parliament when the Governor General dissolves parliament with the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime minister then requests a writ from the Chief electoral officer. The constitution however states that a writ should not be issued 36 days later than the date of elections. The minimum number of election days is therefore set at 47 days because of the requirement to carry out a door to door enumeration (Guy 395).

Considering changes made in the electoral act, elections must be done in the third Monday of October in the calendar year, four years after the general elections. Provinces including Ontario and British Columbia have however established their own fixed dates for elections. The chief electoral officer however issues the election writ to every returning officer. Returning officers thereby have the role of announcing the nomination and polling dates. Thereafter, it is the role of the Canadian election act to establish the dates which major events are going to be undertaken, establish the procedures that ought to be followed with the onset of every event, and identify the personnel that will overlook every action. If a Federal election was called today I believe Gilles Duceppe would win because of the popularity of his party. Recent opinion polls have also gone to affirm the same position. If provincial elections were held, Dalton McGuinty would win because of the huge command of his party. Currently, his liberal democratic party commands 71 legislators out of a possible 107 seats. That is commendable for the LDP party and such gains wouldn’t be easily eroded (Crotty 89).

US Primaries

Primary elections are usually overseen by the state and the local authorities. Presidential primaries are usually the first step in the democratic process of electing the president. Primaries are however not undertaken in all states and are majorly a characteristic of internal party politics in choosing the presidential nominee. The biggest problem in primary elections is the vulnerability of the process to instigated scheme attacks on political parties such as individuals voting for weaker candidates so that the party would lose. Candidates who feel aggrieved are therefore inclined to defect to other parties. This could be possible because the primaries give the voters power to nominate party leaders unlike other systems which allow for nominations of leaders by party officials. Nevertheless, candidates who are not affiliated to any party are able to appreciate the system because it allows them to take part in the democratic process without affiliating themselves to any political unit (Guy 389).

The advantages of the primary system of nomination however outweigh its disadvantages because the system is unique in itself by giving the voters the power to nominate their own party candidates. Other political systems have been noted to impose leaders on people. Most often than not, such leaders are not the choice of the electorate. The primary elections therefore gives much democratic space and is a true characteristic of a mature democracy as can be affirmed when the current US president, Barrack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination that propelled him to make history as the first black president in America.

Television Debates

The use of television debates among political leaders does not directly raise the level of democracy but only creates a forum to which debates on crucial matters can be availed to the electorate. In the past, research done in America on television debates that happened before the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections proved to be quite beneficial to the electoral process. Live television debates have now become a common occurrence in democratic societies such as the United Kingdom, Canada and America (Guy 399).

The success of television debate does not tilt the outcome of elections though. Many political aspirants are better off concentrating on the success of their parties and their consent because that is what would drive a prime minister into office. Because of this reason, certain purists have been against television debates in the past. In America though, television debates have directly swayed the election outcomes as can be affirmed in the 1992 and 1996 elections or even the 2008 elections (Crotty 67).

Research studies have noted that voters find television debates quite useful in making up their opinions about a candidate. For example images of Bill Clinton taking on George W. Bush senior are still vivid in the minds of American voters. Television debate therefore remains a viable tool for political campaigns because most political aspirants would be able to persuade some voters through persuasive arguments on television.

However, research studies have noted that television debates are more likely to influence women voters than male voters. Male voters have usually been characterized to have a stronger stand when it comes to political candidates than women. The young voters are also more inclined to vote according to debates on live television. Political candidates can therefore use this analysis to appeal to their voters of different social groups. Personally, I’m influenced to vote in accordance to live television debates because I believe they expose a side of the candidate’s personality that wouldn’t usually be exposed in other public forums. However, I am aware of the biasness of personality preferences for political ideologies. In my view though, live television debates expose both the personality of the candidates and their political ideas (Guy 379).

2006 Canadian Federal Election

In the 2006 Canadian Federal election, the conservatives won the most seats. The number of seats totaled to 40.3% of the total number of seats up for grabs. This translated to 124 out of 208 seats which also translated to a tremendous improvement from the 2004 general elections. This was a 99 seat increase. The election then translated to a prevalence of minority rule which was spearheaded by Stephen Harper. The lection of Stephen Harper took me by surprise because this was the first minority rule for Canada. It also symbolized the democratic maturity the country was experiencing because minority say could be heard in a society where everyone almost shared a different opinion. The victory was also unique because it was the longest serving minority regime which was propelled into power by a party other than the Liberal party of Canada. The victory was also commemorated as the third longest serving in the history of the country.

The strong presence of Harper in the political arena was also quite short and he was unlikely to have clinched the victory of the elections considering he only served Calgary Southwest for only one term. The election was also a shocker when Paul Martin, the then incumbent leader resigned as the leader for Liberal party and decided to settle to represent La Salle- Emard. The election also noted an increase in voter participation from 60.0% to 64.9% in 2004 (Guy 405).

It was also noteworthy that NDP also increased its foothold in British Columbia and Ontario because their popularity was recorded to increase by 2%. Most of the conservatives were also noted to lose their stronghold in the West, with a gain in popularity in Ontario and Quebec. It was also noteworthy that the 2006 federal elections were an almost perfect replica of the 2004 general election considering the way Liberals and conservatives polled. However, the Liberals were able to convert more seats than they did in 2004 but the Conservatives couldn’t match up.

One would have expected a clear cut margin in Parry sound Muskoka where preliminary results showed a slight lead for Clement. This lead was minimal and it only goes to show how torn the electorate was between voting for Tony Clement and Andy Mitchell. I expected Andy to have won as a change to the old type of leadership whereby men dominated the governance structure of Canada. This even petitioned the high court to come in between and determine the true winner. It was however declared that Clement won by a slight number of 28 votes. It must have been a painful loss for Mitchell because the victory was almost in reach (Crotty 78).

A similar trend was witnessed between the contest of Gary Merasty and Jeremy Harrison. With the election being marred by chances of electoral fraud, it was interesting to see how the contestants were going to battle it out. The reasons why Jeremy Harrison never took up the matter still remains unclear but the High court reduced Gary’s margin of victory to 68 votes from 72. The margin was however minimal but considering the high court ruling, there was little that could be done to change the outcome of the process. The election was therefore eventful and controversial in some cases (Guy 406).

Federal Government Policies Since 2006

Federal policies under the conservative regime have majorly been centered on the disempowerment of minority groups. Policies affecting women and children have been the most noteworthy. This can be reflected from the cut backs the government has done in addition to elimination of certain programs and modifying others. Other government commitments to the course of equality were also stalled and some were reversed. The backing to these actions was that women had already got a strong foothold in the society and no longer needed support from the state. For example, the elimination of the term “equality” had been removed from most women programs and they were barred from using federal funds to champion women rights movements (Guy 406).

There were also promises pledged by the newly elected conservative government that they were going to address immigration policies because most immigrants in Canada found it difficult to be recognized by Canadian employers or have their documents scrutinized in the first place. The government therefore introduced an agency to carry out this exercise. This idea was termed too simplistic and it ignored the fact that such functions fell in the hands of the provincial governments. A change in this area was therefore still a mirage for the groups that were championing for a change in the immigration policies. The Harper government however reduced the tax levied on goods and services in the 2006 and 2007 budget. This impacted many sectors of the economy though the reduction was dismal (Jowett 345).

Future of the Conservative Government

The future of the conservative minority rule seems bright. Even though the Harper government hasn’t been able to deliver most of its promises, the current regime seems to be much better than the previous. The conservatives have a rich history in the Canadian past and its grass root presence is also high. It would be difficult for these gains to disappear because the party has become more mature as compared to the past. Some people might however have a different opinion on the future of the conservatives but it is important to note that the conservatives have done a lot for Canada and their effort is bound to be recognized even in governments past Harper’s (Guy 407).

The conservative party has always championed sovereignty and a strong sense of national defense. In addition, the party has always fought on behalf of Canadians in terms of free enterprising, open account of federalism and equal opportunities for all. From the analysis, it is important to note that Canada has always had the backing of conservatives in most national issues of importance. The achievements the party has had in the past are also diverse; from improving the position of Canada as a sovereign state, empowering the federation and ensuring the most critical institutions are strengthened, improving the prospects for a strong economic base of prosperity for the future, championing for the reduction of crime and improvement of the overall security of Canadians, to improvement of the health conditions for Canadians including the conservation of the environment.

It is therefore important to note that Canadians cannot simply do away with the conservative party considering its contributions towards the realization of improvement of the standards of living for most Canadians (Long 45).

Attitude of Canadians towards Conservatives

The attitude of most Canadians towards conservatism is varied. Some provinces have been noted to be pre-conservatives like Quebec but most of the Canadian population in the west is more liberal. However, many Canadians seem to be a bit sympathetic to opinions voiced by the conservatives. It is therefore important to note that many Canadians are coming from a past of staunch loyalty to conservatives.

The attitudes of Canadians can also be analyzed according to age groups because the young generation tends to identify more with the Liberals than the conservatives. Most of the older population is more affiliated to conservatives. The contributions of conservatives are also quite numerous but the failure of most liberal governments have made many people deflect more towards being conservative.

The impact of liberals on most Canadians has been noted to fall short of the expectations of most Canadians even though they had the best policies. The conservatives have always advocated for maintenance of the status quo and have therefore attracted much criticism from some circles. The future attitude of Canadians towards conservatives however depends on the performance of the current government (Long 78).

Works Cited

Crotty, William. Political Science: Looking into the Future. North-western University Press, 1991.

Guy, James. People, Politics, and Government.. Scarborough, Ontario: Pearson Education, 2010.

Jowett, Benjamin. Politics Courier. California: Dover Publications, 2000.

Long, Robert. Canadian Politics. Ottawa: BiblioBazaar, 2009.

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