In Praise of (Lots) More MPs

The government introduced legislation today to increase the size of the House of Commons, giving more MPs to Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. As our Wherry pointed out yesterday, this is an attempt to bring a better sense of rep by pop to the House, and mitigate the disenfranchising effects that have come with the increasingly skewed makeup of the people’s chamber. (Aaron linked to the Mowatt Centre’s reports on federal representation, but they mostly second the conclusions drawn by Sujit Choudhry and Michael Pal in this excellent paper.

Enhancing rep by pop is, on its own, good enough reason to add more MPs to the Commons. Pissing off the Bloc is, arguably, also a good enough reason to do anything. But there’s another benefit that is in many ways far more salutory, which is that sending more politicians to Ottawa will probably make for more accountable government.

That seems paradoxical, but the main problem with Ottawa isn’t that there are too many MPs, it is that there are too few. As Ned Franks wrote over 20 years ago, the tendency in Canada is for an entrenched and professional executive to find itself facing a transient and amateur Commons. If anything, the problem is worth than ever; if there is one thing we’ve learned over things like the fight for the detainees documents it is that there just aren’t enough opposition MPs who know how to seriously manipulate the parliamentary apparatus to their advantage.

At the same time (as I think Coyne noted around here somewhere last week) a bigger House means more safe seats, which –as in Britain —  means more MPs who don’t owe anything to their party. It will also mean that more MPs will have to accept that they will never make it into cabinet. Becoming a competent and professional member of parliament will become an increasingly legitimate career choice.

Lots of people think that party discipline is the main reason MPs have no power. In fact, the opposite is true: Party discipline is so strong because MPs have no independent power. A bigger House will help restore the historic balance.

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