March 24, 2011

On Parliament, take one

By Alison Loat
A few weeks ago, over at Maclean's, Aaron Wherry penned a special report on Parliament, whose title "The House of Commons is a sham" summarizes his thesis pretty clearly. There are several threads I'd like to pick up on -- and I will do so in greater detail when we release our third MP Exit Interview report, which summarizes how the MPs talk about their work in Ottawa -- but to start, I'll touch u... [More]

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February 25, 2011

Some interesting political reading

By Andreas Krebs
We're political junkies here at Samara (if that wasn't already obvious...) and from time to time we like to update our readers with a note on what we've been reading from the national political press. Two articles recently caught our attention. First, Aaron Wherry published an article in Maclean's on the increasing irrelevance of the House of Commons. Wherry points to a number of vicious circles t... [More]

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January 3, 2011

Most-read blogs of 2010

By Alison Loat
Here are our top-read blog posts of last year (excluding those annoucing the release of our MP exit interview reports, our Democracy and Guess Who contests): 1. "The risk is a debate that erodes public confidence in the importance of our census," on the media's coverage of the decision to change the census. 2. "Money on the side," a gentle reminder that MPs have lives outside of politics, and th... [More]

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September 5, 2010

Fun fact of the day - the long weekend edition!

By Alison Loat
All that whinging last week of how overpaid MPs are leading to a Parliament of political lifers, not to mention earlier concerns that some MPs earned income above their parliamentary salaries has me wondering how MPs have fared, salary-wise, over the ages. At the time of Confederation, 1867, MPs were paid a measly $6 per day, up to a total of $600 annually (the CBC and this book differ slightly i... [More]

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August 31, 2010

Lifers they are not

By Alison Loat
Our poor politicians. They just can't win.  One day, we're complaining that our MPs are a bunch of know-nothings, political amateurs unschooled in the way of Parliament and our government, and the next, we're upset that they're a bunch of lifers who have little experience beyond that of the partisan mud pit of our politics. According to Jeffrey Simpson's recent national affairs column in th... [More]

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August 17, 2010

Census, media and the public debate: a response

By Grant Burns
The response to the essay I posted yesterday has been fascinating. From the comments on the Samara blog to those on Aaron Wherry's Beyond the Commons post and all places in between (well, just Twitter, really), I've read the reactions of supporters, detractors and those who've used my argument as a point of departure. I thank anyone who's jumped in for their contributions. This is an importan... [More]

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August 17, 2010

On low voter turnout

By Alison Loat
On his blog yesterday, Aaron Wherry reports on an amusing interview between Scott Payne and David Frum, which included an exchange on declining voter turnout in Canada. In his remarks, Frum attributes this to changes in society of a Robert Putnam-esque sort (i.e., we're not joining stuff anymore and corresponding social ties fray). Wherry then illustrates that Canada's pathetic voter turnout plac... [More]

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June 21, 2010

In the news: The Accidental Citizen?

By Alison Loat
Last week we released the introductory report of Canada's first-ever series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament. Our goal is ultimately to encourage a greater understanding of Canada's public life, draw attention to things that are working well and contribute to a constructive discussion on what can be improved. In that spirit, we were happy that the report generated some good d... [More]

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June 3, 2010

Parliamentarians of the Year, as voted by Parliamentarians

By Alison Loat
Last night I was a fly on the wall as Maclean's announced the results of its annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards, as voted by their peers. The overall winner was John Baird, which drew a few surprises from those in the room, as well as on the Maclean's site.  But Baird's speech was gracious and paid testament to his seventh-grade teacher, to whom he attributed his interest in politics... [More]

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May 31, 2010

The possibilities of the people's chamber (III)

By Alison Loat
Maclean's Aaron Wherry links to the debate on Michael Chong's recent motion that aims to "strengthen the dignity and authority of the House" by proposing a number of changes to Question Period. From Chong's opening remarks: "Canadians know that something is not quite right with their democratic institutions. They know that something is not the way it should be. They may not know exactly what pro... [More]

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May 4, 2010

The possibilities of the people's chamber (II)

By Alison Loat
More from the Parliamentary possibility corner.... Conservative backbencher Michael Chong was on CBC Radio yesterday morning* talking about how to make MPs matter. He's concerned about the role of individual MPs in our legislature, which he called "the weakest in the Western world" in this regard.  Like many observers, he believes the executive branch (the PM and cabinet) is much stronger t... [More]

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April 14, 2010

Which provinces dominate our public debates?

By Alison Loat
Yesterday I stumbled upon OpenParliament.ca, a fabulous new resource that does much to make Parliament more meaningfully public. About a decade ago, when I was working with several hundred other Canadians on how cities can attract and retain young talent, one of our team members, a municipal employee, had hired someone to compare the number of times the words "urban" and "rural" were used in Parl... [More]

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April 8, 2010

Will more MPs cure what ails us?

By Alison Loat
I added my two cents to the discussion, started here by Alan Broadbent and reinforced here by Andrew Potter, that argued that more MPs would help "reclaim the House of Commons" and "make for more accountable government."  By enlarging the size of party caucuses, so the argument goes, we'd both loosen the grip of the Prime Minister and create more safe seats.  The prior would allow for m... [More]

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March 25, 2010

Philosophy lives!

By Alison Loat
Rumours to the contrary aside, if March is any indication, there is good reason to believe that philosophy is alive and well in modern life. Today, Paul Saurette encourages us to reflect, in light of Ann Coulter's recently-thwarted attempt to address a crowd in Ottawa, on the appropriate justifications for limiting free speech in Canada.  His plea for a "thoughtful and nuanced consideration... [More]

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March 10, 2010

Brain candy, of a politically emotional type

By Alison Loat
Recently back in the big smoke after my annual in-person visit to Question Period, I can assure everyone that emotion - real and contrived - is alive and well in Canadian politics. For those interested in exploring emotion and public policy in a slightly more, shall we say, detached fashion, next Tuesday evening, March 16, there is a free public lecture on emotion and public policy at th... [More]

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January 19, 2010

A much-diminished Parliament? (III)

By Alison Loat
One reader of this blog raised some good questions about the average Parliamentary sitting days we have here in Canada in response to last week's post. Here's my best effort at the answers. First, he wondered how elections skewed the figures. Ned Franks estimates that Parliament sits, on average, about seven fewer weeks (or 35 days) in an election year. Maclean's Aaron Wherry crunched the nu... [More]

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January 15, 2010

A much-diminished Parliament? (II)

By Alison Loat
Not only is our Parliament sitting less, but it's passing fewer bills too. According to Queen's professor Ned Franks, a smaller and smaller percentage of bills receive royal assent (Parliamentary lingo for becoming law). Sixty years ago, more than 96% of legislation received royal assent. During the last Parliament, it was just over 53%. While it hasn't been a consistent downward climb, it has... [More]

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January 14, 2010

A much-diminished Parliament?

By Alison Loat
MPs are spending a lot less time in Parliament, and according to Queen’s professor Ned Franks, this is a fact that long pre-dated the latest prorogue. Franks has spent over 40 years researching Parliament, and at a recent conference in honour of political scientist Peter Aucoin he had occasion to reflect on his observations on the institution in a paper called "The Functionin... [More]

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November 23, 2009

Let us now think seriously about this place

By Alison Loat
Thanks to Aaron Wherry for drawing attention to this panel on our current Parliament, featuring The Star's Susan Delacourt, The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson and Rick Salutin, Queen's professor Ned Franks and the University of Saskatchewan's Janice MacKinnon, and moderated by The Agenda's Steve Paikin. If you don't want to spend 35 minutes watching, you can read Simpson's take here and Salutin's here. ... [More]

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