April 4, 2017
When heading a minority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament on two occasions to avoid defeat.
When his government was found in contempt of parliament for failing to reveal costs of new fighter bombers the transgression did not hurt his political fortunes. Shortly thereafter, in 2011, his minority government was re-elected with a majority.
With a majority, the Harper Conservatives invoked “time allocation” over 100 times to cut off debate in parliament. Harper used so-called omnibus bills to hide what was intended to happen as a consequence of their adoption.
In 2013, the concentration of power in the prime minister’s hands provoked Conservative back bench MP Michael Chong (now a leadership candidate) to propose a reform of parliament act that was adopted in a watered down version.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former CFL player Larry Smith watching a 2012 football game in Montreal; photo courtesy: By Eric Chabot – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ericdelevis/7672204772/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42995085
In campaigning against the Harper Conservatives, the Trudeau Liberals pledged to make government open and fair. Importantly the Liberals would ensure that parliament reflected the voices of Canadians.
The best way to make the Liberal pledge to give Canadians a voice a reality is through opening the parliamentary committee system to the public.
Imagine a parliamentary committee charged with ending homelessness that traveled the country, media in tow, visiting down and out sites, interviewing social workers, and the homeless themselves, before bringing forward an anti-poverty, homes-for-all strategy.
Under current practices, such direct action by parliamentarians is impossible. Controversial subjects are treated with great care, if addressed at all.
Partisan squabbling has transformed committee work. Witnesses are vetted for their support before being invited to appear before committees. Independent research is downplayed or ignored.
Open government has a better chance of working when the party in power has been fairly elected.
Meaningful changes to parliament are unlikely so long as a party with the support of only 40 per cent of voters can form a majority government, and carry on without seeking support across party lines.
As part of open and fair government, the Liberals pledged to reform the electoral system.
Proportional representation would eliminate phony parliamentary “majorities” elected with far less than majority support from Canadian voters.