Reaching our Parliamentary Potential

Procedural Changes

Don't like how easy it is to prorogue Parliament? Make a new rule. Think there are too many rules? Make a rule about rules. Dusty old rulebooks might be more relevant than you think - at least that's what our contributors had to say.  From slight to sweeping, we got tons of interesting suggestions for procedural changes that could have a huge (positive?) impact on Parliament.

Reaching our Parliamentary Potential

by User Not Found | Feb 21, 2013
For the whole month of February Samara has been posting an idea-a-day on Redesigning Parliament. Today Kelly Blidook, professor and co-author of Samara's latest report "Lost in Translation or Just Lost?" tells us which rules and regulations he feels are holding back our Parliament's potential.

1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Parliament in the 21st century?

Parliament's potential – both for representation and for governance – is undermined by the expansion of powers of leaders’ offices and primarily by the Prime Minister’s Office.  The avenues for MPs to express views and to propose and debate changes to policies are increasingly being scripted and structured by party leadership.

2.  What change would you propose to “redesign” Parliament, and the way it works, so it’s more relevant to Canadians?

First, the Canada Elections Act should be amended to designate constituency associations, not party leaders, as signatories for party nominations of election candidates. The ability to not run a candidate at all, or not to hold a new nomination process in the case of a sitting MP, would remain with the party leader and central party officials, but the ability to name a new candidate who will stand for election would no longer fall to the party leader.

Second, parliamentary caucuses should hold the official capacity to trigger a leadership review.

These changes would ensure that MPs feel a greater degree of security in deviating from party scripts and in putting forth their own proposals and views. They would also aid in MPs pursuing their interests and gaining expertise which would, in turn, enhance substantive debate in Parliament. While a high degree of MP independence is not necessarily desirable for all the business of parliament, these changes would ensure a greater degree of consultation and the ability to gauge support within government for all proposals, and it would enhance MPs abilities to contribute new and innovative ideas on matters of public interest. The overall balance of power between MP and party, which would remain strongly in favour of the party even with these changes, would be better for Canadians than the current imbalance.

Kelly Blidook is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Memorial University. He is the author of two books on Canadian politics: Party Creep: The power dynamic between MPs and Parties in Canada, UBC Press (Under Contract) and Constituency Influence in Parliament: Countering the Centre.

More Great Ideas on Procedural Changes

Thoughts on Redesigning Parliament by Brian Boyd

Stop the Assembly Line by Michel Kelly-Gagnon

Provinces and Territories need a voice by Remy Sansanwal

Responses from Samarans

"Punish bad behaviour by ejecting MPs & bar them from entering the HoC for a period of time. Barring would also mean a loss of pay." - Ken Szijarto

"Idea number one - ban written speeches, except for the budget. This includes for QP."
- @journo_dale

"There should be more cameras in the H of Commons, to include other members (like the hecklers)."
-Annabelle Twilley Richardson

"Create a House (and a Senate) Business Committee of backbenchers to allocate time with a certain amount dedicated to government business and to private members' business. Government ministers and backbenchers would 'bid' for time in open hearings after which time would be allocated subject to a vote of the House/Senate. Increases ability of parliamentarians to act independently.

"Get rid of members/senators statements. They are pointless. Parliament means debate and discussion not lecturing.

"Make prorogation occur at regular intervals and take it out of the hands of the executive. No one should have the power to stop parliamentary scrutiny at will, but parliament should keep some semblance of a time limit for legislation to put pressure on the government." -Leon

"I would like to see the following parliamentary reform. The Government's MP salaries and pensions be directly determined by the Auditor General's willingness to issue an "unqualified" annual report on the financial affairs of the nation. By this measure it is to be hoped that the "whip's" dominion over the caucus will be diminished and true accountability would be the outcome." - Erik Andersen

"I would like to see improvement to how politicians debate. Among what this requires is the shared idea that debate is important because it weeds out bad ideas in favour of better ideas. I'd like to see it explored in more depth how collaborative dialogue can be valued and implemented in the House of Commons and what implications this has on the party system but as well on our democratic vitality as a whole." - Mark McInnes

"Adopt a 'constructive vote of non-confidence' as used in Germany - this requires an explicit vote of non-confidence rather than treating a particular bill as an issue of confidence.  Explicit motions allow the opposition (and even members of the government) to vote down a bill without necessarily bringing
down the government.  It forces the government to actually deal with the merits of a bill and not play a game of brinksmanship." - Antony Hodgson

"In Redesigning Parliament, I would like to take away the stigma of coalition governance. I do not mean the actual merger of parties as most Canadians think of when it comes to coalitions. Coalitions should be an informal component of the Government and of Parliament, especially with Canada's multi-party system. Many parliamentary systems throughout the world function on coalitions and Canada itself was founded by a "Great Coalition...In short, Parliament and Canadian democracy could benefit by ending the stigma behind parties "working together"...By bringing back coalitions, parties and  work together rather than against each other which just might reinvigorate interest among Canadian voters."
- Clement Nocos

"Bills should be constrained in topic and scope. Parliament cannot effectively make a decision on a large collection of disparate issues. Especially when a limited time frame is imposed."- Jason Skomorowski

"Question period is embarrassing. There is no real debate, and the heckling and childish behaviour is just silly. They might calm down if Question Period was not televised, and if the Speaker could impose financial penalties (on either the Member or the Party) for unparliamentary behaviour."
- Jennifer Cameron

"If (a Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral system) was coupled with the system used in Finland where elections precipitated before the end of the four year mandate only result in a mandate for the balance of the original term, we would have a better shot at eliminating opportunistic engineering of elections and have more productive government." - Geoff Kemp

"...I would also change election funding rules to discourage the influence of big private donors by increasing the public funding portion. I believe that a more publicly-funded, multi-party Parliament would provide the best pre-conditions for a more honest & democratic system." - Ray Lorenz

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