Top 5 Ways to Redesign Parliament

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Monday, March 04, 2013 View Count = 2112

Top 5 Ways to Redesign Parliament

Despite Canada’s standing as one of the world’s great democracies, mounting evidence indicates that citizens, as well as MPs, are increasingly dissatisfied with the ability of Parliament to serve Canadians and tackle the public challenges that confront us.

The question, of course, is what citizens, and those we elect, can do to ensure Canada’s democratic system does what it should: represent the diversity of Canada’s citizens, make laws, ensure tax dollars are spent responsibly and hold governments to account.

Samara’s latest Democracy Report
 “Lost in Translation or Just Lost,” which detailed how the House of Commons represents the issues Canadians care about, spurred us to ask:

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

The response was overwhelming. We received ideas from Members of Parliament, heads of leading think tanks, academics and citizens across the country.

The Globe and Mail produced a week-long series on the topic, and many other newspapers, radio and television stations and national online news sources contributed to the discussion. 

For the past month Samara featured a daily blog post sharing the best ideas we heard. 

Today we’re writing to highlight the top five ideas on how to “Redesign Parliament,” and ask for your help in encouraging greater attention to these, and other, ideas that can strengthen Canada’s Parliament.

amara's Top 5

Below are our top 5 picks for the best idea to “Redesign Parliament.” You can find many more ideas, grouped thematically, on the new
Redesigning Parliament section of Samara’s website.

  1. Parliament, Meet Pixar. The world’s top companies put tremendous thought into how the design of their workplaces influences their organization’s culture and employees’ effectiveness. Parliament should do the same and consider how slight adjustments – such as lounge space and seating arrangements – could create a more modern workplace. 
  2. Parliamentary Policy Labs. Citizens want a louder voice, and it’s time we trust them with the megaphone. Citizen assemblies, Parliamentary policy labs, improved petitioning processes and taking better advantage of websites and mobile apps are all ways to start making decision-making more open and inclusive. Other countries and organizations, including many in Canada, do this well. Why can’t Parliament. 
  3. Signed, sealed, delivered. Since the 1970s, election law requires party leaders to sign the nomination papers of all their party’s candidates. The threat of an unsigned nomination paper hangs over the heads of every MP and, many claim, affects their decision-making.  It also disempowers local riding associations and volunteers. It may be time to change this law.
  4. Parliamentary Drone Watch. MPs—from all parties—complain that they are required to speak from prepared notes and that their responses are scripted. So why not stop? A “drone alert,” calling out meaningless, scripted statements might encourage MPs to show citizens that they are human and capable of real discussion. Ditch the script!
  5. An antidote for Allodexaphobia. That’s a fear of opinions. What’s so wrong with a good old Parliamentary debate? Many of you argued that limits on the use of confidence votes, time allocation, closure and omnibus bills would be a great way to encourage discussion, and you’re probably right.
What's next?

Ultimately, Members of Parliament will have to reclaim their workplace and determine the changes that are most required. Some are easy: for example, MPs could stop reading scripted statements tomorrow. Other changes will require a more united effort.

As citizens, we give our elected officials permission to act, so we hope you’ll contribute to igniting and sustaining this conversation. The above five ideas are among our favourites. What stands out to you?

Here are a few ways you can keep this conversation alive:

  • Visit our ‘Redesigning Parliament’ page and share the series, our Top 5 ideas or your own Top 5 ideas with your networks and on Facebook and Twitter;
  • Send your Member of Parliament one idea you think could really make a difference and ask them to advocate for it;
  • Discuss the ‘Redesigning Parliament’ series at your next book club;
  • If you’re a teacher, take the ideas to your class and ask your students what they think;
  • Help Samara translate this series into other materials – such as classroom curriculum, or Democracy Talks discussion topics – by making a donation to our work

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of Samara.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to
contact us at any time.

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