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Produced by T.I. Gzebb and Paul R. Norris; directed by Denise Withers

Active Productions, 1991. VHS cassette, 25:00, $99.00
Distributed by Magic Lantern Communications Ltd., #38 775 Pacific Rd., Oakville, Ont. L6L 6M4 or #201-6700 #3 Road, Richmond, B.C. V6Y 2C3; 1-800-263-1717

Grades 10 and up/ Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Allison Haupt.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

Canadian and American Governments: A Contrast is the second in a six-part video series on the Canadian parliamentary system. The video examines some of the differences in structure, powers of individuals and groups, passage of legislation, and elections between the two governments.

Looking at this production, I find it difficult to imagine who this video was designed for. It is far too full of jargon to be of any use to new Canadians, young or old, who might be trying to under­stand our system of government. It is too boring to keep the attention of elementary school-aged children. It is too dry and full of "suits" and their fireside chats to keep junior high school students listening, and that leaves senior high or college level students, most of whom won't be impressed by some of the sweeping statements, the lack of documentation or meaningful examples, and the rudimentary illustrative materi­als.

In providing a contrast between two governmental systems it would seem logical to use more graphic material and contrast structures, powers, branches and elections visually on the screen at the same time. The video format has not been used to full advantage. There are only two short documentary examples, neither of which is particu­larly demonstrative or helpful. The opportunity to use actual photographs of institutions or current heads of governments was missed. The primary mode of teaching is lecture, yet the experts fail to mention perfectly obvious relevant and recent examples of the powers of the Senate, the debate over an elected senate, and the passage of bills, nor do they prove their points through historical precedent.

There seems to be little enthusiasm for the topic on the part of any of the speakers, who often make sweeping or convoluted statements. On the process of enacting American legislation, we are told, "Bills are often so badly mangled in this process that the legislative agenda and even accountability is lost. The president can blame the House, the House blames the Senate, the Senate blames the president and so on. No one need take responsibility for the failure of a piece of legislation." Our system, conversely, is described as "responsible government," implying that their system is somehow irresponsible. Professor Jaekl of the University of Ottawa states, "The president usually tries to get his legislation enacted, which he channeled to the Congress, which a member of the Congress put into the hopper, and Congress tries to get past the president's veto all kinds of pieces of legislation which they know the presi­dent wouldn't like very much." When the host does get chatty and informal, he ends up comparing Question Period to a "rugby scrum." "Executive, legislative and judicial powers" are discussed endlessly, yet the meaning of those terms passes by in a split-second introduction.

Although there is an almost desper­ate need for materials of this kind, look at these videos yourself before making a final decision as to whether each one is worth $99.00.

Allison Haupt, North Vancouver District Public Library, North Vancouver, B.C.
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