'The key to improving decorum lies in reducing minimum engagement'

A Conservative MP considers House reform

Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber considers how to improve the House of Commons.

But since removal of the Cameras in the House is similarly not a viable option, perhaps the methods of covering proceedings should be modified.  By allowing the cameras and the microphones to be live only on the person recognized by the Speaker, the result is a highly sanitized version of what is actually going on.  Wide angle or even random camera shots would certainly give the public a more realistic display of proceedings including questionable behavior.  The advent of camera phones means that a public official’s behavior may be recorded and scrutinized in any public location.  Yet, off camera conduct in the House of Commons allows bad behavior to occur with virtual impunity.

But a better solution to improve decorum in the House would be to change the significance of what actually goes on there.  A lawyer in a Court of Law would never goof off because he must intently listen to the proceedings in order to prepare his next line of questioning or closing argument.  But overreliance on Talking Points in Parliamentary proceedings has made following the previous debate unnecessary and formulating one’s argument essentially non-existent.  Reading a prepared text (often prepared by an official) means literacy skills have supplanted actual debating skills.

Moreover, since the votes, almost without exception, break down strictly on party lines, there is even less need for non-participants in the actual debate to follow along.  The Whips Office will happily advise them when to stand and how to vote.

Changing the rules that govern TV coverage is within the purview of the House of Commons: although Mr. Rathgeber might have to convince the government side’s deputy House leader, Tom Lukiwski, who, tabling possibly the saddest argument in the history of parliamentary democracy, fretted last year that the current camera angles were showing too many empty seats.

The reading of speeches wouldn’t be so offensive if what was being read wasn’t so seemingly scripted. And scripts would likely be less prevalent if what was being said actually mattered. And the words spoken might matter if the result of the debate wasn’t already determined. And free votes might be more prevalent if party leaders didn’t hold so much power over MPs.

Sooner or later, some MP is going to have to take a real run at the current system and table a bill that amends the Elections Act to remove the requirement that a candidate have the signature of the party leader to run in an election.

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