The House: Three-part reform

by Aaron Wherry

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.

The first category deals with the day-to-day functioning of the House. Parliamentarians, academics and other observers have suggested a number of issues they argue are in need of reform, like improving decorum and the quality of questions and answers during Question Period. A number of proposals have emerged to address these issues, such as: elevating the role of the speaker in meting out discipline in the House; making changes to the Standing Orders and conventions that govern Question Period to allow longer, more thoughtful questions and responses; and, even remodeling the physical layout of the House of Commons to reduce the worst of the schoolyard-grade taunts and behaviour regularly on display.

In general terms, these proposals tend to meet an important two-fold test: they are not likely to cause further damage to the House and its proceedings; and, they may even bring about some positive changes.

But one point should be made as clearly as possible here. Many – though not all – of those who support reforming how Parliament works on a day-today basis have set their sights on reducing, if not eliminating, partisanship. This is a misguided effort. Any efforts to improve democracy by reducing partisanship are doomed to failure. The entire parliamentary process is predicated on partisan politics, which sees institutionalized adversarialism as the best means of securing democracy. Partisanship is an essential dynamic of public accountability in our democratic system.

The second, and more important, category focuses on the imbalance of power between the prime minister and Parliament. In our forthcoming book Democratizing the Constitution, my co-authors, Peter Aucoin and Lori Turnbull, and I document how prime ministers have come to exercise excessive control over parliamentary procedure, including the formation and dismissal of governments, to protect or advance the partisan-political interests of the governing party. This moves beyond just partisanship; it is a matter of acting in bad faith, in no way serving any democratic and/or public purpose.

Particular attention needs to be paid to the prime minister’s powers related to confidence, prorogation and dissolution, including changes of government between elections. Canada has not developed clear rules, guidelines or expectations with respect to the use of these powers, as New Zealand and the United Kingdom have. New Zealand, for example, has adopted guidelines to establish that if a government loses the confidence of the House, the Governor General is to ascertain whether an alternative government can be chosen from the same House. A prime minister who is defeated in the House has no right to demand that the House be dissolved. This reflects what should be well understood as a basic reality of responsible government: that without the confidence of the House the prime minister is just an ordinary member of Parliament.

While it isn’t possible or desirable to proscribe rules for every situation, a complete absence of rules leaves the integrity of the Canadian system vulnerable to abuse.

Without a few clear, firm and binding rules guiding the most fundamental aspects of the Canadian constitution, the prime minister has been able to exercise great power over parliamentary procedure in a manner that inhibits Parliament’s ability to fulfill its three major responsibilities: to review government legislation, to scrutinize government administration and to extend or withdraw confidence as it deems fit.

We have identified a number of practices that could be reformed to address this imbalance and strengthen Canadian democracy:

-       the power of current party leaders to approve party candidates and the inability of party caucuses to appoint or dismiss party leaders, reducing the likelihood that governing party backbench MPs will play any kind of serious role in scrutinizing and holding the government to account or constraining the prime minister, especially in committees;

-       the power of the government to unilaterally alter the schedule of opposition days to interfere with the opposition’s ability to raise important issues and to withdraw its confidence in the government when it desires;

-       the power of the prime minister to declare what does and does not constitute a vote of non-confidence;

-       the ability to prorogue Parliament to postpone confidence votes or shut down parliamentary scrutiny; and,

-       the ability to secure an early dissolution to avoid confidence votes, shut down parliamentary scrutiny or to secure snap elections when it appears favourable for the government to do so.

In failing to invest these powers concretely in the House we weaken its ability to fulfill the role of scrutinizing the government and extending and retracting its confidence in the government as it sees fit. Instead the prime minister is able to dissolve or prorogue Parliament at his or her discretion as well as to decide when the government has lost the support of the House of Commons. While these powers are formally assigned by the constitution to the Governor General, in the Canadian experience the Governor General has accepted the prime minister’s advice on these matters with only a single exception in 1926, an exception that is disputed as a constitutional precedent.

The concentration of those powers in a single individual does not belong in a robust democracy.

Relying on the personal discretion of an unelected Governor General to constrain a prime minister from abusing those powers is an equally problematic solution given the high level of disagreement on our constitutional conventions for determining what the Governor General should or should not decide and under what conditions.

The principle is that neither the prime minister nor the Governor General should decide: the House must decide. These issues take us to the very heart of whether the House still matters and what its role should be.

This is not the only area where a failure to keep the ground rules of Canadian democracy up to date has led to political controversy. For the second time in as many elections the absence of basic rules for leaders debates in election campaigns has led to a controversy over who should be able to participate and under what conditions.

While the issues are clearly distinct, the result is the same in both. Our failure to specify clear basic rules in advance leads to important democratic decisions being made on an ad hoc basis often in the middle of a campaign or political crisis. In these scenarios, decisions are left to people with heavily conflicted interests in privileged positions – the broadcast consortium and the prime minister, respectively – and in the midst of confusion and disagreement. In either case, there is no room for such a precarious approach to democratic institutions.

In our book, we propose a three-part reform:

-       that the term of Parliament be fixed at four years – that is, that elections occur every four years on a specific date unless a majority of two-thirds of MPs approve a motion to dissolve Parliament for a new election. This would remove the virtual right of the prime minister to call an election whenever he or she wants, even after the loss of confidence of a majority of MPs;

-       the adoption of a so-called “constructive non-confidence” procedure. Under this procedure, the opposition can only bring down the government via an explicit motion of non-confidence that also identifies the member who would replace the prime minister and would form a new government that has the support of a majority of MPs in the House. The motion must be supported by a simple majority of MPs. This would eliminate the power of the prime minister to dismiss some votes as not actually withdrawing confidence and make clear that we could change governments between elections; and,

-       that the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons be required to prorogue Parliament, so as to restrain a prime minister of a minority or majority government from shutting down Parliament to escape scrutiny.

These reforms would entrench power with the people’s democratic representatives and bolster the role of the preeminent democratic institution in our parliamentary democracy: the House of Commons.

The most effective means of enacting these reforms would be formal constitutional amendments to remove the Governor General’s powers for prorogating and dissolving Parliament and to establish these new processes. The failed fixed election dates law makes clear the inadequacy of legislative amendments to reform constitutional conventions when the powers of the Governor General are not restrained or removed.

Of course, there is little appetite for “opening the constitution”. Canadians’ assumed collective fear of constitutional changes has become an impediment to democratic reform. An alternative would be to articulate the processes in a formal government document, as was done in New Zealand’s Cabinet Manual and is now being done in the United Kingdom, and to seek explicit agreement of the relevant political actors that the provisions be respected as convention.

If this approach were taken it must be made clear that these procedures would not be mere “guiding principles,” but carry expectations as binding processes by, and on, all political participants – especially prime ministers. While this would not remove the Governor General’s powers, the document would enunciate what is deemed to be convention for the use of the Governor General in responding to requests (or demands) from a prime minister seeking to override the articulated processes.

The failure of Canada’s political parties to advance a concrete comprehensive reform agenda is nothing less than astonishing. For one, there is widespread agreement that the centralization and abuse of these powers are not recent phenomena, but rather a longstanding problem. Second, we have experienced an even greater concentration of these powers under the prime minister and, not surprisingly, a greater misuse of these powers for partisan purposes compared to other Westminster systems like New Zealand or the United Kingdom who have taken concrete steps to address the situation.

The concentration of those powers in a single individual does not belong in a robust democracy. Democratic reform is long overdue.

The proposals we put forward are of course far from the only reforms available for bolstering our democracy. Many commentators and other individuals and groups have their own preferred reforms measures, such as electoral reform. The merits of each of these can – and should – be debated in terms of how parliamentary democracy is to be improved.

In the absence of a comprehensive plan for democratic reform, four questions should be asked of any piecemeal reforms proposed by any of the parties during or after the campaign:

1) Is there a clear, unambiguous stated intention attached to each specific reform that would enhance robust democracy under the parliamentary system while fully accepting the partisan basis of parliamentary democracy?

2) Do the specific reforms rely too much on prime ministers acting in good faith or upon public opinion as a deterrent, leaving loopholes?

3) Is there a clear mechanism of enforcement by the House of Commons?

4) Do the reforms proposed cement the power of the House in both minority and majority settings?

We should all be skeptical of any reforms that fall short on all, or any, of these questions.

Mark D. Jarvis is a doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria and co-author with Peter Aucoin and Lori Turnbull of Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, forthcoming later this spring from Emond Montgomery Publications. You can find more information about the book here: www.emp.ca/dtc




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The House: Three-part reform

  1. Consider at least one copy of your book sold. Some serious, practical ideas.

  2. Consider at least one copy of your book sold. Some serious, practical ideas.

  3. Like Mr. Smith above, I liked some of the ideas above, but choked at the statement that reducing partisanship is a bad and implausible ideal. If the absence of partisan control is measured by our representatives freedom to speak or vote their conscience (or their constituency's) when necessary, our system is more partisan, even, than the American system – a stunning "achievement" by any measure. As important, our parliament is far more partisan than the British parliament. Neither of those other legislatures has trouble accommodating dissent, divergent intra-party arguments and even individual conscience, even in debates of the highest national importance. Neither of those countries are worse off, democratically speaking, than we are, although both have their troubles.

    Only here do we tolerate this delusion that 100% control of parties, right down to every word muttered in the House on every issue, is somehow likely to improve accountability and produce some sort of public benefit.

    Anyone claiming otherwise is either uninformed, or pandering to those running the system now in the hope of a sympathetic ear. I'll have to assume the latter in this case.

  4. Great piece… if any one of the parties copied and pasted your three suggestions into their platform, they'd have my vote. Also, I agree that it is astonishing that none of the main parties have come up with any kind of meaningful reform package (especially since the Libs and NDP are trying to make most of their political hay by demonizing Harper's approach to governance). Your suggestions are sensible and, for lack of a better term, doable

  5. Great piece… if any one of the parties copied and pasted your three suggestions into their platform, they'd have my vote. Also, I agree that it is astonishing that none of the main parties have come up with any kind of meaningful reform package (especially since the Libs and NDP are trying to make most of their political hay by demonizing Harper's approach to governance). Your suggestions are sensible and, for lack of a better term, doable

  6. A lot of interesting fodder, here. Thank you.

    New Zealand, for example, has adopted guidelines to establish that if a government loses the confidence of the House, the Governor General is to ascertain whether an alternative government can be chosen from the same House. A prime minister who is defeated in the House has no right to demand that the House be dissolved.

    A Canadian prime minister who just lost confidence has no right to demand anything either, or so I thought. A PM advises a GG. The GG can listen to the advice, or not. I would have presumed NZ would have worked the same way, without the need of guidelines. What am I missing?

  7. A lot of interesting fodder, here. Thank you.

    New Zealand, for example, has adopted guidelines to establish that if a government loses the confidence of the House, the Governor General is to ascertain whether an alternative government can be chosen from the same House. A prime minister who is defeated in the House has no right to demand that the House be dissolved.

    A Canadian prime minister who just lost confidence has no right to demand anything either, or so I thought. A PM advises a GG. The GG can listen to the advice, or not. I would have presumed NZ would have worked the same way, without the need of guidelines. What am I missing?

    • This reflects what should be well understood as a basic reality of responsible government: that without the confidence of the House the prime minister is just an ordinary member of Parliament.

      Wait a minute. Until a new PM is named by the GG (with or without an election to guide the GG), PM and his or her cabinet are still intact. As they MUST be. Executive decisions are still required of our governors, and the GG must never assume the role of a caretaker cabinet. So, no, a PM who has just lost confidence MUST still be more than "just an ordinary member of Parliament" until the GG and/or the people call for someone else.

  8. This reflects what should be well understood as a basic reality of responsible government: that without the confidence of the House the prime minister is just an ordinary member of Parliament.

    Wait a minute. Until a new PM is named by the GG (with or without an election to guide the GG), PM and his or her cabinet are still intact. As they MUST be. Executive decisions are still required of our governors, and the GG must never assume the role of a caretaker cabinet. So, no, a PM who has just lost confidence MUST still be more than "just an ordinary member of Parliament" until the GG and/or the people call for someone else.

  9. For the second time in as many elections the absence of basic rules for leaders debates in election campaigns has led to a controversy over who should be able to participate and under what conditions.

    I don't see how this matters a bit, as far as parliamentary procedure goes. There could be NO DEBATE AT ALL and we will still somehow manage to govern ourselves. What's next: mandating the minimum number of questions a party leader must answer from the press on a daily basis? That a party leader's campaign must appear in all ten provinces during a campaign?

    I say no. Let the candidates and leaders campaign as well or as poorly as they wish. We the people can then make up our own minds.

  10. Of course, there is little appetite for “opening the constitution”. Canadians' assumed collective fear of constitutional changes has become an impediment to democratic reform. An alternative would be to articulate the processes in a formal government document, as was done in New Zealand's Cabinet Manual and is now being done in the United Kingdom, and to seek explicit agreement of the relevant political actors that the provisions be respected as convention.
    If this approach were taken it must be made clear that these procedures would not be mere “guiding principles,” but carry expectations as binding processes by, and on, all political participants – especially prime ministers.

    We want to overhaul the fundamental rules of our parliamentary democracy WITHOUT overhauling the fundamental rules of our democracy? Now I really have to stand up as a citizen. Just who is it, then, "signing off" on these "new binding rules" without the usual safeguards of constitutional amendment acceptance? The author(s) of a mere cabinet manual?

  11. Of course, there is little appetite for “opening the constitution”. Canadians' assumed collective fear of constitutional changes has become an impediment to democratic reform. An alternative would be to articulate the processes in a formal government document, as was done in New Zealand's Cabinet Manual and is now being done in the United Kingdom, and to seek explicit agreement of the relevant political actors that the provisions be respected as convention.
    If this approach were taken it must be made clear that these procedures would not be mere “guiding principles,” but carry expectations as binding processes by, and on, all political participants – especially prime ministers.

    We want to overhaul the fundamental rules of our parliamentary democracy WITHOUT overhauling the fundamental rules of our democracy? Now I really have to stand up as a citizen. Just who is it, then, "signing off" on these "new binding rules" without the usual safeguards of constitutional amendment acceptance? The author(s) of a mere cabinet manual?

    • Changing a constitution is SUPPOSED to be hard, so that the seemingly "good idea" of a handful of smart people doesn't just throw out what we have already. Go ahead and convince us, and convince us that changes are so necessary that the amendment hurdle can be cleared. But don't cheat.

      • The Conservatives basically wanted to do the same thing with the Senate… not go the Constitutional route, but 'fix' it by making a series of reforms outside the Constitution.

        That being said… are these suggestions 'overhauling the fundamental rules of our democracy'? Seems like it's simply wresting some of the power away from the Prime Minister, powers that were never really guaranteed in the Constitution to begin with. Also, both the UK and NZ did the same thing… established guiding principles without Constitutional amendment… if it's working there (and I'm assuming it is, but I really don't have a clue), it could work here too.

        And THAT being said… I'd prefer these changes to ultimately be made through Constitutional amendment. To start, however, it'd be nice to see MPs talking about it.

  12. Changing a constitution is SUPPOSED to be hard, so that the seemingly "good idea" of a handful of smart people doesn't just throw out what we have already. Go ahead and convince us, and convince us that changes are so necessary that the amendment hurdle can be cleared. But don't cheat.

  13. I think he was making the point that the leaders debate has turned into a bit of a schmozzle because there aren't ground rules to guide it. Hence, we end up having the same blessed debate over whether the Green Party can take part or not. If the ground rules were established, we wouldn't have to fly by the seats of our pants. Here's the key paragraph:

    "While the ISSUES ARE CLEARLY DISTINCT, the result is the same in both. Our failure to specify clear basic rules in advance leads to important democratic decisions being made on an ad hoc basis often in the middle of a campaign or political crisis. In these scenarios, decisions are left to people with heavily conflicted interests in privileged positions – the broadcast consortium and the prime minister, respectively – and in the midst of confusion and disagreement. In either case, there is no room for such a precarious approach to democratic institutions."

  14. I think he was making the point that the leaders debate has turned into a bit of a schmozzle because there aren't ground rules to guide it. Hence, we end up having the same blessed debate over whether the Green Party can take part or not. If the ground rules were established, we wouldn't have to fly by the seats of our pants. Here's the key paragraph:

    "While the ISSUES ARE CLEARLY DISTINCT, the result is the same in both. Our failure to specify clear basic rules in advance leads to important democratic decisions being made on an ad hoc basis often in the middle of a campaign or political crisis. In these scenarios, decisions are left to people with heavily conflicted interests in privileged positions – the broadcast consortium and the prime minister, respectively – and in the midst of confusion and disagreement. In either case, there is no room for such a precarious approach to democratic institutions."

  15. The Conservatives basically wanted to do the same thing with the Senate… not go the Constitutional route, but 'fix' it by making a series of reforms outside the Constitution.

    That being said… are these suggestions 'overhauling the fundamental rules of our democracy'? Seems like it's simply wresting some of the power away from the Prime Minister, powers that were never really guaranteed in the Constitution to begin with. Also, both the UK and NZ did the same thing… established guiding principles without Constitutional amendment… if it's working there (and I'm assuming it is, but I really don't have a clue), it could work here too.

    And THAT being said… I'd prefer these changes to ultimately be made through Constitutional amendment. To start, however, it'd be nice to see MPs talking about it.

  16. Of all the proposals I've seen to reform Canada's Parliament, this is the most thought-provoking. I look forward to reading Democratizing the Constitution when it's published. (I also enjoy following Mark Jarvis's smart observations on twitter: http://twitter.com/markdjarvis ).

    Some thoughts:

    1. I liked how Jarvis immediately dispensed with proposals that seek to reduce or eliminate partisanship. Such proposals have always struck me as hopelessly naive. As Jarvis points out, institutionalized adversarialism is fundamental to our system, and the best means of securing democracy.

    2. There's no denying that these proposals have teeth in terms of seriously limiting the PM's power over Parliamentary procedure. This may be a good thing, because much of the PM's power is currently unchecked and therefore open to potential abuse.

    3. I thought it was interesting that one needn't amend the Constitution to implement these reforms. The fact that these reforms could be enacted by articulating the processes in a formal government document (as in NZ and UK) makes them much more feasible. As difficult as it would be to obtain consent from all relevant political actors, it's light years more plausible than opening the Constitution.

    4. How would the 40th Parliament be different if these rules were already in place? First, Harper wouldn't have been able to prorogue in order to dodge the Aghan detainee controversy (among other reasons), because he would have lacked the neccessary 2/3 support. Second, we probably wouldn't be having an election right now. The fixed date for the election would be November, 2012. When the House voted non-confidence over contempt of parliament, they would have done so via a “constructive non-confidence” procedure which identified Ignatieff as the leader of a new government which had the support of a majority of MPs. Ignatieff would have probably led a Liberal minority until November 2012, as long as 2/3 of MPs didn't want an election.

    I'm not sure this would have been a desirable outcome, and public perceptions of legitimacy would have been a serious issue. Jarvis, Aucoin, and Turnbull are presenting some well-thought-out and far-reaching proposals that are worthy of public attention and a broader debate. I look forward to following this debate, and I am particularly interested to see how the four main political parties respond to these suggested reforms.

  17. Regarding partisanship:
    - agree that MDJ does NOT believe that moves to reduce partisanship are THE solution
    - also agree with this part of his piece:

    The entire parliamentary process is predicated on partisan politics, which sees institutionalized adversarialism as the best means of securing democracy. Partisanship is an essential dynamic of public accountability in our democratic system.

    - however I suspect that MDJ would still be in favour of efforts to improve decorum along the lines of the Michael Chong initiative
    - we can still have the instituionalized adversarialism that MDJ mentions and curtail many of the behaviours that often get labelled as partisanship

    Other:
    - not sure that the 4 year fixed election date recommendation is necessary – the other changes seem to make that a moot point
    - I'm totally fine if these changes, even though they have obvious constituional implications, were to get implemented through a process that does not explicitly change the constitution – if sonme group sees that as unconstituional then they are free to launch a court challenge, which I would bet they will lose.

  18. Regarding partisanship:
    - agree that MDJ does NOT believe that moves to reduce partisanship are THE solution
    - also agree with this part of his piece:

    The entire parliamentary process is predicated on partisan politics, which sees institutionalized adversarialism as the best means of securing democracy. Partisanship is an essential dynamic of public accountability in our democratic system.

    - however I suspect that MDJ would still be in favour of efforts to improve decorum along the lines of the Michael Chong initiative
    - we can still have the instituionalized adversarialism that MDJ mentions and curtail many of the behaviours that often get labelled as partisanship

    Other:
    - not sure that the 4 year fixed election date recommendation is necessary – the other changes seem to make that a moot point
    - I'm totally fine if these changes, even though they have obvious constituional implications, were to get implemented through a process that does not explicitly change the constitution – if sonme group sees that as unconstituional then they are free to launch a court challenge, which I would bet they will lose.

  19. Except as "guiding principles", none of which are enforceable, we'd be in EXACTLY the same place we are today. After all, Mr. Harper has already been judged in contempt of Parliament. Do you really think he'd balk at being in contempt of guiding principles as well?

    There are in reality, but two ways to handle this. The first is, as most people are aware, through constitutional amendment, changing the fundamental nature of how our House of Parliament works.

    However, there is a second way, and that is through the Criminal Code of Canada. For starters, this simple law would curtail a good amount of the abuses of the PM's privilege that go on in the house.

    If a Prime Minister of Canada advises the Governor General of Canada on a course of action not approved by 2/3rds of the house of commons, said Prime Minister of Canada has committed a summary offence, to be sentenced to not more than 90 days, and/or a fine of not more than $0.10/Canadian citizen.

  20. Except as "guiding principles", none of which are enforceable, we'd be in EXACTLY the same place we are today. After all, Mr. Harper has already been judged in contempt of Parliament. Do you really think he'd balk at being in contempt of guiding principles as well?

    There are in reality, but two ways to handle this. The first is, as most people are aware, through constitutional amendment, changing the fundamental nature of how our House of Parliament works.

    However, there is a second way, and that is through the Criminal Code of Canada. For starters, this simple law would curtail a good amount of the abuses of the PM's privilege that go on in the house.

    If a Prime Minister of Canada advises the Governor General of Canada on a course of action not approved by 2/3rds of the house of commons, said Prime Minister of Canada has committed a summary offence, to be sentenced to not more than 90 days, and/or a fine of not more than $0.10/Canadian citizen.

    • The Crown (represented by the PM) is not a puppet of the House. They are accountable to the House, and beyond the House to the electorate. If the House disapproves of the actions of the PM, they can remove him/her from office. If the electorate disapproves, they can send back a decidedly different House.

  21. One key idea in this proposal could result in massive shifts in power, in favour of democracy, but, ironically, it is an idea that is too daring to introduce because of the current state of what it would change. That idea has two parts: first, removing the right of the party leader to approve the candidates allowed to stand for election for that party (rather than giving the local party constituency association the power to choose whomever it thinks would best represent it), and second, giving the MPs for a party the power to choose their leader, rather than either all party members or representatives of the party's units. As it now stands, all MPs are beholden to the leader. With these two changes, the leader would be beholden to the MPs. They would then be free to represent their constituents as they see fit.

    This change alone would be sufficient to get the Commons back on track; but obviously no candidate would dare propose these reforms if he/she wishes to remain a candidate.

  22. One key idea in this proposal could result in massive shifts in power, in favour of democracy, but, ironically, it is an idea that is too daring to introduce because of the current state of what it would change. That idea has two parts: first, removing the right of the party leader to approve the candidates allowed to stand for election for that party (rather than giving the local party constituency association the power to choose whomever it thinks would best represent it), and second, giving the MPs for a party the power to choose their leader, rather than either all party members or representatives of the party's units. As it now stands, all MPs are beholden to the leader. With these two changes, the leader would be beholden to the MPs. They would then be free to represent their constituents as they see fit.

    This change alone would be sufficient to get the Commons back on track; but obviously no candidate would dare propose these reforms if he/she wishes to remain a candidate.

  23. Re: the gov't ability to unilaterally move opposition days, there have been new constraints on that ability in the last two Parliaments. In the Martin minority Parliament, they were able to reschedule all of the opposition days to the end of the supply period (3 supply periods each year).

    Standing Order 81(10)(a) lays out that in any 10-sitting-day period, there must be at least one opposition day, and no more than two. So the gov't is given some flexibility in cases of crisis or urgency to move alloted days, but not so much as to put off questions of confidence to the end of a supply period.
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/h

  24. Re: the gov't ability to unilaterally move opposition days, there have been new constraints on that ability in the last two Parliaments. In the Martin minority Parliament, they were able to reschedule all of the opposition days to the end of the supply period (3 supply periods each year).

    Standing Order 81(10)(a) lays out that in any 10-sitting-day period, there must be at least one opposition day, and no more than two. So the gov't is given some flexibility in cases of crisis or urgency to move alloted days, but not so much as to put off questions of confidence to the end of a supply period.
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/process/h

    • Put it off for 9. Prorogue. Repeat

  25. The Crown (represented by the PM) is not a puppet of the House. They are accountable to the House, and beyond the House to the electorate. If the House disapproves of the actions of the PM, they can remove him/her from office. If the electorate disapproves, they can send back a decidedly different House.

  26. Because the PM has no power to schedule the opposition days or prorogue parliament to prevent a motion of confidence from ever appearing, right?

    Oh wait. You're full of it.

  27. Put it off for 9. Prorogue. Repeat

  28. Democracy Watch has been leading the campaign for the past 18 years for changes to constrain the Prime Minister and Cabinet's power, so it is heartening to see this book on it way to bookshelves soon.

    See Democracy Watch's list of changes needed to Parliament's operations, and federal politics generally, at: http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

    I question one point by Mark Jarvis — "The failed fixed election dates law makes clear the inadequacy of legislative amendments to reform constitutional conventions when the powers of the Governor General are not restrained or removed."

    In fact, in response to Democracy Watch's court challenge of Prime Minister Harper's September 2008 snap election call, the Federal Court of Appeal did not rule that legislative amendments were not effective in changing the rules for the actions of Parliament or the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Governor-in-Council). The court's ruling only stated that legislative amendments must use the clearest, specific and explicit wording in order to be legally valid rule changes.

    So, changing the Parliament of Canada Act is another possible way to restrict the Prime Minister's actions, and change the operations of Parliament, in key ways. It is likely that the courts would take into account how many MPs supported the changes when deciding whether the changes created a new constitutional convention, and so a broad agreement by a large majority of MPs should be sought before any changes are made.

    Hope this helps,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch http://www.goodgovernment.ca
    Organizer of the CoffeeParty.ca movement http://www.CoffeeParty.ca

  29. Democracy Watch has been leading the campaign for the past 18 years for changes to constrain the Prime Minister and Cabinet's power, so it is heartening to see this book on it way to bookshelves soon.

    See Democracy Watch's list of changes needed to Parliament's operations, and federal politics generally, at: http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

    I question one point by Mark Jarvis — "The failed fixed election dates law makes clear the inadequacy of legislative amendments to reform constitutional conventions when the powers of the Governor General are not restrained or removed."

    In fact, in response to Democracy Watch's court challenge of Prime Minister Harper's September 2008 snap election call, the Federal Court of Appeal did not rule that legislative amendments were not effective in changing the rules for the actions of Parliament or the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Governor-in-Council). The court's ruling only stated that legislative amendments must use the clearest, specific and explicit wording in order to be legally valid rule changes.

    So, changing the Parliament of Canada Act is another possible way to restrict the Prime Minister's actions, and change the operations of Parliament, in key ways. It is likely that the courts would take into account how many MPs supported the changes when deciding whether the changes created a new constitutional convention, and so a broad agreement by a large majority of MPs should be sought before any changes are made.

    Hope this helps,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch http://www.goodgovernment.ca
    Organizer of the CoffeeParty.ca movement http://www.CoffeeParty.ca

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