The House: Other ideas

In writing about the House of Commons, I touched on one idea for reform: amending the Elections Act to take away the party leader’s say over who can and cannot run under a party’s banner, but that was just one of several suggestions I heard in talking with MPs for the piece.

Herein, a brief overview of what else could be done.

1. Committees. For starters, the chairs of committees could be selected by a vote of the House of Commons. Additionally, committees could be given a greater role in the formation of legislation. At present, bills are debated and voted on and then, if approved in that vote at second reading, referred to committee for further study.  Under one proposal I heard, committees could be asked to study an issue from the outset. If, for instance, the Minister of Finance wanted to introduce a tax on chocolate milk consumption, he could ask the finance committee to study the issue and report back with proposals. The minister could then use that report to craft legislation, which would then be introduced in the House for debate. Instead of the minister taking sole ownership for the bill, ownership would conceivably be shared. At the very least, MPs would have a more direct say in the legislation.

2. The Speaker. The argument here is that the House needs a more authoritarian Speaker: either because the Speaker is more willing to exert power or because the House is willing to allow him or her such power. Imagine, for instance, that the Speaker could or would demand that a particular minister answer a question asked, so that if, say, the Government House leader stood to respond to a question asked of the International Cooperation Minister, the Speaker could or would stand and demand that the latter answer. Imagine even if the Speaker could determine whether a question had actually been answered and, if not, demand a more direct response.

3. Caucus. At present, each party’s caucus—the party’s elected MPs—have no direct say over who leads the party. It is probably untenable at this point, perhaps even undesirable, to give caucuses the sole power to choose leaders, but they could be given the power to dismiss leaders. Like amending the Elections Act, this would shift some of the power back to the average MP.

4. Proportional representation. A bit of a hobby horse for some people, but consider it from one perspective. If we moved to a system whereby MPs were still elected for ridings, but a certain number, say 100, were elected via proportional representation, would those 100 MPs, free of constituency work, have more time for House debate and committee work? Could they be given particular responsibilities for House debate and committee work?

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