20 July 2010

Parliamentary reform

A fixture on CBC News for decades, Don Newman has put forth a sensible proposal for parliamentary reform: If we want real parliamentary reform, follow the Brits.
To recap, here's my idea. It is based on the premise that a fixed-date election law should mean something. And that, if such a law is enacted, it should be the responsibility of the Governor General to ensure that there is a government in place between the fixed dates.

To do this in a minority parliament, I proposed that any government that was defeated on a confidence vote, which would ordinarily trigger an election, should have the opportunity to face the House again on a straight vote of confidence, 36 hours after its initial defeat. That would allow a prime minister the opportunity to look around for an arrangement with one of the opposition parties, as Joe Clark might have done in 1979 when he was defeated by a handful of Créditistes.

True, it could mean wheeling and dealing and trade-offs, but that is what a minority parliament is meant to be about. If the sitting government doesn't win that second confidence vote (and to ensure it tries), the Governor General would be obliged to ask another party leader to try to form a government. Again, more wheeling and dealing, but again that is what minority parliaments are supposed to do.

If this new attempt by a different party or coalition cannot win a confidence vote, only then would the GG order an election, to be held in the briefest period allowed by law. The effect of this proposal is that a party forming the government after an election would go out of its way to make sure it didn't lose a confidence vote, and certainly that it didn't lose two in a row. But if somehow it did, then an alternative government would be possible until the next official election date.

Where does Britain come in? Newman explains:
There the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition headed by David Cameron is introducing legislation that will fix the date of the next British election in May of 2015, five years after the election this year that created the current minority situation.

A key element is that the legislation will require a two-week cooling-off period should the government be defeated in a confidence vote in the Commons, before a general election can be called. The reason for the cooling-off period is to allow for a new governing arrangement to be formed, which would prevent the necessity of an election. The new government could have many or at least some of the participants from the group that was just defeated. If, after two weeks, no new government had been formed, then off to the polls the British would go.

Perhaps it's time to scrap our minority governments and encourage at least some of the parties to work together instead. If the Brits can do it, why can't we?

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