Saving the House of Commons

Seven ways to fix the beleaguered institution

As much fun as it might be to lament for the House of Commons, some of that energy might be put to use figuring out how to fix it.

Reform has been a bit of a preoccupation around here over the last few years and various proposals have been offered, noted and considered. And here is a collection of many of those proposals: real, structural reforms that could change the way our House of Commons functions.

There is much here to debate. And there are no doubt other ideas out there. But this could be the basis of an agenda for fixing the institution.

The Elections Act amendment
Amend section 67 of the Elections Act to remove the requirement that any candidate wishing to run for a party must have the signature of that party’s leader to do so. More here.

Question Period
As set out by Conservative MP Michael Chong: fortify the use of discipline by the Speaker; lengthen the amount of time given for each question and answer; allocate half the questions each day for Members, whose names and order of recognition would be randomly selected; dedicate Wednesday exclusively for questions to the Prime Minister; dedicate Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for questions to other ministers. More here, here, here and here.

Members’ statements
My own proposal: eliminate the time allotted for statements by members entirely or move those 15 minutes to a different time in the daily agenda. More here.

As advocated by Mr. Chong: “Speeches should be extemporaneous.  Again, the rule against reading speeches in Debate already exists.  It needs to be enforced.” More here.

Time allocation and closure
As proposed last month by the NDP, amend the standing orders so that: a Minister would be required to provide justification for the curtailment of debate; the Speaker would be required to refuse such a request in the interest of protecting the duty of MPs to examine legislation thoroughly, unless the government’s justification sufficiently outweighed said duty; criteria would be set out for assessing the government’s justification, which would provide the Speaker with the basis for a decision to allow for the curtailment of debate. More here.

The cabinet manual
Establish an equivalent to New Zealand’s cabinet manual: an agreed-upon and public guide to the rules and procedures of parliament. More here.

The Aucoin/Turnbull/Jarvis reforms
Codify the following: that elections occur every four years on a specific date unless a majority of two-thirds of MPs approve a motion to dissolve Parliament for a new election; that  the opposition can only bring down the government via an explicit motion of non-confidence that also identifies the member who would replace the prime minister and would form a new government that has the support of a majority of MPs in the House; and that the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons be required to prorogue Parliament. More here.