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Hyer On The Hill - MP Bruce Hyer is the Member of Parliament for the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding.
2011-01-28 at 15:12

Fixing the hyper-partisan Parliament

There’s no doubt about it – Parliament needs to work better.

The hostile theatrics that Canadians see at question period, which you’ve likely noticed is not called answer period, are just the tip of the partisan iceberg in Ottawa. Hostility and tribalism between parties are getting worse.

Parties fight for every electoral seat in a desperate quest for majority government that Canadians have been repeatedly and wisely denying any party. Politicians’ mailboxes are filled with pleas to get along better and get things done for struggling regions, industries, citizens, and families.

I agree. Most Parliamentarians went to Ottawa to improve the lot of our constituents, but we seem to have built a system that often brings out the worst in our elected representatives. How can we turn that around to encourage cooperation and effectiveness in governance? I have been proposing some ideas.

A NEW SEATING PLAN: In the House we are seated hockey-bench style with team captains facing each other, occasionally urging us to go over the boards for a verbal brawl. Fun for some, but frustrating to others. It’s the reason why school teachers don’t bring their students to question period anymore.

But we could randomize seating in the House. It would be difficult to heckle and insult MPs from other parties sitting in the next seat. Some time spent next to other members from all parties will lead to recognition of them as people with whom we can share ideas and work on solutions in an atmosphere of respect.

ALLOW MPs FROM DIFFERENT PARTIES TO CO-SPONSOR LEGISLATION: Private member’s legislation – bills and motions introduced by MPs, not by the government or a party – are one of the last truly democratic institutions in Parliament.

Members are free to table just about any good initiative, and votes are usually free. They make up the majority of legislation introduced, but they face steep challenges to actually passing. Of the 1,005 private members’ bills introduced since the 2008 election, only one has been signed into law.

Few successfully pass the House, with my Climate Change Accountability Act being a rare exception. A key reason is that private legislation is often branded as a party initiative. If an MP tables a good bill or motion, other parties are often reluctant to see it pass because it will give the other party political points.

This is our system actively working against the interests of Canadians.

That’s why I recently tabled a motion to change the rules. M-597 will allow cross-party sponsorship of legislation, in order to allow more co-operation between parties and to give private bills and motions a better chance of passage.

Co-operation on the drafting of bills would lead to more co-operation and compromise after they are tabled, in committees, and around the Hill. Private legislation would be more about ideas, and less of a zero-sum political game.

A MORE DEMOCRATIC VOTING SYSTEM: Most democracies in the world have some sort of proportional representation. Of Western democracies, only Canada and the U.S. are left clinging to the antiquated winner-take-all system with false majorities, where a party can win near-absolute power with only 37 per cent of the vote.

Even the UK is changing. Proportional representation would mean that if 20 per cent of voters voted for a party, that party would get 20 per cent of the seats.

In Scandinavian Parliaments, I have seen firsthand how this leads to rational discussion and debate, mutual respect, workable compromises and much better governance.

Canadians are looking for statesmanship, leadership and effective government that represent all Canadians. They want better. They deserve better. Let’s act to improve our system and our behaviour.


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