On Government Motion No. 6

On the evening of May 17, 2016, in the Canadian House of Commons, the Government House Leader filed notice of a motion (Government Business No. 6) which, if adopted, would have imposed even greater, albeit temporary, Government control over the organization of House Business until the House adjourned for the summer. You can read the full text of the motion here, but be forewarned that without a detailed knowledge of the House’s Standing Orders, the text won’t mean much to you. Unsurprisingly, the Opposition parties were incensed by this move, and a question of privilege was raised in the House the next day by the New Democratic Party House Leader, Peter Julian. Mr. Julian argued that the “draconian” motion breached […]

On Organizing House Business Sensibly

In the previous Canadian parliament, a question of privilege was raised concerning the then Government’s excessive recourse to time allocation and how these guillotine measures impacted Members from smaller parties. In the Canadian House of Commons, if a Member belongs to a party which has fewer than 12 elected members in the House, they do not have recognized party status and are treated as independents. Because virtually all procedures in the House of Commons are organized around parties (the officially recognized ones at least) rather than Members as the central agents, this means that the so-called “independent” MPs have extremely limited opportunities to participate in debates at the best of times. The recourse to time allocation on a bill more […]

So if FPTP isn't really the problem here in Canada, what is?How do we explain why two countries with very similar parliamentary systems and identical voting systems differ so much in how well their parliament functions and in their approach to government formation?

Everyone may love PR, but FPTP isn’t the problem

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s latest piece argues that Canada’s voting system, commonly referred to as First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) is increasingly inadequate for our multi-party political system. He points out how almost everyone else uses some form of proportional representation (PR), which forces parties to work together and form coalitions since PR rarely results in a single party winning enough seats to form a government on its own, and also provides more checks and balances on the head of government. Simpson writes: In contrast to many other systems, the Canadian provides very few checks and balances on a prime minister with a majority. The unelected Senate is a wet noodle; the government backbenchers are yes-men; the cabinet members are appointed […]

A few thoughts on House sittings

There has been a lot of discussion around making the Canadian House of Commons more “family friendly” for MPs. A number of ideas have been put forward by MPs and others as to how this might be achieved. One of the more popular ideas seems to be doing away with the Friday sitting since it already is very sparsely attended and mostly dedicated to private members’ business. Others aren’t too keen on that idea, arguing that the time lost by cancelling the Friday sitting would have to be made up somewhere else. Dale Smith, a freelance journalist in the parliamentary press gallery, argues this point: The first suggestion tends to be doing away with Friday sittings, which seems easy enough […]

On MPs attendance and voting records

The Ottawa Citizen published an article looking at the voting records of MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. The main motivation behind this effort was to measure MP attendance in the House. The House of Commons does not keep attendance records of MPs and the reporters, Glen McGregor and Jason Fekete, admit that using MP voting records is a “very rough proxy”. Rough indeed. As the writers admit, the “percentage of votes attended or missed isn’t always indicative of general attendance in Parliament, because many votes are held on a single day.” Also worth noting, it’s not even a complete picture of an MP’s voting record since not all votes are recorded divisions. It is easy to understand why […]

The question we should all be asking is why? Why should it matter at all how many MPs get elected under a particular banner, and why are parliamentary proceedings organized around parties rather than MPs?

The oddity of “officially recognized parties”

Maclean’s Aaron Wherry’s recent post touches on the question of the rights and privileges of “independent” MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. The issue is that almost all proceedings in the Canadian House of Commons are organized around political parties rather than Members. While this in itself is troubling, to compound matters is the very odd concept of an “officially recognized party” in the House of Commons. To be “officially” recognized as a party in the House of Commons, the party must have a minimum of 12 MPs. Consequently, if only 11 MPs (or fewer) get elected under one party banner in a general election, those MPs will be considered “independents”. The consequences of that non-recognition of their party […]