Does Parliament need to be fixed?

On the first day of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) conference at Laurier, a round table discussion looked to answer a question, which many Canadians believe they already know the answer to. The title of the round table was ‘Is Parliament Broke’ and while most of the country would quickly answer “yes,” what with Canada just going through its third election in the past five years, according to the panelists, the answer isn’t that simple.

Political scientists David Docherty of Laurier and Peter Russell of the University of Toronto both acknowledged that while there are several problems in Ottawa, Parliament its self is not necessarily broken.

“Right now it seems like there’s two ugly choices, a dysfunctional minority [government] or an irrelevant majority [government],” said Russell.

Russell, who has written a book praising minority governments pointed out that a minority is not inherently dysfunctional, however recent problems have made it see that way.

The main problem, according to Russell is the power the Prime Minister’s office has gained in Parliament in recent years.

“Our profession has failed Canadians in the lack of research on [the Prime Minister’s office],” said Russell. “This is a monster and it started in Trudeau’s time… Where the real power, the real undermining is taking place, is in the Prime Minister’s office.”

Russell also discussed constitutional problems in Parliament and issues when it comes to the appointment of judges and party leaders, rather than them being elected.

Docherty began his argument with a very simple answer: “no, Parliament is working just fine.” While expressing his disdain for analogies, he then used one to sum up what he believes is wrong in the House of Commons: “The car is working well, it’s the people behind the wheel and the backseat drivers that are running it off the road.”

According to Docherty, Parliament itself has not changed and there is nothing stopping it from functioning properly. However, he believes that the people who have been in power in recent years have created problems.

“I don’t think Mr. Harper holds much respect for Parliament,” said Docherty. “But I don’t think he has any less respect for it than Mr. Chretien did.”

Docherty went on to say that Parliament needed to return to it’s “club-like era” of years past, however “By club, I don’t mean a bunch of old white guys,” he said.

For Parliament to be more effective, Docherty said that the MPs must return to the mentality that the only thing that divided them from other sides of the house was their ideology. A time in which, they could engage in heated arguments in the House of Commons, but be able to be civil and respectful afterwards.

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