Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Packed House for Emergency Gas Price Debate!

I was over reading James Moore's blog (he's the Conservative MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam) and he describes his feelings that occurred during Monday's "emergency debate on gas prices".

Posted on September 26:
Finally, the third step in the right direction is the decision by Parliament to have an emergency debate tonight on the issue of high gas prices. The debate was initiated by Conservative MP Randy White, and I think it is incumbent on Parliament to tackle this issue with seriousness, and tonight's debate will, hopefully, serve that end.
Posted on September 27:
As the Official Opposition Transport Critic and a Member of Parliament who has received an avalanche of emails, phone calls, and more than a few conspiracy theories from constituents on the yo-yo nature of gas prices lately, I was more than willing to participate in this 'debate'. However, as I proudly strode into the House at 10:50pm last night to give my state of the 'emergency' speech I saw just how much of an 'emergency' we were dealing with. With 5 MPs out of 308 in their seats (for the uninitiated, that means there were more pages in the Chamber than MPs) I first felt rather lonely, and then came the slight guilt I feel this AM.
Looking at Hansard, it looks like there were 9 MPs in the House (at least that spoke) between 22:45 and midnight, but I don't know who got up and sat down so Mr. Moore's point remains valid.

Is there no concept of quorum in the House of Commons? What's the point of having these heartfelt debates between 9 people? Is something actually accomplished, or does this go into somebody's talking points the next day? I'm not even playing partisan as it looks like there were three-and-a-half times as many black hats as white hats - it was 4 Liberals, 3 BQists, and 2 Good Guys (not including the Liberal speaker).

As soon as the House is under 155 members, it should adjourn. It should be duly noted who did and did not show up.

So, here's a proposal for democratic reform. Institute quorum. No debates are to take place unless at least 155 Members of Parliament are in the House. There is no requirement that Leaders, or a majority of a particular party are present - but no debate can take place unless 50% + 1 members are in attendance.

These 9 people spent $375,000* ($41,667 / member). If there had have been 155 they would have spent $375,000* ($2,419 / member).

What would have been even better is if they had actually achieved some kind of resolution.

* Based on the $75,000 / 15 minutes rate to make up the House's operating budget.

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5 comments:

Maritime Liberal said...

Interesting idea. I sympathize with your frustration. I think it is ridiculous to watch a debate in which only a handful of MPs are actually present. It seems that aside from question period and votes, the House is generally quite empty.

Now I don't know if a 50%+1 quorum is a great idea but maybe a reduced quorum, say 25-33% might be more realistic (MPs do have meetings and other schedueling things to attend to as well as part of their job).

Maritime Liberal said...

Also, we'd have to deal with what happens if they had the quorum but one MP leaves for 15 minutes to get a drink, go to the washroom, or make a telephone call. It'd be silly to have to stop the debate for that.

Another concern would deal with partisan abuse. If we had a majority government, what happens if no MPs from the governing party show up as a means of disrupting debate?

Jim said...

Good points all, ML.

Now I don't know if a 50%+1 quorum is a great idea but maybe a reduced quorum, say 25-33% might be more realistic (MPs do have meetings and other schedueling things to attend to as well as part of their job).

I think the quorum value can be adjusted, sure. I thought that maybe the 50% + 1 would give the sense of the "majority" taking part - maybe adds more weight to the debate. A quarter to a third, may be more reasonable.

Also, we'd have to deal with what happens if they had the quorum but one MP leaves for 15 minutes to get a drink, go to the washroom, or make a telephone call. It'd be silly to have to stop the debate for that.

Being excused briefly will be allowed.

Another concern would deal with partisan abuse. If we had a majority government, what happens if no MPs from the governing party show up as a means of disrupting debate?

That's a good one. I suppose if the session was adjourned, it would have to be rescheduled. I think that would then force the vote on the bill to be delayed - which could be used to effect as well.

Likely, having quorum wouldn't solve parliamentary politics per se. I mean, a majority could potentially avoid all debate on an issue, the debate would or could still go forward, and then still vote on the motion or bill, regardless.

I'd just like to see more members in the House for a debate. If not, have the debate in committee, then bring the motion to the House (subject to quorum).

Maritime Liberal said...

"I'd just like to see more members in the House for a debate. If not, have the debate in committee, then bring the motion to the House (subject to quorum)."

I completely agree. I was just doing a bit of devil's advocate there, sorry.

Jim said...

No, don't apologize. You raised valid points.