OTTAWA – There’s no doubt about it: Parliament needs to work better. The hostile theatrics that Canadians watch on Question Period (you have likely noticed it is not called “Answer Period”) are just the tip of the partisan political iceberg in Ottawa. Hostility and tribalism between parties are getting worse. Parties fight for every electoral seat in a desperate quest for majority government … that Canadians have been repeatedly and wisely denying any party. Politicians’ mailboxes are filled with pleas to get along better and get things done for struggling regions, industries, citizens, and families. I agree. Most Parliamentarians went to Ottawa to improve the lot of our constituents… but we seem to have built a system that often brings out the worst in our elected representatives. How can we turn that around to encourage cooperation – and effectiveness in governance? I have been proposing some ideas.
A NEW SEATING PLAN. Teachers know that who sits next to whom is important to the social environment. Currently in the House of Commons, we are seated hockey-bench style with team captains facing each other, occasionally urging us to go over the boards for a verbal brawl. Fun for some, frustrating to others …and it’s the reason why school teachers don’t bring their students to Question Period any more. Too many politicians behaving badly.
But we could randomize seating in the House. It would be difficult to heckle and insult MPs from other parties sitting in the next seat! Some time spent next to other Members from all parties will lead to recognition of them as people with whom we can share ideas, and work on solutions in an atmosphere of respect.
ALLOW MPs FROM DIFFERENT PARTIES TO CO-SPONSOR LEGISLATION. Private Member’s legislation (bills & motions introduced by MPs, not by the government or a party) are one of the last truly democratic institutions in Parliament. Members are free to table just about any good initiative, and votes are usually free. They make up the majority of legislation introduced, but they face steep challenges to actually passing. Of 1,005 Private Members’ Bills introduced since the 2008 election, only 1 has been signed into law. Very few successfully pass the House; my Climate Change Accountability Act was a rare exception. One key reason is that private legislation is often branded as an initiative of the party the MP belongs to. If an MP tables a good Bill or Motion, other parties are often reluctant to see it pass because it will give the other party political points. This is our system actively working AGAINST the interests of Canadians.
That’s why I recently tabled a Motion to change the rules. M-597 will allow cross-party sponsorship of legislation, in order to allow more co-operation between parties, and to give private bills and motions a better chance of passage. Cooperation on the drafting of bills would lead to more cooperation and compromise after they are tabled, in committees, and around the Hill. Private legislation would be more about ideas, and less of a zero-sum political game.
A MORE DEMOCRATIC VOTING SYSTEM. Most democracies in the world have some sort of proportional representation. Of Western democracies, only Canada and the USA are left clinging to the antiquated “winner-take-all” system with false majorities, where a party can win near-absolute power with only 37% of the vote. Even the UK is changing. Proportional representation would mean that if 20% of voters voted for a party… that party would get 20% of the seats. No more, no less. In Scandinavian Parliaments, I have seen first-hand how this leads to rational discussion and debate, mutual respect, workable compromises …and much better governance.
Canadians are looking for statesmanship, for leadership, and effective government that represents not just regions or factions, but all Canadians. They want better. They deserve better. Let’s act to improve our system… and our behaviour.
Bruce Hyer, MP