Raising Citizen Voices: Redesigning Parliament

Changes to Amplify Citizens' Voices

So many contributors told us the same thing - in our highly educated, tech-savvy world Canadians want a chance to engage with politics beyond elections. Here are some great ideas from around the world on increasing the presence of citizen voices in decision making:

Blog Posts to Amplify the Citizens' Voices:

Raising Citizen Voices: Redesigning Parliament

by User Not Found | Feb 11, 2013

Over the month of February Samara will be presenting blog entries from MPs, Samara readers, partners, community leaders and citizens from across the country on how we can “Redesign Parliament” to more ably serve Canadians in the future.

Each week we’ll explore a particular theme or two and then offer deeper dives by individual writers. The introduction to this week’s theme is brought to you by Samara volunteer Steven J. Lee.

One area that received a great deal of attention from our bloggers was how to encourage the “citizens’ voice,” ensuring the public’s interests, desires and demands are represented in parliament.

Direct Democracy

Many contributors offered some suggestions for direct democracy—letting citizens have a meaningful say on laws and policies. Citizens’ assembliescitizens’ initiatives,referenda and recalls could all be part of a process to make sitting MPs and governments more responsive to the needs of the populace.  A few of these ideas will be explored in greater depth throughout the week.

Proportional Representation

One of the most common suggestions to enable citizens’ voices to be heard was electoral reform. Elections are when citizens exercise real political power over their elected leaders, and advocates of electoral reform suggest that a reform of the system would shift greater power to the citizens. In Canada we use a single-member plurality system, more commonly known as first-past-the-post (FPTP) to determine the winner.

Laurin Liu  NDP MP for for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC summarized it as follows, “I’ve been hearing at the doorstep and on university campuses that Canadians want a Parliament that better reflects the choices that voters make at the ballot box.” What Ms. Lui is referring to is the difference between the share of the popular vote and the composition of our House of Commons.

Samara received feedback from quitefew contributors that cited proportional representation as the best method to help improve parliament. 

Let the House Reflect the Population

Seats could be redistributed to better reflect the Canadian population, increasing representation of those from particular groups, gender, ethnic background, region of residence, and others.

Despite the fact that we now have six female premiers in Canada the vast majority of the legislators are male. Quebec does the best with 33% female representatives. The House of Commons sits at 25% women. Later this week Nancy Peckford of Equal Voice will offer her ideas on equal representation for women.

Civic Education

When Samara put out the question of how to redesign parliament,
several people responded that Parliamentary abuses happen because Canadians are not aware of their own governing system and traditions. A key point for many was the need for better civic education in Canada. Likewise, MPs need to have better training for their roles and responsibilities.

These are just some of the most common ideas that we heard over the last month as you sent us your suggestions on redesigning Parliament. An overwhelming number of responses focused on the need for greater citizen participation, and new ways to have the citizens' voice heard. 

Over the next week, we’ll be sharing those responses with you with a new blog post each day. Sign up for the blog, or follow the series on #fixparl.

More great ideas to Amplify the Citizens' Voices:

Debate e-petitions in the House of Commons and other ideas by Kennedy Stewart 

No "Us" and "Them" in Democracy by Mark Henschel

Needed: A radical redefinition of the secular by Robert Joustra

Thoughts on Redesigning Parliament by Sandeep Achar

Responses from Samarans:

"Committees which report on bills should reach out to the public more - committees should set up a facility online for the public to annotate bills that  they're considering before they start hearings on them." - Leon

"I think your efforts to re-engage Canadians in the political process are terrific. However, I am concerned that some parties may only want to listen to their "chosen few", not the broad base. To overcome this, I think we need to make voting mandatory at all levels of government like Australia. It's the only measure that will ensure broad response." - Drew Davison

"The Citizens Assembly Foundation has a proposal to redesign any democratically elected government. www.citizensassembly.org to find out more information and view a demonstration about how the redesign would work in practice." -Geoff Campbell

"Revisit Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples' recommendation regarding a "House of First Peoples".  The Commission suggested this as a third chamber, but might be better to replace Senate of have combined/hybrid upper chamber (i.e. ensuring legislation respects not only provincial rights and interests but also rights and interests enshrined in treaties with First Peoples, whether historic or modern)." -James Stauch

Create capability for voters to petition Parliament to change policies ... A threshold level of petition numbers should compel the petition matter be placed first on the order paper. - Brian boyd

"Honestly? I think Guy Fawkes had the right idea! Sometimes you have to burn the village to the ground to save it. Until that time, my Xbox is wayyy more interesting" - Troy