What if we actually Redesigned Parliament? This week's theme: Parliament's Blueprint.

Physical Changes

In an age of open-concept offices and cross-discipline collaboration, what does it say when our House of Commons has a centuries-old design? These articles take inspiration from other Parliaments, and cutting edge workplaces to suggest physical changes to Parliament that might encourage behavioural changes in Parliamentarians.

Blog Posts on Physical Changes to Parliament

What if we actually Redesigned Parliament? This week's theme: Parliament's Blueprint.

by User Not Found | Feb 18, 2013
So far in our Redesigning Parliament series we've looked at improving the working lives of MPs, and increasing citizen voices in government. This week we'll be talking about Parliament's blueprint - how it's built, where people sit, what city it's in - and whether changes to this blueprint could make the House of Commons more relevant to Canadians. Here's a little intro to the idea, written by Samara's very own Jennifer Phillips.

Parliament Hill is slated for restoration. In fact, plans for restoring the main three buildings on Parliament Hill – West Block, Centre Block and East Block – began over ten years ago. Luckily, restoring a 20th century Gothic revival building takes time so Centre Block isn’t set to undergo renovations until 2019. In the meantime, a temporary House of Commons is being built in West Block. So far, despite being given this opportunity to try something new, the temporary chamber is set to look like this:

Which is really not different at all from what we have now:

Circle Up

As you’ll see this week, many modern governments, who have recently re-built their parliament, have chosen a circular formation. The concept isn’t new in Canada where Nunavut has a circular Territorial Parliament, and most municipal chambers are also circular.

“Right now, they’re building the West Block with a temporary House of Commons; why not take this opportunity to experiment with the circular format?” NDP MP Peter Stoffer asks.

Could the simple act of transforming a rectangular room into a circular one bring cooperation back to the House of Commons?

Liberal MP Judy Sgro noted in her response that it wasn’t that long ago that cooperation in the House brought us the “Canada Pension Plan, the Canadian Flag, universal national healthcare and government funded student loans.” She reminisced of a time when “There was a societal realization that no one person, party or group had all the answers and most saw no shame in admitting that obvious fact.” All of this and more was achieved in a rectangle room.

Maybe it’s not just in the shape. These other “blueprint” themed ideas got us thinking outside the box on this question.

Getting to Know You

Even before we start changing the building’s structure, we could consider changing the seating assignments. 

In elementary school, our teachers would move our desks around the classroom every couple of months in the hopes that we would meet new friends. Stoffer thinks that this same practice could work for Members of Parliament today, “Members shouldn’t sit according to their party, and should rotate their seat every two weeks. This way, each month you are sitting around different members.”

Would MPs be as inclined to shout across at their colleagues if they could potentially be sitting next to them the next month?

Virtual Parliament

MPs and their blackberries are famously inseparable. Public policy entrepreneur and open government activist David Eaves from Vancouver, BC, thinks this can be taken advantage of with virtual attendance. It would reduce MP travel time, something MPs asked for when responding to what would improve their ability to do their job. And as Nancy Peckford, Executive Director of Equal Voice, referenced in her blog post this week , “Belinda Stronach, former cabinet minister and MP, has asked whether certain votes can be taken electronically in order to reduce the toll on families, particularly those with young children.” If we can do everything else with our smart phones, why not virtual attendance and electronic voting?

Take Parliament on the road

“Why not have Parliament meet in chambers across the Country, rather than just in Ottawa? I feel this would do a lot to bring 'Ottawa' closer to Canadians from coast-to-coast to coast” suggested Samara reader, Dan Lussier from Winnipeg, MB. As Dan implies, perhaps the barrier between Canadians and politics is geographical. Bringing parliament to legislatures across Canada wouldn’t necessarily mean more travel or cost, since the buildings exist across the country, and MPs have to travel each week anyway.

Between now and 2019, Canadians have the chance to consider what change they would make to the shape of our Parliament. Simply rebuilding what we already have is a lost opportunity. It’s not certain that any of these changes will bring us back to the days of cooperation, but isn’t it worth a try?

More great ideas on this topic came from within the walls of Parliament

Peter Stoffer, MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore

Responses from Samarans

"I'd probably make the chamber circular. Maybe virtual? Reduce travel." - @daeaves

"Why not have the parliament meet in chambers across the country, rather than just in Ottawa?  Very few people actually watch parliament on television, and the media does a terrible job of mangling Question Period, so let's take Parliament on the road.  Yes, this would certainly increase costs and travel for some, but MPs are already traveling between Ottawa and their home ridings on a regular basis.  Further, I feel this would do a lot to bring 'Ottawa' closer to Canadians from coast-to-coast to coast.  If no other country has tried this before - let's be the first and forever remove geography as a barrier between Canadians and between Canadians and the political process." - @dan_lussier

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