Book Review: Turning Parliament Inside Out

From the Catalyst, Summer 2018

Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy

Edited by Michael Chong, Scott Simms, and Kennedy Stewart

Douglas & McIntyre, 2017

Reviewed by John Milloy

Canada’s Parliament is broken. What once represented the apex of thoughtful political debate and discussion is in desperate need of repair. Meaningful exchanges have been replaced by hyper-partisan bickering, an over-reliance on canned speeches and manipulation by powerful, unelected political staff. To make matters worse, the make-up of our national deliberative body does not reflect modern Canada, particularly when it comes representation by women.

Turning Parliament Inside Out is an attempt by a multi-party group of backbench Members of Parliament to identify ways to reform Parliament. In a series of well-written and accessible essays, these concerned MPs outline practical solutions for increasing the quality of debate, making Parliament more representative and curbing the power of party leaders and their staff. As well as offering the perspective of practitioners, the essays provide the reader with valuable insight into the history and workings of our national deliberative body.

Would adopting all these measures fix Parliament? Even the editors themselves admit that it will take more than their suggestions. But they call on backbench MPs to defy the dictates of their party leaders to bring about substantial change, even if it stalls their career or results in defeat.

Perhaps this is the book’s greatest weakness. Is it reasonable to ask politicians to park their ambitions at the door when they arrive in Parliament? Or is the bigger challenge to find ways to reform Parliament that recognizes the reasonable desire of MPs and political parties to succeed personally and electorally? Perhaps this represents the true challenge of Parliamentary reform.

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