The Liberal government is proposing to reform the way parliament works by introducing redesigns to “modernize” the House of Commons. The proposed plan eliminates Friday sittings, limits the ways opposition MPs can delay government initiatives and allows MPs to vote electronically.
Last week, the Liberal House Leader Bardish Chagger released a discussion paper proposing several ways to “modernize the rules of the House in order to make Parliament more relevant to Canadians.” The paper states there is a need to recalibrate the balance between the opposition’s right to be heard, and the government’s capacity to pursue its agenda.
Opposition MPs have criticized the proposals, arguing that they will reduce accountability by limiting the ways they can contest the government.
“We really need to bring the House of Commons into the 21st century,” said Chagger in an interview.
Many of the proposals echo promises made by the Liberals during the election, including the introduction of a prime minister question period, as well as limiting the controversial practice of bundling multiple unrelated measures into a single bill.
Both Conservative and NDP MPs have spoken out against the proposals.
“The Liberals’ discussion paper on reforming the House outlines proposals that would be a setback for Canadian democracy,” said NDP House leader Murray Rankin in a statement.
“The discussion paper appears to be a follow-up to the ill-fated Motion No. 6, in terms of de-clawing the opposition of the ability to resist the will of the Liberal majority. Similarly, it would appear to go even further in attempting to systematically limit debate,” continued Rankin.
He continued to say the NDP were open to debate the proposals, even if “it appears healthy debate may be severely restricted around here in the future.”
Chris Warkentin, a Conservative MP, also believes the proposals are intended to limit opposition parties.
“My initial reaction is a concern that we’ve had for some time and that’s that the prime minister and his cabinet have been looking to reduce the accountability that opposition MPs and Canadians have,” he said.
“The elements that are most concerning to us are the attempts by the government to reduce the number of opportunities that the opposition has to hold them to account in the House of Commons,” continued Warkentin.
This is not the first time the Liberals have tried to reform the way parliament functions. Last year, the government introduced and then withdrew a highly criticized motion aimed at giving itself new powers to limit debate. Also last year, the government committee on Procedure and House Affairs considered eliminating Friday sitting to make Parliament more “family-friendly.”
The proposals would replace Friday sittings with more sitting days in January, June, and September.
The government also proposed, to much less controversy, the introduction of electronic voting to Parliament. Under the current system, all 338 MPs must stand one at a time to cast their vote, but electronic voting would allow each member to quickly vote and resume other work.