The hottest fall fashions in parliamentary reform

The Senate might never change, but here is what might
The Peace Tower on Parliament Hill is viewed though fall-coloured leaves in Ottawa on Tuesday, October 18, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A few notes on what has been quietly happening on the parliamentary front.

Conservative MP Brad Trost’s proposal that the House be able to elect committee chairs was debated on October 21, with the government, via Laurie Hawn, acknowledging at least grudging support for the proposal.

NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s motion on e-petitions was then debated on October 28, with two Conservatives indicating that they opposed the proposal. Mr. Stewart is now also proposing a bill that would establish a parliamentary science officer.

Yesterday, the House debated C-520, a bill from Conservative MP Mark Adler that is apparently designed to identify any partisans who might be lurking among officers of Parliament. (Is there an existing problem here that needs to be addressed? Even Mr. Adler seems to concede that there isn’t, suggesting that he merely wants to “enshrine” an expectation of impartiality “through disclosure.”)

The New Democrats, meanwhile, have been pushing for new rules about when a House committee can move in camera. And NDP MP Jack Harris has tabled a motion (M-461) and Liberal MP Wayne Easter has tabled a bill that each seek to establish a parliamentary committee to oversee government intelligence operations—a notion that Conservative Senator Hugh Segal noted this week as something that should be considered.

None of which might entirely soothe what ails the House, but some of which might help in small and meaningful ways. In arguing for his motion, Mr. Trost put forward the hope that it might initiate further change.

What I am asking from other members of the House? What am I looking for? I am looking, in the committee and from other members, for concrete ideas as to how we can take this and make this very modest reform. The mechanics should be simple. However, they need to be thought out. They need to be looked into. Problems need to be delved into to see what can be done to improve this, to make this work.

The second thing I am looking for from members is to use this as a springboard to start to think about other ways and other places we need to have reforms done, both in committee and in caucus. This would be an opportunity for members to come together, to be collaborative, to be productive. I suggest this as a very modest, positive step to help make this place a more functioning, better democracy.