By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 0 Comments
Once more to our periodic series on the House of Commons.
Lise St-Denis’ constituents are anecdotally displeased.
“It is completely ridiculous,” said Pierre Huot, director of the student association at Collège Shawinigan. “If she wants to join the Liberals, she should run in a by-election.”
Mr. Huot apparently voted for the Bloc Quebecois last time around.
The Liberal result in Saint-Maurice-Champlain was rather dismal in May—Yves Tousignant finished fourth with just 11.9% of the vote. Not since 2004 has the Liberal candidate in the riding finished better than third.
All of which, once again, raises all those questions about who and what one votes for when one marks one’s ballot. A lot of the same questions that were raised, for different reasons, by the election of Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 2:30 PM - 25 Comments
We return to our periodic series to consider recent efforts to limit the House’s ability to do one of the things for which it fundamentally exists.
In the thread under this post about the government’s recent penchant for limiting the time allowed for debate in the House of Commons, an astute commenter posited the following.
This is step one. Step two is to skip the debate entirely, and just call the MPs together to vote on the foregone conclusion. Step three will be to have the MPs stay home and vote electronically. step four will be to have the PMO’s office submit all the CPC votes directly.
However sarcastic (or at least wry) this comment was meant to be, it begs the question: How far-fetched a scenario is this? Or put another way: How different would this be from the present situation? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 1:30 PM - 41 Comments
A footnote on the meaning of Brad Trost.
Here is a question put to the government by the NDP’s Francoise Boivin last Thursday. Emphasis mine.
Mr. Speaker, women’s rights should not be open for debate, yet members of the government seem to think they are. The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly ruled that access to abortion is a fundamental right. Either the Prime Minister has lost control of his caucus or his government’s new policy is to outlaw abortion and turn back the clock on women’s rights. Which is it?
This attempt to define Brad Trost’s public stance as a reflection on the Prime Minister’s leadership is especially interesting given the party to which Ms. Boivin belongs. A year ago it was Jack Layton who was apparently failing to keep sufficient control of his caucus. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 50 Comments
We return to our periodic series on the House of Commons. This time to consider the case of Brad Trost.
Let’s first allow Brad Trost to explain himself. Here’s how, in an interview with the CBC yesterday, he justified his criticism of the government’s decision to fund Planned Parenthood.
“Ultimately, I have the backing of my constituency association and the Conservatives there. That’s who I represent. Because I’ve been vocal on this issue before, I owe them my democratic voice. I also owe my democratic voice to people who disagree with me so they know honestly whether or not to vote for or against me in the next election. It’s the proper thing to do.”
One could quibble with the specific of who he represents and his understanding of same. (Does he really think he only represents his constituency association and the Conservatives in his riding? Doesn’t he represent all of his constituents, regardless of how or whether they voted?) But it’s important to note who he doesn’t represent here: namely the Prime Minister, the Harper government or the Conservative Party of Canada. All three may well appreciate Mr. Trost clarifying from whence he derives his view and putting distance between himself and the official stance, but we should probably appreciate Mr. Trost deferring not to any of them, but to the people who elected him. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 2:59 PM - 7 Comments
Another in our episodic consideration of the House of Commons.
Watching Prime Minister’s Questions this last little while, one notices a few things.
First, David Cameron’s looking a bit rough.
Second, there is, even in the rarefied air of the mother Parliament, plenty of muttering, howling, chuckling, grumbling, mumbling and mocking.
Third, there’s no clapping.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 4:39 PM - 54 Comments
On the eve of Parliament’s return, we return to our episodic consideration of the House, this time to consider the frequently discussed, but poorly specified, question of civility.
In theoretically good news, the 41st Parliament promises to be a civil one. In theory.
The official opposition is presently promising to pursue a civil tone, even banning its members from heckling. Most of the leading candidates to be Speaker have publicly committed to establishing a more civil House. Various observers have even mused that the Prime Minister, luxuriating in the comfort of a majority government, might be somehow less prone to partisanship. This is all well and good and we should encourage these feelings no matter how much precedent makes it difficult to believe that anything will come of any of this.
But we should also, while we’re at it, come to some agreement on what exactly we mean by “civility” and what reasonably we should expect of Parliament in a robust democracy. Keeping in mind that decorum should be the least of anyone’s democratic concerns at the moment—that civility is more symptom than disease—if we are to deal with the problem, we should first agree on what precisely the problem is. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 12 Comments
Last month, Mark Jarvis wrote here about potential parliamentary reforms as part of our series on the House. Shortly thereafter he asked if I had any thoughts on what he’d written and eventually I got around to writing something down. In the interests of continuing the discussion, here is the email I sent to him last week.
Let me state from the outset that I am not a professional constitutional scholar. Or even an amateur constitutional scholar. I am merely paid to put on a suit most week days and spend inordinate amounts of time watching politicians more closely than is probably advisable.
My woeful inadequacies thus acknowledged from the outset, I will happily offer a few thoughts.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 4:48 PM - 75 Comments
We return to our periodic series on the House of Commons. This time to consider the case of Ruth Ellen Brosseau.
For the record, in the election just completed 22,403 eligible voters in the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge marked a ballot in favour of Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Those 22,403 votes were more than any of the other five eligible candidates in that riding received. As a result, Ms. Brosseau, like the other 307 individuals who officially registered as candidates and subsequently received the highest number of votes in their respective ridings, is lawfully entitled to take a seat in the House of Commons.
That much is fairly indisputable.
So what precisely is the problem here? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 2:50 PM - 3 Comments
Before tonight’s debates, here is last night’s discussion on The Agenda. It’s a good thing they kept Ned Franks and I in separate cities, otherwise we would’ve come to blows around the two and a half minute mark 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…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 12:43 PM - 16 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, Alison Loat.
It seems that few people who become political leaders in this country said they actually wanted the job in the first place. Almost without exception, the MPs we spoke to described themselves as “outsiders” who were cajoled into running for office. Samara’s introductory report on these exit interviews is called “The Accidental Citizen?” because of how accidentally the MPs described their journeys to public life. We might as well have called it “The Reluctant Citizen.”
Most every MP to whom we spoke said they didn’t stand up and ask to run for office. Rather, it wasn’t until someone asked him or her to run that said they even considered it. We heard numerous stories from former MPs talking about how they turned down requests to run numerous times before finally agreeing – often begrudgingly – to run for Parliament.
Read the rest of this series here.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 7, 2011 at 9:04 AM - 17 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, Alex Himelfarb.
As we watch events unfold in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as the media chronicle acts of extraordinary courage in the face of grotesque brutality, I expect many of us – inspired, hopeful, uncertain — are led to reflect on things here at home. For me, at least, this has meant a recognition of our own very good fortune accompanied, at the same time, by worry about our increasingly enfeebled democracy and perhaps too some shame that we don’t seem able to muster the will to do anything about it.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 4, 2011 at 5:12 PM - 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, Max Fawcett.
In theory, the decision taken more than 30 years ago to permit live radio and television broadcasting of the activity that takes place inside the House of Commons and its constituent committees was a step in the right direction, a move that facilitated greater transparency and encouraged Canadians to participate more fully in their democracy. In practice, though, it has had a rather different effect. Like lifelong meat eaters given full and unfettered access to what happens on the killing floor of a slaughterhouse, Canadians have by and large recoiled in horror at what they see taking place in their country’s appropriately named lower chamber. Maybe this is what Otto Von Bismarck was getting at when he compared the legislative process to that of sausage-making.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 9:08 AM - 61 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, Scott H. Payne.
Some years ago, I had the opportunity to spend about a month working at a fishing lodge in the far north of British Columbia. This part of the province is home to some of the best salmon fishing in the world and it behooves one to take advantage of that fact while you’re there.
So very early one morning, I hopped into a boat with one of the guides and set sail. About an hour passed and just as I was beginning to wonder what had possessed me to wake up so early on the precious occasion of a day off when my line started to jump. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM - 14 Comments
Eight years ago, Stephane Dion delivered a speech on the “state of Canadian democracy” and quibbled variously with certain popular laments and remedies. He concluded with a nod to what he saw as one of the primary problems.
Let us return to the very worrisome example of declining voter turnout, a trend which is affecting democracies whether their regime is presidential or parliamentary, whether their electoral system allows for proportional representation or not. In Canada, this decline has been found to be statistically verifiable only among young people, that is, voters born after 1970, in particular among less-educated youth: “On the contrary, turnout has remained fairly stable among those who were born before 1970.” The same phenomenon seems to be occurring in the United States…
What is it then with our ability – or inability – to connect with and interest young people? We would all like to know the answer, but allow me to venture one hypothesis. Samuel Huntington has written that democracy bears within itself an anti-establishment ethic. The more the values of deference and respect for authority lose their hold on people to the benefit of the democratic values of liberty and equality, the more people tend to mistrust those who govern them. I believe it is primarily this values dynamic that is at the source of the “democratic malaise.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 9 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. First up, Nick Taylor-Vaisey.
Does Canada’s House of Commons matter? Well, it can matter. But that all depends on what our MPs are talking about and how they’re approaching the conversation.
Remember that debate about the gun registry? Civil it might not have been, but was it popular? You bet. People paid attention because they cared about what was at stake. It helped that Ottawa’s politicians had just returned from a summer break, and news media around town were looking for a juicy story. But people everywhere were talking about the gun registry. The House of Commons mattered. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 10:21 AM - 50 Comments
In writing about the House of Commons, I touched on one idea for reform: amending the Elections Act to take away the party leader’s say over who can and cannot run under a party’s banner, but that was just one of several suggestions I heard in talking with MPs for the piece.
Herein, a brief overview of what else could be done. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 6 Comments
For their assistance when I was putting together last week’s piece on the House—and for the indispensable sites they respectively maintain—I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Michael Mulley of openparliament.ca and Cory Horner of howdtheyvote.ca. I also must thank Ned Franks, both for his writing on Parliament and omnibus legislation and his perspective.
Beyond those, there are several other texts that proved helpful. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 18, 2011 at 11:09 AM - 21 Comments
If you hang around the House of Commons long enough, people start to look at you funny. At the end of business one Thursday evening last December I found myself locked in: the security guards apparently not used to having to account for anyone in the gallery after 3pm. I had to catch the attention of a page on the House floor and ask to be let out.
A couple weeks ago, an MP looked up at me in the gallery and appeared startled by my presence. A security guard came by later and complimented my endurance in having been there all day (I assured him I had stepped out briefly for lunch). When the House adjourned that night, Conservative MP Mike Lake looked up at me in the gallery and asked me what I was doing there.
What I was doing there was trying to answer a complicated question: Does the House of Commons still matter? I spent some time watching what goes on there all day. I talked to some of the people who work there. And then I tried to sort out my own thinking about the institution. The result is here, a 5,200-word attempt to answer that question.