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How Would MPs Improve Parliament? Five Ideas

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Parliament resumes this week. MPs have returned from their 308 ridings rested, connected with their constituents and ready for another round of political gamesmanship.

We here at Samara thought it was a good time to revisit some of the ideas for Parliamentary reform put forward by those who've survived politics on the front lines: the Members of Parliament themselves.

Samara interviewed 79 former MPs, including backbenchers, cabinet ministers and party leaders, asking them what worked, what didn't and what could be improved in the way our political system operates.

Most of their comments touched on repairing the disconnect between citizens and politics. The MPs' suggestions ranged from civics education reform to opening up the candidate nomination process. In fact, there were as many suggestions as there were MPs, suggesting that there's no silver bullet for mending the broken relationship between citizens and their political leaders.

A number of these suggestions touched on changes to the way politics is practiced in Ottawa. In honour of the new Parliamentary season, below are the MPs' top five suggestions for improving the workings of the Hill:

1. Implement e-voting: Implementing electronic voting in the House, the MPs said, will increase efficiency, allow bills to be considered in smaller pieces, enable greater transparency and generally bring the process into the 21st century. "Electronic voting in the House would show a more modern parliamentary democracy, where the television could switch at voting time to the score board, and you should see the voting, as opposed to seeing MPs go up and down the aisle like in the nineteenth century," said one MP.

2. Empower committees: Committees are where MPs said their best work was done, so it's no surprise that they requested changes to ensure committee work is better reflected in the legislative process. For example, some MPs advocated bringing all committee reports forward as Parliamentary motions and developing budgetary implications of the committee's analysis. To do the best work, they also suggested protecting the committees from partisan interference by insisting on continuity in committee membership for the duration of a Parliament. Said one: "Continuity on committees is needed to build up a level of expertise."

3. Do as the British: Many MPs recommended looking to other countries for thoughts on how to better run Parliament. For example, one mentioned that in British Question Period, the government is given the questions in advance to allow preparation and a more substantive exchange, while another recommended assigning cabinet ministers to particular days, rather than "monopoliz[ing] the whole government every day."

4. Allow citizens input into the legislative process: MPs argued that the petition system, the process by which official petitions are received by the Speaker, needs reform. "People in this country run around like chickens with their heads cut off to get a petition signed. It goes into the House of Commons, with fifteen seconds to read it.... All the people out there who felt they genuinely had a say had none whatsoever."

5. Take out the TV: Many MPs felt that the glare of the cameras, especially during the already conflict-filled Question Period, led directly to the posturing and rhetoric that are embarrassing MPs and turning citizens off politics. Though there was disagreement about this idea -- many felt television was critical to opening up proceedings -- a number felt that if the cameras were removed, a more congenial atmosphere and substantive discussion would develop.

Over the next few months, Samara will present a series of ideas for "Redesigning Parliament." We'll highlight some more of the MPs' ideas, such as improving hands-on civic education and making parties more transparent and accessible, and we'll illuminate some of the ideas for reinvigorating political engagement others have suggested, such as restructuring the seating arrangement in Parliament to encourage cooperation and using technology to connect citizens to their leaders.

We'll also be collecting your ideas in a "Redesigning Parliament" suggestion box, and you can add your ideas here. Check out our website to follow the series and to have your say.