Gary Doer told a gathering in his Manitoba hometown that there have been five budgetary challenges since he was posted to Washington in 2009 and a sixth one is looming.
"Lurching from one crisis to another," Doer told about 300 people at the Canadian Club of Winnipeg. "Do you know in four years, there hasn't been a budget passed in the United States on the Hill? There is one from the president. There is one from the Senate. There is one from the House and never the twains meet."
Doer pointed out that in a parliamentary democracy such as Canada's a successful non-confidence vote on a budgetary matter triggers the fall of a government. A party that defeats a budget has to have an alternative ready because there will almost certainly be an election campaign, Doer said.
That's not the case in the United States.
"In the United States, if you vote against a budget and you defeat a budget, it doesn't matter," Doer told the crowd. "It's an interesting system to have speeches and votes but no consequences for that."
But even though a budgetary crisis is virtually always on the horizon in the U.S., the country has managed to lower its deficit and the economy continues to rebound, he said.
Doer also noted the influence money has in U.S. politics. Some 435 members of Congress are up for re-election every two years and, before they arrive at the office each day, they make dozens of phone calls to raise money to fund their political ambitions, he said.
It costs $1 billion to run for president, Doer added.
"The third parties that are involved and the amount of money they spend to buy votes — and I can't say that because they'd never buy votes — but just the influence money has in that system is quite remarkable."
Doer compared that with the approach in Canada where corporate and union donations to political parties have been hotly debated and restricted.
"No election laws are perfect," he said. "But I'm actually very, very pleased that money is a lot less important in public affairs and politics in Canada than it is in the United States. I think we should be very, very proud of that."
Doer led an NDP government in Manitoba from 1999 to 2009, when he stepped down as premier a day before being appointed Canada's ambassador to the United States. At the time, he joked that the post would be "the first time in my life I have to be diplomatic."
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