The Real House Lives: Strengthening the Role of MPs in an Age of Partisanship

October 31, 2018
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The Real House Lives: Strengthening the Role of MPs in an Age of Partisanship
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In our representative democracy, parties are essential. They bring diverse voices together to forge a cohesive vision and effect policy change. They support citizens to make sense of complicated issues during an election.

The Samara Centre interviewed 54 former MPs who served in the 41st Parliament from 2011 to 2015. These MPs reported that parties had unquestionably the greatest influence on their time in office, greater than the influence of Parliament or their constituencies. They also reported that their parties were a source of community and support but also enormous frustration.

While Parliament has always been and should remain a partisan space, there are institutional and cultural problems with party politics that have real consequences for the health of our democracy. Fixing them requires further deep examination of the party as a whole, from the grassroots to the leadership. In the interim, MPs should commit themselves to leaving Parliament better than they found it by: 

Fostering better cross-partisan relations 

When politicians become more polarized, the general public can respond by either turning away in disgust or mirroring that polarization—and meaningful opportunities for civil debate are destroyed. MPs can start to reduce partisanship to healthier levels by taking simple practical steps like: 

  • Creating informal space in Parliament to permit cross-partisan mingling. 
  • Mandating financial support for all-party caucuses and parliamentary friendship groups, where members from different parties can champion shared interests. 
  • Travelling with committees, away from hyper-partisan and hyper-supervised Ottawa. 

Strengthening the caucus over the leader 

For a strong democracy, it’s essential that members of a caucus have leverage over their leader. In the absence of a strong caucus, leaders hold enormous unchecked power without much of a democratic mandate. MPs can start to restore the independent authority of the caucus by: 

  • Organizing formal backbench committees to which the leader must answer. 
  • Exploring, with other party members, ways to give caucus members a formal role in leadership selection and removal.

This report is the third in a series of three that makes a case for MPs who are independent, empowered, thoughtful, and engaged in three environments: Parliament, the constituency, and the party.

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