The problem with our MPs is that we need more of them -

The problem with our MPs is that we need more of them


Alan Broadbent throws out some ideas for improving our House of Commons.

One of the problems our MPs have with being braver is the fact that their careers aren’t very long anyway. Canadian MPs spend less than five years in the House on average, either being defeated or deciding not to run again. This is far less than in other parliaments around the world. Canada has a relatively large number of ridings that swing between parties, perhaps 25 per cent, so many members are just getting their feet under them when it is time to leave. This doesn’t allow them to master either the parliamentary process or the substance of a key public issue before they go back to private life.

One solution that has been suggested over the years is to increase the size of the House of Commons, perhaps even doubling it. This would allow a riding like Toronto Centre, which is likely NDP in the south end and Conservative in the north end, but elects either Liberals or left-leaning Progressive Conservatives (in the old days), to return one NDP and perhaps one Conservative member who might have considerable longevity.


The problem with our MPs is that we need more of them

  1. In it's current form Toronto Centre returns MPs with considerable longevity. Bill Graham represented the riding for 13 years since Bob Rae took over 2-3 years ago. So I don't think his example provides much support to his argument.

  2. Creating more "safe seats" would seem to me to encourage the opposite of we would want. What incentive is there to behave properly if you will get elected no matter what your behaviour?

    • Agreed it's insane. Additionally…we should be finding ways to shrink the size of the house not increase it. It's already way to big.

      • Well let's explore that. I think most would agree that a problem now with the Hosue is that MPs are too controlled by their respective parties. With such expectations as ministerial seats, parliamentary secretary positions etc… government backbenchers have ambition helping them toe the line as well as a host of other goodies. Opposition backbenchers are similarly geared towards knuckling under sttrategically because of future prospects under te current leader and positions on committees they prefer etc…

        With double the numbers, what motivation is there to toe the line? The numbers are against you and ambition is less tantalizing. I believe that is the case in UK, where backbench oyalty factors are far less pronounced than in Canada. Would you agree that there is perhaps more to this than meets the eye?

        • A noble goal but I don't think it has anything to do with numbers – it has to do with the system and with leadership. The United States Senate and House of Representatives have much less party discipline than the Canadian Parliament – even though the senate has 1/3rd the seats and the house has almost double.

          No matter what, the majority of people who run for office do so because they want to change something. The most effective way to change is to be in charge (PM, cabinet). Unless we unwind the whole system, doubling the size of the house will not reduce party discipline, nor will it reduce ambitions.

          However, I take your point that my assertion that it is "insane" is unfair – I see your argument and it's a good one. Even though I don't buy into the argument, you might be right — I could very easily be wrong.

        • One more thought – I'm not convinced towing the party line is such a bad thing. I live in Toronto and I wish City Councillors had a ticket / party — that way, at least people could figure out who stood for what.

          That said, I agree that there is some balance between utter chaos (Toronto City Council) and Iron Fisted party discipline (The Last Several Federal Governments).

          • You are right about the US and it is important to add to my thoughts that I in no way think that numbers are the only solution, just that increasing them could arguably have desirable effects, all other things being equal. Other effects might include motivated ombudspersons, wider ranging committee studies, better representation of diverse points of view.

            In the US, members are not dependent on their leader for electoral success anywhere near to the same degree as they are in Canada. An entirely different selection process makes independence far more likely in the US as well.

  3. Alan has a point, but he illustrates it poorly by choosing what is now Bob Rae's and what used to be Bill Graham's riding.

  4. Just what we need: more seals, more flippers, to sit and trade partisan cheap shots in a Parliament that's already been emasculated by previous Liberal governments, then castrated by the current incumbent in full public view with little in the way of protest.

    The way to fix Parliament is to do what a certain liar by the name of Stephen Harper used to say he wanted to do: empower MPs so holding a seat or running for a seat actually matters, even if you don't happen to be kissing the PMO's FWA that week.

  5. Some consideration of what makes MPs decide not to run again may be relevant. If being an MP is unsatisfying, it may because they are given no respect by their own leaders, much less the other side of the House. Is the sort of person who enjoys being treated like a trained seal the ideal representative of the people?

    • I'd be interested in seeing how many MPs decided to stop running over the last 6 years relative to the 6 before that. I would imagine the prospect of having to run again in 12 months rather than 4 years could play a role as well.

    • "Some consideration of what makes MPs decide not to run again may be relevant."

      Understatement of the week. I concur.

      A club of MPs (since we're calling them trained seals for the day) have reportedly returned to the more lucrative and less demeaning private sector. Truth? Who knows, but it wouldn't surprise me at all.

  6. I believe Andrew was in favour of more MPs but for different reasons, the logic being a bigger back bench would be harder to control, and there would be more MPs willing to vote against party lines if they were opposed to the BIll. Apologies to Mr. Coyne if I'm mistaking him for someone else here.

    • If it's not his point, it certainly is mine.. and that's without getting into the idea that more representatives means more accurate representation.

      • Not a huge fan of recall personally. Thats what elections are for.

        • No, elections are to determine which of the choices on offer are the most likely to best represent the constituents.

          Recalls are to ensure they follow through.

  7. Alan may have a point, but the behaviour of current MPs show that we need LESS of these particular buffoons and puppets. Parliament conduct nowadays provides no justification for expansion.

  8. And renovate Centre Block? How would that go with budgeting in a time of economic recession?

    • It might cost $20 per voter to renovate parliament. Even if its $100/voter, you can amortise that over what, 50 years? Cost for these things isn't really an issue, since the totals are small relative to the population (even if the headline numbers are literally unimaginable).

      Democracy costs money (in a few ways). If we want a democratic society we have to be prepared to pay for it.

    • I agree with you, Eva. The idea has merit for the long haul (theoretically, we will be adding some seats anyway) but with our debt as high as it is, renovations must be put off. Hey, you have to tighten the belt and that means actually not doing things.

    • I will get back to you as soon as I finish this months Horse Canada Magazine.

  9. I've never liked the idea of more than 300, but I think it was Donald Savoie who said that with more MPs you'd have a larger government caucus, more backbenchers, and therefore it would be harder for the PMO to silence everyone. You'd therefore actually have MPs from the governing party helping to hold the government to account. Sounds great in theory…

  10. If more MP's frees more MPs to speak in their own voice and as the voice of power, then good. Will it really end the deadlock of minorities and no coalition? Will it really end the first-past-the-post government of the plurality in favour of a government of the majority?

    If more MP's frees more MP's to speak in their own voice, why not Proportional Representation?

  11. Nice idea. Doubt it will fly. Ned Franks proposed it in his book The Parliament of Canada in the late 1980s. The thought has floated around since then without gaining much traction.

  12. I seem to recall the current government adding ~30 seats to parliament. Did that pass, or was it shot down by the Liberals? Perhaps evening out the voter/riding ratio by continuing to add seats until we've achieved "equality".

    • I believe that doesn't take effect until 2011

    • How on earth can the Liberals, alone, shoot anything down?

  13. We don't need more MPs. We need proportional representation.

  14. You want to improve the house, put a webcam on every desk. Follow the rick Mercer suggestion, and put in more cameras, so that all antics in the house are recorded, not just the main camera.
    Shine a light on them, and then when there fools, we can shame them-even if they have no shame themselves.

  15. The problem with out MP's is that they have to Toe their national Tyranny of the majority party line and dam the federation and nation, if you and your national party want to have nay chance of getting into power.

  16. If this theory had any weight, wouldn't Toronto Centre have rotated between Conservative and NDP MPs in rapid succession, rather than having a Liberal MP in place for over 15 years.

    Elections don't work like mixing paint. You can't mix Orange and Blue to come up with Red in the end. It doesn't work that way. Obviously there are a huge amount of Liberals in Toronto Centre that Broadbent is completely disregarding or considering "actually Conservative" or "actually NDP"