A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Parliamentary procedures, a proposal.

It seems to me that much of the recent “crisis” was brought on by the lack of clear parliamentary rules and the lack of any consequences for ignoring those that are in place.

One suggestion made said this :- Mendes says Parliament should pass legislation to prevent abuse of the prorogation in the future. "I think that this is a very dangerous precedent, It's one, however, that could be curtailed by Parliament itself, passing legislation to prevent future prime ministers from seeking prorogation … [to limit] what a future prime minister can do."
"Why does this remind me of signing statements and Congress having to think about enacting laws to prevent similar abuses that Bush used to subvert democracy?
This is indeed one thing we should look at however we must go much further to protect our Parliamentary Democracy for much of the daily working of parliament and parliamentary committees is governed by tradition and few real rules are in place and it would seem there are no real consequences for ignoring said conventions.

A far better informed writer than I, Peter Russell, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto has suggested this by saying :- “I am greatly concerned that there is so little public knowledge of the constitutional rules that govern our parliamentary system of government. These rules are not formally written down in a legal text or taught in our schools. Maybe the most important lesson to take from the situation we are now living through is to begin to codify as much as we can of this "unwritten" part of our Constitution and to ensure that it is well taught in our schools.”

Then consider this from David Kilgour, a Fellow of the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy and a director of the Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He was one of the two longest-serving MPs in the House of Commons for the 38th Parliament.
“All too often in Canada and elsewhere there has been a tendency to equate democracy with the holding of elections, forgetting that democracy must be continuously nurtured – not just once every four or five years. Democracy demands vigilance, and a willingness to pose difficult questions and to take risks. I do not mean by that only taking to the streets to complain about what is wrong, but also advocating constructive alternatives.”

I have said earlier that I believe that there should be no such thing as a Whipped Vote, in short it should be illegal to pressure any MP to vote in any particular way. MPs who are affiliated with a particular party naturally will support in general that partys platform and if they make a habit of voting against bills put forward by that party may well expect to have some discussions as to whether they should remain within that party. They would have to weigh that against whether the bill is in fact acceptable to themselves and those they represent. We must allow MPs to vote on the bills merits, not whether or not it fits a particular partys agenda or philosophy. To balance the all free vote situation and to reduce the political games being played there should also be no such thing as a vote of non confidence except that which specifically says “THIS HOUSE HAS NO CONFIDENCE IN ………” so that no “accidental” or “engineered” falling of governments could take place. It should not be up to the party in power to decide whether a particular vote is or is not a vote of confidence, even in the case of the throne speech which lays out the partys fundamental plan. If such a vote fails then it must be broken into smaller proposals, reworked or otherwise modified so as to be acceptable to the majority of MPs in a FREE vote.

I doubt that such a restrictive measure would pass, however this bit from the recently proposed coalitions agreement is much more reasonable than recent past practice.
“The Government will not request a dissolution of Parliament during the term of this agreement, except following defeat on an explicitly-framed motion of non-confidence presented by the Opposition; or any vote pertaining to the speech from the throne; or on a budget vote at on any stage in the House; or on any bill to implement a budget at any stage in the House; or on any motion in the House to concur in, restore or reinstate any Estimates; or on any supply bill at any stage in the House.”
Frankly I think if any financial bill is be considered a confidence motion there are far to many opportunities for either the government or the opposition to play partisan games, but there is little doubt that there must be some limitations upon this tool particularly with the prospect of a series of minority governments in Canada.

With all of the above in mind here is my rough draught of a bill to be put before the house if and when it resumes. I would suggest that if it were to come from an independent member then no political party could cry that it was a partisan move which no doubt one or the other will try and do because anything that restricts their power trip will be no doubt viewed that way.

Whereas our Prime minister has called a previous session of this house “dysfunctional” and increased partisanship by all parties both in the house and in committee has had a profound effect upon the orderly conduct of the business of the house.

And whereas many of the rules and conventions of conduct with the house are unclear, unwritten or unknown by both the public and those within the house.

And whereas even when such rules and conventions are broken by our elected representatives or their agents there are few if any penalties for such action.

Be it resolved that:-
This house immediately for an citizens assembly consisting of representatives from all political partys, constitutional experts and interested citizens from across Canada to examine and codify the existing rules and conventions of our parliamentary democracy.

Further this assembly shall have the mandate to recommend changes to said rules and conventions and propose specific penalties for those who do not respect said rules and conventions once clearly identified and formally adopted by this house.

This assembly shall have the authority to examine and recommend changes to, but not limited to, the use of whipped votes, the use of votes of confidence, the chairing of committees and the conduct within same, the conduct of members during question period, members mailing and expense privileges, the use of proroguing parliament, the power vested in the office of the prime minister, and other such areas of our democratic processes as it deems necessary to examine.

The assembly may also consider whether the house needs to take such measures as are necessary to initiate an examination of our method of selecting our members of parliament, the funding and informational processes of prospective candidates and partys, and make recommendations as to how such measures should proceed if they deem it necessary for such examination to take place.

The assembly shall make available to all citizens of Canada the opportunity to comment upon such changes and penalties that they may be considering on an ongoing basis. The results of their studies shall be regularly published and available to all citizens in a timely manner throughout the process. Every effort should be made to make the process as open and non partisan as possible.

The assembly shall have the ability to request the assistance of such persons with specialized knowledge of the areas of study as they deem necessary and such support staff as are necessary to fulfill their mandate.

Readers are invited to use this as a basis for proposing positive change to the way in which we are governed, feel free to repost it, modify it, send it to your MP or even disagree with it, but please recognize that we must do SOMETHING to enable change and that it must be done in a democratic way.

Cross posted at Vive le Canada and elsewhere.

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