After the experience of a bruising election campaign, a new Parliament is a chance for a fresh start. For new Members of Parliament (MPs), taking their seat in the House of Commons is powerful, emotional, and memorable.
But the day-to-day of parliamentary life doesn’t always match these lofty first impressions. So while a new Parliament is a time to look forward, it is also useful to look back to recognize what was achieved in previous Parliaments and to learn from what went wrong.
n this report, the Samara Centre conducts the first in-depth, objective examination of the 42nd Parliament (2015-2019), based on three dimensions of an effective Parliament: high-quality scrutiny of Government, healthy partisanship within and between parties, and civil and constructive debate.
- They like big bills: Despite criticism of omnibus bills, the Government continued to introduce ever-larger bills, which can make serious scrutiny hard.
- Time (allocation) after time (allocation): The Government continued a much-criticized practice of frequently shutting down debate through time allocation.
- More tinkering: Parliament spent more time studying Government bills, and amended more bills, largely due to the Senate’s new assertiveness in considering bills and challenging the Government and House of Commons.
- Herd behaviour: The average MP voted with their party 99.6% of the time. The most rebellious MP in the 42nd Parliament: 96.6%.
- More collaboration, but things fell apart: Committees more often reached consensus across party lines. But according to MPs, cross-party collaboration declined over the course of the Parliament as unhealthy partisanship increased.
- Trash talk: MPs see debate as empty, repetitive, and a waste of valuable time. Despite efforts to promote civility in the House, heckling did not decrease in the 42nd Parliament.
Methodology and Data
This report employs a range of measures to explore the extent to which the 42nd Parliament conformed to Samara’s vision for political representatives who are independent, thoughtful, engaged and empowered. To put these aspirations in more concrete terms, we examine Parliament’s capacity to perform its core functions of scrutinizing the executive and reviewing legislation, and the extent to which the proceedings of the House were affected by partisan conflict and incivility. The quantitative data regarding the operation of the House of Commons (e.g. sitting days and use of time allocation) and the passage of bills (e.g.bill length, days of consideration, proportion of bills amended) from parliamentary sources, including the Legisinfo and Parlinfo websites, the House of Commons’ Status of House Business reports, and the Senate’s Progress of Legislation reports. Data on committee reports were similarly complied from the House of Commons’ website, while the heckling frequency was obtained using Hansard. The Canadian dissent data were graciously provided by Professor Jean-François Godbout, while the British data were sourced from the website publicwhip.org.uk.
The survey data came from original surveys of MPs conducted by the Samara Centre for Democracy in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Samara MP surveys are anonymous, available in both French and English, and can be filled out online or mailed in. Hard copies are mailed to the parliamentary offices of all sitting MPs and email copies are sent to their general accounts. MPs respond in both official languages. The response rate varies somewhat, between approximately 20-30% of MPs. The total number of MP respondents for each survey is as follows: 84 in 2017, 100 in 2018, and 67 in 2019 (though not every respondent completes each question). The sample size is noted where the data appears in the report. The sample from each survey is fairly representative of the partisan breakdown of the House of Commons.