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Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy

by Michael Chong et al. (eds.)

JulyAugust_Reviews_TurningParliament_CoverThis slender volume of essays, edited by three sitting MPs with contributions from another five, features arguments for enhancing the efficacy of our parliament – an idea we can all get behind in theory, but one that is difficult to implement in practice. The essays – of varying quality and usefulness – all suffer from one major problem: the MPs writing each piece equate the ills facing our democracy with their own complaints about their workplace. The issues plaguing the way Canada’s parliament works, however, run deeper than the largely cosmetic changes suggested here. And some of the prescriptions, especially related to decorum and the structure of Question Period, have the potential to actually be counterproductive for citizens and voters.

Nathan Cullen, an MP from the riding of Skeena–Bulkley Valley in B.C., provides a well-written call to have parliamentarians speak extemporaneously in the house instead of relying on prepared scripts. While this may make for a more engaging (and occasionally cringeworthy) discourse, it won’t do anything to improve anyone’s lot in life.

Michael Chong, the democratic-reform-minded MP for Wellington–Halton Hills (and recent failed Conservative leadership candidate), suggests shaking up the committee system, an idea that could possibly bring some new voices to those bodies, but is unlikely to make much of a substantive difference if the range of people elected to the house as a whole doesn’t become more diverse.

Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld’s suggestions for helping more women win elections are all very practical, reasonable, and worthy of support, but are symptomatic of historic inequities and prejudices in the society that every parliament in the history of the country has, to varying degrees, perpetuated or reinforced.

The suggestions contained in Turning Parliament Inside Out, if implemented, might nominally improve the working lives of the people who serve in the House of Commons. But there is little here to convince a reader that reforming parliament along these lines will make for better governance. Think of Turning Parliament Inside Out as a very public suggestion box for employees in a very prominent workplace.