Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Once Again - the House of Commons needs a Quorum Requirement

Here's a portion of a post I made back in September when the House of Commons sat to debate the issue of skyrocketing gas prices [The Progressive Right, Packed House for Emergency Gas Price Debate!]:

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).

...

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.
From all accounts, for the House of Commons emergency debate on Afghanistan, it was another packed house [CTV, Afghan mission in Canada's interest: O'Connor]:

In fact, the House of Commons was mostly empty during the five-hour debate with groups of MPs showing up to lend support to one particular speaker or the other.

While there were only eight NDP MPs at the beginning of the debate, the entire caucus of 29 MPs was in the House to hear their leader Jack Layton speak.

Similarly, about 60 of the 122 members of the Conservative caucus were on hand to hear Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor.

But as soon as O'Connor was done, many Conservative MPs left and for much of the night less than 20 were present.

Though there are 102 Liberal MPs in the House, just 21 of them were present when their defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh spoke. Opposition Leader Bill Graham did not deliver a speech although he asked a question of O'Connor during the debate.

The poorest attendance at the debate was from Bloc Quebecois MPs. When the BQ defence critic Claude Bachand spoke for his party, there was just one other Bloc MP present in the House. And for the first three hours of the debate at least, there were never more than four Bloc MPs present out of a caucus of 51.

[H/T, Wudrick Blog]

Not wanting to sound like a broken record ... but ...

Here's a proposal for democratic reform. Institute quorum. No debates are to take place unless at least "X" 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 a certain percentage of members are in attendance.

I had originally suggested 50% + 1 (or 155 members), but that was argued that that would be be unrealistic attendance for a debate.

Tags: , , ,

4 comments:

thickslab said...

The quorum is 20 members, including the speaker. Any member can request a count to determine whether there is a quorum.

Jim said...

20? Is that changed when the number of seats in the House changes?

That's way too low to have any meaning.

thickslab said...

Believe it or not, it's just 20. That number is specified by section 48 of the Constitution Act 1867. It hasn't been changed since then.

If I am not mistaken, quorum is assumed unless a member requests a count.

Mark Dowling said...

as thickslab said, normal meeting rules (not just for Canada HoC) take quorum at the start of a meeting but then is assumed unless queried by a member.

You would need to change the Standing Orders to:
(a) require quorum at each new business item
(b) require quorum check every hour or so