As the fall session of the Canadian Parliament looms, and a number of new members get ready to take their seats, there is an interesting critique of the 42nd Parliament (2015-2019) that might provide some guidance on how to make Parliament work better. The Samara Centre for Democracy is a non-partisan research organization dedicated to strengthening Canada’s democracy. The report concludes with recommendations from MPs for the new Parliament to:
- Do more in-depth research by getting into the weeds of Government documents and using all the available resources.
- Overcome toxic partisanship by getting to know colleagues across the aisle, and demonstrating principled independence within the party.
- Strive for better, more substantive and civil debate, with less note-reading, less heckling, and more dynamic exchanges.
Parliamentary sitting days have dropped sharply
The report noted that the 42nd Parliament is the latest in a longer-term trend of the House of Commons sitting for only around one-third of the year—a decline from past decades. In the 29th Parliament (1972-1974), for example, the Commons sat 46% of the time, almost half the year; in the 42nd Parliament (2015-2019), it sat only 31% of the time.
Cutting off debate time
It noted a sharp increase in the use of time allocation to sho rten the amount of debate given to bills. Historically, time allocation was used sparingly. However, in the last two Parliaments, its use has spiked. Something has gone wrong: parties aren’t able to cooperate on managing parliamentary time.
Party discipline is a feature of most parliaments, and all Westminster Parliaments. Nevertheless, the Canadian experience is extreme. For example, there is significantly less party discipline in the UK Parliament. Even before the uniquely tumultuous period of a coalition government and conflict over Brexit, British MPs were notably more rebellious than Canadian MPs. For example, during the 2005-2010 Parliament, 36 British MPs voted differently than the majority of their party members on more than 5% of votes (compared with none in Canada), and 15 voted differently on more than 10% of votes
Deteriorating civility and quality of debate
The report also showed an increase the the level of toxic partisanship in debates. With members reading canned speeches and heckling each other.
The full report can be found here.