Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good.

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.

Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good.

by User Not Found | Feb 22, 2013

Today, professional thinker Brian Lee Crowley tells us how he would redesign parliament to get rid of excessive (and excessively expensive) procedures and focus on the ones that actually matter.

The torrent of regulation has now become so vast that, like a Red River flood, it has swept all before it. Parliamentarians have essentially given up the fight — a shocking state of affairs when one remembers that a survey of outgoing MPs showed that many of them were confused or ignorant about what their true role is. They seem to think it is getting up on their hind legs in Question Period and making themselves objects of ridicule and contempt rather than being doughty defenders of our right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by the state.

This can be fixed.

First, restore parliament’s oversight role which has been so badly eroded. Parliament was always first and foremost the place where the liberties of citizens were jealously protected against the unwarranted intrusions of power, going right back to early principles such as “grievance before supply”.*  Parliament once scrutinized regulations every bit as carefully as legislation, and did so with a jealous zeal to protect individual freedom.

Next we should have an annual regulatory budget, just as we do an annual financial budget. Today’s budget exposes to public and parliamentary scrutiny the money the government intends to take out of our pockets. But the costs imposed by regulation are every bit as real as the tax bill we get. And when governments can stealthily push the costs of its policies onto businesses and citizens, it obscures for everybody the true cost of government. Let’s make the government table a regulatory budget detailing how much time and money it plans to force citizens and companies to spend in pursuit of government policy  — and let Canadians decide if the game is worth the candle.

There would have to be tough, consistent and independent yardsticks for measuring the costs that regulations impose, so governments couldn’t fiddle the regulatory books. Such measurement must include an objective assessment of the benefit a regulation is intended to create, so that we can do a genuine cost-benefit analysis of the rules governments intend to impose on us. A regulation producing $10m of benefit, but costing $100m to put in place is a poor deal. We should make that cost-benefit relationship perfectly transparent by requiring that every proposed regulation come with such an independent analysis. Egregiously offensive regulations might not make it past this screen in the first place.

To avoid the accretion of outdated regulations we should consider a universal sunset provision. No regulation can be valid for more than, say, 10 years, unless it is passed afresh.

Too many regulations for parliament to scrutinize them effectively? Good. If any proposed regulation had to be specifically approved by parliament within 5 years or it would cease to have effect, the flow of regulation would be limited to what parliament could scrutinize. Equip MPs and Senators with an Auditor General of Regulation; the AGR could report annually on a few select areas of regulation (e.g. food safety, or airport security), cycling through all areas of government activity every 5 years or so. The AGR could work with the accounting profession and others to come up with those objective standards of measurement of regulatory costs and benefits this process would need.

The burgeoning regulatory state is a new and burdensome form of taxation that essentially escapes parliamentary scrutiny. A parliament that refused to tame it is unworthy of the name of the people’s representatives.

Brian Lee Crowley is a self-identified “serial intellectual entrepreneur”. Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Institue for Market Studies. He is the author of many books, a regular columnist in publications across the continent and formerly a member of the Globe and Mail’s editorial board.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy exists to make poor quality public policy unacceptable in Ottawa. They work to propose thoughtful alternatives to Canadians and their political and opinion leaders through non-partisan and independent research and commentary.

* Grievance before supply was the understanding that the King should listen to the grievances of government representatives before asking them to approve taxation.

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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