If Justin Trudeau were to call me….. : On Real House Reforms

“Well now the Liberals are back, with a new, more attack-proof House Leader, Bardish Chagger, and a new attempt to rewrite House rules in the interest of “efficiency.” Officially it’s just a “discussion paper,” but if so it’s one the government seems peculiarly unwilling to discuss or even explain. Once again there are limits proposed on time-honoured procedural tactics with which opposition parties might delay government business or otherwise express their unhappiness. So, too, there are new and more draconian proposals to limit debate and scrutiny of government business, with fixed numbers of days set for each stage of a bill’s progress through the House — thus sparing the government the unpleasant necessity of passing a motion to curtail debate — limits on speeches in committee, and the elimination of Friday sittings.”

  • Renewed attempt to rewrite House rules confirms Liberals are not to be trusted, by Andrew Coyne, National Post, March 27, 2017



So let’s be honest, in a modern democracy, few “Majorities” when they take power think of the long term consequences of their actions. Why would they? In most cases, when they leave power, they will not have to deal with the aftermath. If we look to the American Senate, you will see what I mean. Up until the 1920s, American Senators were chosen by whatever means rules the State Legislature set. Some American Senators were chosen by governor, others by the State Legislature and others by direct election. To make it even more confusing, the choice of a Senator to finish off a term was set by largely different rules held in the State Constitution.


This changed with the XVII Amendment. That Amendment forced every US Senator to start their term the same way: by direct election of the State. Now the most interesting part of this story was the change it had on the body. No longer were Senators united as a body. They spend more of their time trying to get their way. None of the advocates of an elected Senate took the warnings of their opponents or the Forefathers seriously. This started a move to try and get more advantage.


In the last session, the Majority Leader Democratic Harry Reid used the “Nuclear Option” to get his way in some areas. Now for those who are not familiar with American Politics, the Nuclear Option is a way for the American Senate Majority to skirt the rules. Instead of having to accept 60 votes for a particular item, the Nuclear Options allows them to accept a majority. Given that 60 votes are rare for one party but 50+ is easy, one can see why the Nuclear Option is used. However, the problem is simple: sometimes, you become the minority. Accordingly, it should not be a surprise that the new Republican Majority Leader wants to push these rules further. So for the first time in American History, a Majority might be used to appoint a Judge to America’s Highest Court. Neither Majority leader cares about the result because each is in their 70s. The problem is that younger Americans will have to deal with the havoc that has been wrought.


In Canada, we have the same problem: few people care about the world that they will have fashioned. The reason for this is simple: no politician who is reduced stays around. Brian Mulroney, John Turner, Chretien and – to date – Stephen Harper all decided to not act as Statesmen when they left office. This is their right. However, what it means is that they largely don’t care about the mechanisms that they break when they are in office.


While, it is true that Pierre Trudeau, Kim Campbell, Preston Manning and Paul Martin have stayed around, they are largely focused on non-governance political issues. Few people have acted like Stéphane Dion, Joe Clark or Jean Charest. Consequently, most politicians don’t care about the integrity of Parliament.


However, it was not so long ago that people did care. Diefenbaker was one such chap. He remained an MP long after losing the title of Prime Minister. So did Sir John A. MacDonald. From1867 to the 1950s, Parliamentarians cared about the role of Parliament because they would have to remain long after the changes were made. Or in the case of Sir John A MacDonald, they suffered under the constraints of the Legislature and knew why they existed. This wisdom rarely exists in Parliament and very rarely in the halls of power.


Parliament needs to be able to slow down or stop a Majority – either of MPs or Government – because sometimes the Majority is wrong. In my lifetime, I know that a Prime Minister or Premier has had to apologize to the Aboriginal, Japanese, German, Italian, Chinese, Black and Hindi communities. I could research more but I think I have made my point. Majorities make mistakes because they are only human and there are times when the Minority point of view needs to be heard. Conservative MP Michael Chong knowns that as he has been pillared for speaking for the few.


Accordingly, I find it appalling that my party – the Party which loves to wrap itself in the Charter – would not want to preserve the right of a minority of Parliamentarians to have themselves heard. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called me, I would ask him to have a few goals in Parliamentary reform. First of which is to return more power to MPs.


While, I have to admit most of them have to grow up, the truth is that we give them so little responsibility, it is no wonder why sometimes, some of them – as noted by former Speaker Andrew Scheer – act like children. I say let’s make them grow up and quickly. With that in mind, I do like the idea that the Speaker should be given the power to break up omnibus bills and requiring separate votes on each. I like the idea that the Prime Minister, after consulting with the Governor General, should be required in the House to explain the government’s reason for proroguing it.


Nevertheless, in the spirit of appointing more independent Senators, I think the Prime Minister can and should go further. Further would mean using fewer Governor-in-Council – or regulatory loopholes – in legislation. By requiring fewer regulations and more legislation, Parliament would have more of a say in what the governance structure of the country looks like. Going further would mean allowing political parties to collect less money. Going further would be not requiring a candidate to get the signature – or as it has turned into, the veto – of the Party Leader and thereby giving more independence to MPs to cross the floor if they disagree. Going further would also mean returning many of the jobs of the Political Staff to the Civil Service where they belong.


At the end of the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when he was only a party leader, said the trend toward more power in the Executive and Prime Minister’s Office started with his father. In that, the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau was right. His father – Pierre Trudeau – changed the way the Executive interacted with the Legislature. A part of that – as his father admitted later – was naivety; a part of that was expediency. When Justin Trudeau noted that the Executive was too powerful, he said – in an interview with Peter Mansbridge – that he would reverse this trend. If Justin Trudeau was going to phone me, I would remind him of that conversation and say maybe he should stop what his father started.




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