By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 7, 2012 - 0 Comments
The New Democrats have called a news conference for 10:30am this morning to outline their “plan for ensuring a full study of the Conservative’s omnibus budget bill.” Thomas Mulcair mused this weekend of both “parliamentary” and “legal” options, while environmental groups are planning a national ad campaign.
Meanwhile, the committee system is already strained.
Franks says he’s long been worried about the excessive number of Commons committees. The whole point of the committee system is to allow a small group of MPs to develop expertise in certain areas and, hence, to provide meaningful, quasi-independent input on legislation and important issues of the day. That can’t happen if MPs don’t have time to learn the files.
… That said, Franks believes excessive partisanship is the bigger problem underlying the ineffectiveness of Canada’s committee system. And he doesn’t blame the Harper Conservatives for that, at least not exclusively … The root of the trouble, as Franks sees it, is the inordinate control party leaders in Canada exercise over their MPs, from their ability to dictate who may run in an election to their power to punish those who break ranks.
Mark Jarvis and Lori Turnbull consider how Parliament might be fixed.
See previously: Saving the House of Commons
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 4:57 PM - 0 Comments
In the House, the prime minister and government have considerable control over day-to-day operations. This allows governments not only to set the agenda, but to carry it out with ease. The prime minister commands the steadfast loyalty of his MPs, largely through a carrot-and-stick approach; co-operative MPs might be rewarded with cabinet posts or coveted committee positions, while rogues can be — and at times are — punished with removal from caucus or even barred from running as a candidate for the party in future elections. All of these are vestiges of prime ministerial power. The party caucus has little leverage with which to counterbalance the prime minister’s power because party leaders are chosen (and replaced) by the party at large, rather than by the caucus. Thus, the government’s MPs have no effective mechanism through which to stand their ground against a very powerful leader or effectively represent his or her constituents.
In a rebuttal, F.H. Buckley argues that the Canadian system is preferable to the current American system.
That Canada’s current economic situation is better isn’t necessarily an argument for our Parliament (as one wag joked on Twitter, it’s actually an argument for adopting China’s system of governance). That the Westminster model is more efficient has been noted by various observers over the last few years as the U.S. Congress has descended into dysfunction. But a simple either/or debate oversimplifies matters. The American system isn’t inherently dysfunctional: one of its biggest problems is a rule that didn’t exist until 1975. (The Senate is ripe for reform.)
Buckley concludes with a nod to Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Last night in Toronto, the Donner Prize for the best public policy book in Canada was awarded to Democratizing the Constitution by Mark Jarvis, Lori Turnbull and the late Peter Aucoin. Mark graciously adapted some of the book’s proposals for a contribution to our series on the House last year.
Congratulations to Mark, Lori and Peter’s family.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 28, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 47 Comments
The 2012 prorogation would be substantively different. First, there is no obvious political land mine to avoid. Second, the Conservatives have demonstrated how majority status confers an immunity of sorts from even the most scathing criticism from the opposition benches. These factors make a potential upcoming prorogation less necessary from a political standpoint, but the fact remains: We live in a country where a prime minister can shut down the House, the pre-eminent institution of our parliamentary democracy, on a whim, for no particular reason.
In our new book, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, we argue that prorogations should occur only with the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House. This would place the balance of power in the hands of elected representatives, where it belongs. The House would have to consent to turning the lights off. If we allow the prime minister to unilaterally decide whether and when the House can perform its scrutiny function, we reverse the basic logic of responsible government, which dictates that the government must be accountable to the House. The two-thirds majority threshold is high enough to nearly always necessitate multiparty support.
Lori and the Globe make the common error of actually shortchanging Mr. Harper in this regard: as noted earlier this year, he has prorogued Parliament three times already, not twice.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 12:48 PM - 23 Comments
There are several reasons why the House performs its critical functions so poorly, but partisan politics in the House is not one of them. Partisanship is to robust democratic politics what competition is to an open economic marketplace. Partisanship flows from the fundamental democratic right to have one’s own political views, to organize politically with others of similar views, and, most important, to stand in opposition to others, whether these others are in power or not, and in the majority or not. This is why the opposition to the government in the British parliamentary system is called the “Loyal Opposition.” In opposing the government, it is not committing sedition, treason, or subversion against the state. On the contrary, it is performing a crucial democratic function. The opposition is recognized as legitimate in its criticism of the government.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:14 PM - 15 Comments
Mark Jarvis manages to take issue with both sides of the Brigette DePape debate.
… the point here is simply that of all the reactions that DePape’s actions have generated, it is unfortunate that greater reflection about what is needed to strengthen Canadian democracy and how best to address these needs have given way to overconfidence in the status quo.
You might remember Mark from previous posts like Three-part reform. The book he cowrote with Peter Aucoin and Lori Turnbull—Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government—is now on sale. You can read the first chapter here.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 11, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 15 Comments
Rather than simply lament for how little attention is paid to the institution, I thought I’d ask some smart people if they had anything to say in response to my piece about the state of the House of Commons. Over the next little while, those responses will appear here. Next up, Mark D. Jarvis.
What is the role of the House to be?
Readers here will know Aaron has been making a Herculean effort to sketch how the House – and with it, effectively, Parliament – has diminished into “a sham”, to use Wherry’s terms. He asked if I would be willing to write a short piece about what sort of democratic reforms Canadians should be considering, especially now that we’re in the throes of an election campaign.
Why is the House failing? Simply put, a lack of clear and basic rules addressing the most essential aspects of the Canadian constitution has disrupted the capacity of the House to fulfill its fundamental role, undermining the democratic principles and integrity that most Canadians would hope to see in the functioning of the people’s Parliament.
For the sake of simplicity, we can draw distinction between two broad categories of democratic reforms that could be considered. Continue…