Judy Rivard introduced Bonnie Brown
Bonnie was elected MP for Oakville 5 times between 1993 and 2008. She has served on the Board of Education, as a town and regional councilor, and has led the Board of the CAS and the Health Council and has chaired the Halton Health and Social Services Committee. She is committed to working for a better community.
Bonnie Brown. How can Parliamentary Process operate efficiently?
In our dissatisfaction with the current Parliament there are three things that we are most angry about:
the lack of civility in the House, the use of Omnibus Bills and the use of Unnecessary Prorogations.
Lack of Civility
The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House are to blame.
The Clerk gives a Guide to ministers, who simply disregard it, for example, sitting mute instead of answering questions. There is a lack of respect for the guidelines. When two teams are playing different games, no one follows the rules. The PM is in a position and has a duty to ensure they are followed and he is not doing so.
The Speaker’s first loyalty must be to the House rules and traditions. Standing Orders indicate that colleagues must be treated with respect, yet they are not.
The Speaker is elected and needs the votes of House members to continue in his role. This leads to a reluctance to nag or enforce rules and so the Speaker may become over lenient. If the Speaker were only elected once and stayed in office until
1. The Speaker decided to leave
2. The Speaker lost their seat in Parliament
3. A petition signed by 60% of the House requested that the Speaker be removed
this would remove pressure to be lenient.
The Speaker must have true independence and exercise the right to have a question put again until it has been answered.
Australian Parliament has a Penalty Box (sin bin) for Ministers who fail to answer.
The Standing Orders are pretty good – it is the will to enforce them that is missing.
All MPs have the power to insist that rules be followed, but most are not sufficiently familiar with them to do so. Training given to new MPs is mainly about how to live alone in Ottawa, very little is said about House procedures.
No one knows how to respond to insults.
New MPs need to know what powers they have. Unfortunately the PM and the Chief Whip quickly erode the confidence of newcomers by browbeating them, in order to ensure conformity to government wishes.
New MPs need training to combat this. Learning how by oneself can take 8 years!
Introducing new legislation. When the changes proposed are small, the process can be quick. But when the changes are big ones, slow and thoughtful consideration is needed, with white paper or commission of enquiry, drafts to committee and reporting back. This allows time for a national discussion to take place.
Omnibus Bills are major changes and they go through without much discussion or debate. An entire program of government can be rolled into two pieces of legislation. After that the legislators might as well go home.
Is a valid and legal parliamentary tool. It is sometimes used with the Legislature’s consent if the Government’s program has been completed, so that a session can be terminated early.
However, it is being misused as an escape route, to avoid criticism and censure.
We need to establish parameters around its use. This would necessitate some changes to the constitution but it can be done
Q and A
Q. Should the Opposition just start using the same tactics?
A. It is always unwise to disrespect the traditions of Parliament – although frustration with the existing state of affairs may lead that way.
Q. Will we see Prorogation used as an avoidance strategy by more leaders?
A. That seems to be happening. However, the recent Prorogation in the Ontario legislature seems to have occurred for rather different reasons and not as an avoidance technique.
Q. Until we get PR, can we use our powers as consumers to rein in the corporate elite? If we buy local, use Fair Trade, consume less, would we influence CEO’s?
A. Potentially – but individualism and consumerism are very ingrained in our society. It may not be possible to achieve enough concerted action to make a difference.