What would New Democrats do to fix Parliament? - Macleans.ca

What would New Democrats do to fix Parliament?

Possible changes to prorogation, omnibus legislation and time allocation


Under the heading of “Governing in an Inclusive and Fair Canada,” the New Democrats have a number of resolutions to consider this weekend—I’m in Montreal and will be here through Sunday—on proportional representation, open government, government advertising and evidence-based policy. But the most interesting resolutions might be a couple that deal with parliamentary reform.

First, from the riding association in Sudbury.

5-47-13 Resolution on Prorogation

BE IT RESOLVED THAT The Federal NDP oppose the unilateral prorogation of Parliament in Canada without the consent of a 2/3 majority of elected members

And, more comprehensively, from Hull-Aylmer.

5-54-13 Resolution on Transparent Democratic Process

WHEREAS New Democrats believe in a fair, accountable and democratic parliamentary process that Canadians deserve;

WHEREAS New Democrats believe that the Canadian parliamentary process does not provide the adequate checks and balances in order to permit opposition parties to hold majority governments to account

BE IT RESOLVED THAT: These policies be added as a new section 5.3 to the Policy Book of the New Democratic Party with all subsequent section renumbered accordingly

1) Legislation
a) All omnibus bills shall be limited in scope

2) Committees
a) All legislation should go to the appropriate committees
b) Moving committee proceedings in camera shall require the consent of two thirds majority of committee members

3) House of Commons
a) An NDP government shall respect the Parliamentary tradition that bills be debated for as long as it takes for every Member to speak once, or until debate collapses
i.) The use of a time allocation motion shall be permitted for no more than one piece of legislation per sitting

Implement those principles on prorogation, omnibus legislation and time allocation and you would have a very different—better? worse? more unwieldy? more democratic?—Parliament from the one we’ve had the last six years.

Also of note: Resolution 5-43-13, which calls for compulsory voting. This is the Australian model of voting.


What would New Democrats do to fix Parliament?

  1. And, of course, let’s get rid of the GD senate. Canada’s most useless political organ is infected and we are in desperate need of a senatectomy.

    • Yes the senate is the appendix of government. When it’s not completely useless it’s flaring up causing problems. Best solution is to lop it off. It is 100% government waste. (Quintessential gravy train.)

      • Ironic since the appendix is now believed to have a real medical function, so they are only removed when they need to be nowadays.

        Reform of the Senate makes so much more sense than abolition.

        • It makes little sense. As I pointed out, we got by the last 150 years without a functioning senate. Why bother now?

          What are the senate’s greatest accomplishments? When Liberal senators stood in the way of a democratically-elected government’s desire to bring in free trade and the GST? (To score political points, no less…) Today the Liberal party wholeheartedly supports both policies…

          People tend to cling to institutions and shrink in horror at the thought of their demise. That is not sense; that is senseless emotion.

  2. I agree with all these resolutions, and I agree with the compulsory voting resolution as long as it is coupled with an “abstain/none of the above” option on all ballots.

    Now if only the NDP would get rid of that stupid “abolish the Senate” thing. Reform the Senate, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • The senate is an undemocratic, aristocratic institution that’s been corrupted with partisan appointments since Confederation. If we’ve done Ok with a ineffective waste-of-space senate over the past 150 yeas, we can do without it altogether. If this was the 19th century, perhaps reform would have some relevance. In the 21st century, the concept is absurd.

      • Who cares if the Senate is undemocratic? Does every single institution in our nation have to be democratic? Should we elect Supreme Court justices or Agents of Parliament too? Maybe you’d feel better if we elected military commanders and police officers as well?

        “The Senate is undemocratic” is not a valid argument for its abolition because then you could make the same argument for the abolition of the Canadian Forces, the Supreme Court of Canada, the RCMP, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Order of Canada etc. etc. etc.

        The Senate is aristocratic, I agree with you there. The Fathers of Confederation were conservatives who believed in “curbing the excesses of democracy,” i.e. letting the elites and powerful have an equal say to counterbalance the democratically elected House of Commons. I’d like to see the Senate REFORMED to remove its aristocratic nature. Remove the age and property ownership requirements for sitting in the Senate, remove the Senate’s veto of legislation passed by the Commons (like has happened with the House of Lords in Britain,) so they can’t override the will of the elected House of Commons.

        Partisan appointments, I again agree with you. I say we reform the Senate and make it a non-partisan chamber. Make it so Senators can’t even hold membership with a political party. Let’s reimagine the Senate as a way to “curb the excesses of partisanship. Create a special commission that chooses Senators who are experts in their field, or respected Canadians who will bring the motto of the Order of Canada, “Desiderantes meliorem patriam,” “they desire a better nation” to the Senate. Turn the Senate into a place where legislation is properly reviewed and worked on so that these experts can bring knowledge and insight into legislation instead of ideology and partisanship

        I don’t agree that we can do better without it. The Senate acts as a valuable check and balance on the House of Commons and the government in our system of government. In a nation where we already have eroding checks and balances, expanding Prime Minister’s Office control over every aspect of government, and the House of Commons no longer acting as an effective check and balance against the government I find it unfathomable that many people are advocating the abolishment of one of those few checks and balances we still have instead of reform.

        Reforming the Senate makes so much more sense than abolishing it.

        • Your argument is fluff. No doubt when it comes to Supreme Court justices we want the most capable judges to be appointed and the appointment process free from political agendas. But when it comes to politicians who affect legislation, these are people who represent Canadians and should be elected by them. As Churchill said, democracy is the best of all worse alternatives.

          Since it would be pointless to elect senators, best to just get rid of them. Anything they do that remotely resembles worth can be done better by elected representatives in Commons committees.

          No doubt it’s human nature to irrationally cling to institutions. But we wouldn’t have democracy today if we weren’t smart enough to know when to abandon bad ones. Hopefully we will be intelligent enough to put an end to the useless senate gravy train. Most Canadians won’t notice it’s gone. People who mourn its demise will get over it.

  3. Compulsory voting is a foolish idea. In North America it will be seen as an affront to people’s freedom. It was raise unnecessary controversy. It would be smarter to adopt the Aussies’ voting system: Preferential Voting. (This has made inroads in North America already, having been adopted by a dozen US cities and a couple states: aka Instant Runoff Voting.)

    • Agree re PV, but I am in favour of compulsory voting. It might wake up the citizens of this nation, for once, and get hem paying attention to more than their navels or celebrity gossip.

      • I think it’s up to politicians to sell people on democracy. Harper’s plan is the opposite. He has 30% of the electorate who will vote for him in the middle of a hurricane. The more he turns people off of politics the more weight that 30% has. (Especially, when only 39% of the vote is require for absolute corrupt power.)

        I like Trudeau’s approach which is to tackle this issue head on. (People who say he’s all fluff don’t understand what he’s doing and won’t get it until it’s too late…)

  4. The best way to tackle the democratic deficit caused by 39% minority parties getting absolute corrupt power with no checks or balances is to stop this from happening in the first place (electoral reform.)

    The NDP flog the dead horse of Proportional Representation (rejected in 4 provincial referendums.) It just turns people off of voting reform. As Don Newman put it: First Past the Post gives too much power to major parties. PR gives too much to minor parties. (If an election was held March 13, according to the G&M, the Greens would get 3 seats under FPTP, 27 under PR.)

    Preferential Voting is a good compromise between undemocratic FPTP and PR. (The system the Liberals support.) It merely ensures MPs earn their seats with a majority of the vote. This is the same system all parties use to elect their leaders.

    PV can be legislated on a party platform. It will not be the final word on electoral reform. It will set the stage for a PV/PR referendum. Then Canadians can decide which democratic election system they like best.

  5. These ideas seem pretty appealing and none would cost significant money. If any of them gain traction in their own focus groups, watch the CPC incorporate some version of them into their array of election goodies.

    Like their fixed elections promise, they don’t ever have honour any commitment to democratic reform. They just need to put it in the window ’til the election is behind them.

    • They campaigned on democratic reform in 2006. Promised “open, transparent and accountable” government, etc. What’s their 2015 campaign slogan going to be: we promise to implement a fraction of what we promised 10 years ago if elected again? They can’t campaign to clean up a mess they made.