Reaching our Parliamentary Potential

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Thursday, February 21, 2013 View Count = 1209

Reaching our Parliamentary Potential

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.

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