The 41st Parliament marked a new high, or low, for lamenting about the state of the House of Commons—but with renewed promises of reform. But this might be understood as the culmination of decades of fretting and thinking about Parliament. Indeed, much of what worries observers about the House has been the subject of study and suggestions for more than three decades. Below, a selection of further reading on the business of the people’s business.
Report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, 1985
As set out in the Throne Speech, the first item of business for the new Parliament in 1984 was parliamentary reform. That task was taken up by a committee chaired by James McGrath, a Progressive Conservative MP (and future lieutenant governor of Newfoundland). The result of that committee’s work is a 59-page report that serves as a good basis for understanding what has become a very long conversation about changing the House. The body of the report begins with this mission statement: “The purpose of reform of the House of Commons in 1985 is to restore to private members an effective legislative function, to give them a meaningful role in the formation of public policy and, in so doing, to restore the House of Commons to its rightful place in the Canadian political process.” Thirty years later, that’s still the concern and the goal.
Toward a more responsive Parliament, 2001
Chuck Strahl, House leader for the Canadian Alliance at the time, lays out an agenda for reform. “At the onset of the 37th Parliament, Members of the House have a unique opportunity to implement key changes and begin a new session with a constructive new spirit. In Canada, we should follow the lead of other British parliamentary systems around the world, and seek a new understanding of the proper and rightful role of backbench MPs in a modern democratic country,” he writes.
The Parliament we want: Parliamentarians’ views on parliamentary reform, 2003
A report prepared by the Library of Parliament, based on consultations with parliamentarians.
Public consultations on Canada’s democratic institutions and practices, 2007
A report prepared by the Harper government, based on polling and focus groups.
Everything old is new again: Observations on parliamentary reform, 2008
A report prepared by the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s University and Tom Axworthy, a former adviser to Pierre Trudeau, which includes 25 recommendations.
Samara’s MP exit interviews, 2010
The important research of Samara, a Toronto organization dedicated to improving democracy, which interviewed former MPs about their experiences. The findings served as the basis for last year’s book, Tragedy in the Commons.
Strengthening parliamentary scrutiny of estimates and supply, 2012
The report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on how the estimates, the process through which the House of Commons approves the government’s spending plans, should be reformed.
Samara’s Democracy 360, 2014
Samara’s report on the health of Canadian democracy.
Reform of the Commons: Thirty years after McGrath, 2015
Former NDP MP Bill Blaikie, a member of the McGrath committee, and Gary Levy review what was recommended in 1985 and where things stand now.