Canadians like to think their system of governance is better than the American one. If they want more evidence, they need only look at what's happening now – a government shutdown in Washington – and be thankful their system doesn't allow the same shenanigans.
Shutdowns prompted by Congress letting funding expire have become an increasing threat in the United States, a result of parties playing hyper-partisan games thereby imperiling the normal functioning of the country.
Under Canada's Westminster system, nothing comparable can occur. In normal circumstances in Ottawa, the government of the day gets its budget passed and the money supply rolls out via an appropriation act (supply bill) that authorizes spending for the fiscal year.
In rare circumstances, the government can be defeated on a budget measure and has to prorogue Parliament or call an election. In such a case there is a safety net in place. The government can continue to spend funds via Governor-General's warrants until there is an election or until the House is recalled.
The American system has no such safe landing. Government shutdowns happened under Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. They reflect how politicized and polarized the system has become.
Presidents like Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower were not wired to see every decision as a political calculation. Today, the extent to which the political interest is prioritized over the public interest is why people are so fed up with Washington.
Asking Americans whether they blame Republicans or Democrats for the current impasse, the answer I've been getting is "both." One's as bad as the other, they say, and with good cause.
At this time, the Democrats didn't have to bring the primary shutdown – the issue of protecting dreamers (young immigrants who arrived illegally as children) – to a head. They have at least until March before the current system of protections expire. They could have continued to seek a compromise. But they're looking at opinion polls that show support for dreamers, and Republicans likely bearing the brunt of the blame for a government stoppage.
Donald Trump, who prides himself on the art of the deal, now suggests his party use the so-called "nuclear option" to change the rules of the Senate to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority.
He has had several opportunities to resolve this crisis, but has switched positions so many times no one knows what he really wants, including his own party. Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell says there is no clarity. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says the problem is that "We don't have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with."
Mr. Trump declared when sworn into office a year ago that "American carnage stops right here and right now." But the great irony sees the chaos president spending his anniversary presiding over the ultimate in government dysfunction.
He appeared on the verge of working out a shutdown-preventing deal with the Democrats last week but hardliners in his party convinced him to back off. Advisers warned him that playing any amnesty card on illegal immigrants would badly damage him with his base. Hardliners dominate the Republican Party. It's similar, though to a lesser extent, for the Democrats. The Bernie Sanders wing has pulled the party to the left.
The polarization, of course, is hardly unique to the U.S. Canadians have seen their conservatives move right and are likewise fed up at the extent to which their parties put the political interest before the public interest.
Mr. Trump feels he can make the Democrats shoulder the blame for the shutdown. Incumbent presidents Clinton and Obama appeared to profit from shutdowns in 1995 and 2013.
Though a temporary deal to extend government funding for a few weeks could happen in the next few days, nothing is certain with Mr. Trump, risk-taker extraordinaire.
Remarkably, polls in the last few days have shown him to be on an upswing; this after being widely ridiculed for declaring himself a "stable genius"; this after being denounced worldwide for his alleged remarks denigrating people from Haiti and the African continent.
After the latter, Democrats could hardly be expected to be seen as wanting to bend to his wishes on the immigration issue.
Many thought the chaos president would mature, calm down with time. As the shutdown demonstrates, they were dreamers of a different kind.