Keep an open mind about parliamentary reform: Scott Simms
Canadians have every right to expect more from their Parliament. They have every right to expect their MPs to be working together for what is in the best interest of their country. Politics should not get in the way of participation.
Recently, the Government House Leader, Bardish Chagger, released a discussion paper containing ideas on how to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. It’s not a government bill, nor is it a policy document that reflects from beginning to end what the government intends to implement.
The aim of Minister Chagger’s paper is to stimulate discussion among MPs and Canadians about how we can modernize the practices of the House of Commons, to make sure its elected representatives work in a way that is more accountable and transparent.
In the last election, the Liberals promised to bring real change to Parliament, and Canadians elected them to govern, with a mandate to deliver on that pledge.
As part of that mandate, Minister Chagger wants to hear the views of all MPs, from all parties. This is why she put forward some ideas in a discussion paper — not as part of a government plan.
As a member of the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee that is already studying the Standing Orders, I believe the committee would be the perfect place to look at these ideas and then come back to the House of Commons with our advice before it takes its summer break.
Because this has not yet happened, we are looking for ways to continue the conversation. We truly desire a parliamentary review of these ideas and want to encourage the Conservatives and New Democrats to come forward with their own suggestions. All ideas should be on the table for an open and fair review, so that we can work together to provide the governmental accountability we owe Canadians.
I respectfully disagree with the views of Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, who has voiced a concern that the discussion paper is motivated by a desire to remove the accountability of government in Parliament. In fact, the reverse is true.
Just consider some of the ideas contained in the discussion paper, and how they would enhance accountability:
- Introduce a new Prime Minister’s Question Period where the Prime Minister answers questions exclusively in the House. This would be in addition to the regular practice of the Prime Minister appearing in Question Period with other ministers. Under this change, the Prime Minister would be more accountable, not less.
- Turn Fridays into a constituency day for MPs. The half-day schedule in the House of Commons could be redistributed to the other four weekdays and have the House of Commons begin its workday at 9:00 am, like most Canadians. This would leave all MPs available to meet their constituents on Fridays, thereby increasing their accountability.
- Consider having the House of Commons sit earlier in January, earlier in September and later in June. This would give opposition parties more time to hold the government accountable, with additional question periods.
- Provide more time in the House for Private Member’s Business, so that an MP’s bill or motion could be debated and voted on.
- Require a government, after it prorogues Parliament, to submit a report to the House of Commons that explains the justification. That report would be referred automatically to a Commons committee.
- Allow the Speaker to split omnibus bills, so that each section can be voted on separately and sent to different committees for study.
- Allow each committee to permit ex-officio membership to one MP who is not a member of a recognized party. This ex-officio committee member could not vote at the committee, but could participate in all other aspects of its work, including questioning of witnesses, travel and attend in-camera meetings. This would ensure smaller parties get to participate more fully in Parliament.
- Consider a system of electronic voting for MPs to replace the traditional method of standing up when their name is called. This approach could increase accountability for all MPs because Canadians could have instant digital access to records of how their MPs voted.
All of these are ideas designed to strengthen the House of Commons. We should bring the chamber into the 21st century and help all members of Parliament better represent their communities. That means hearing the ideas of all parties, and coming together around our common goal — to make our government work better so that its policies work better for Canadians, too.
Let’s have the discussion.