CARP members played an instrumental role in determining the outcome of this year’s federal election, watching as federal parties filled their platforms with promises that responded directly to CARP advocacy. But even before voters headed to the ballot box, CARP chapters across Canada have long actively promoted civic engagement in their communities. Whether it’s meeting with mayors and local elected representatives, marching in parades and staging protests, or holding all-candidates’ debates in the lead-up to the election, CARP chapters have demonstrated their commitment to supporting Canadian democracy. It will come as no surprise that many CARP members were heartened to see the passage of The Reform Act, sponsored by Conservative MP Michael Chong
A highlight of this year’s CARP Annual General Meeting and Chapter Congress was a keynote panel, “The Future of Parliament: Reflections from Both Sides of the Aisle” which featured MP Chong alongside Susan Eng, CARP’s Executive Vice President, and Patrick Gossage, former press secretary to Pierre Trudeau and éminence gris of the Liberal Party.
Chong emphasized the importance of seniors remaining active in civics and their communities to encourage the continued success of Canadian democracy. It was, after all, thanks to the support of CARP members and thousands of other Canadians that the Reform Act was passed into law earlier this year. Chong’s Reform Act allows MPs to vote more freely, break rank with their party to represent constituents without facing expulsion from their caucus, and re-balance power between party leaders and elected MPs in the House of Commons.
The Reform Act and its principles have found support amongst members of all parties. As Gossage noted, Justin Trudeau’s electoral platform included promises to enable parliamentary committee activism by devoting more attention, funding, and time to committees, and less to message control and centralization through the Prime Minister’s Office. Committees act as the “courts” of Parliament, holding the government accountable and balancing power between party leaders and elected MPs, according to Gossage, who recounted the gradual but significant way that power has concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office and away from MPs and committees.
Gossage discussed Justin Trudeau’s promise to make changes to Question Period, to ensure that this cornerstone of Canadian parliamentary democracy remains useful and relevant. He noted that Trudeau has pledged to allow the speaker to force MPs to answer questions a second time if their initial answer is deemed unsatisfactory, and to expand the time limit on questions and answers to promote more thoughtful discussion. Finally, Chong expressed hope for an end to the practice of parliamentary leaders being the only people allowed to determine who asks and answers questions during Question Period.
The panel later touched on the issue of Senate reform. As Chong’s bill is applicable only to the House of Commons, its new rules do not apply to the Senate, but our panelists had many helpful suggestions about how to bring about reform. Namely, taking away the power of the Prime Minister to elect the speaker of the Senate and delegating the duty to senators or members of the House of Commons could aid in making the Senate more accountable to constituents, rather than party leaders. The panel also discussed adopting rules similar to those of the United Kingdom, where the House of Lords, a legislative body similar to the Canadian Senate, is prohibited from defeating government budgets, new taxation, and spending bills.
This is an exciting time for parliamentary reform in Canada, and Chong and Gossage made it clear that older Canadians are an essential component of the push for meaningful democratic reform. By staying involved in political advocacy and contacting their MPs with their concerns, senators can speak directly to Canada’s decision-makers, and push for a less hierarchical system.