Revitalizing Parliamentary Power

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.

Revitalizing Parliamentary Power

by User Not Found | Feb 21, 2013

Mark D. Jarvis, award-winning co-author of Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government gives us his ideas on restoring democracy by limiting the governing party's power.

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

I think the biggest challenge facing Parliament is demonstrating to Canadians that it is an effective institution. Samara’s recent report “Who’s the Boss?” found that “only 36% of Canadians were satisfied with how MPs do their jobs” and that Canadians gave MPs failing grades on their effort to hold government to account. There are a number of reasons for Parliament’s poor accountability performance, but perhaps the most disconcerting is the powers that governments hold over the actual operations of the House of Commons.

These powers include the ability to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament; to set and manipulate the House agenda, including limiting scrutiny of government legislation; and, various carrots-and-sticks used to command the loyalty of backbench MPs. This is not simply about politics or even personalities. Almost all recent prime ministers have used these powers to inhibit MPs from ensuring that the government is accountable to the citizens it serves. What it is about is the erosion of our democratic institutions and the effect on democratic governance.

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

These are real challenges, with real consequences. But workable solutions do exist. In our Donner Prize-winning book, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, we propose some firm, clear rules that constrain Prime Ministers’ power over the practices governing confidence and the summoning, proroguing and dissolving of Parliament: establishing a deadline requiring that the House be summoned no less than 30 days after an election; fixing election dates every four years in a manner that removes the discretion of both the Prime Minister and the Governor General unless two-thirds of MPs vote to dissolve the House early; adopting the "constructive non-confidence" system*, and requiring a two-thirds majority to prorogue the House of Commons. We also advance some modest proposals that would reduce the ability of Prime Ministers and their governments to dominate parliamentary and political party structures and procedures.

*With "constructive non-confidence" votes if a government loses the confidence of the House the Governor General must consult with the Opposition to see if an alternative government can be formed before calling an election. 
 - This explanation has been paraphrased from Mark Jarvis' article here

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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