A Modest Proposal for the Parliament of Canadaby Author / Lenny Everson
A Modest Proposal for the Parliament of Canada
By Lenny Everson
rev 1: 2017-07-06
Copyright Lenny Everson 2017
Cover design by Lenny Everson
The Wonderful Ideas One Gets
Sometimes I just amaze even myself when I come up with a brilliant idea. Afterwards, I usually a get a beer and celebrate, except when I get an idea good enough for whiskey. This one, you’ll admit is one of the best.
Have you looked at the room that houses the parliament of Canada? (It’s usually just called “The House”). It’s delightfully medieval, of course, but it’s way, way too crowded. It was probably okay back in 1910 when they built the place and there were only 235 members of parliament. And each of those members needed only a place big enough for a few sheets of paper, mostly petitions for divorce from unhappy couples in the members’ ridings (a “riding” is a constituency in which a member of parliament is elected) (and yes, up until 1968 some divorces each required a specific Act of Divorce to be passed in parliament).
Now I admit that they’ve done some renovations to the place, but there are now 338 people in the place and it’s like being in Air Canada economy class; if one member doesn’t shower often enough, quite a few people will know it.
Crowded, sure, but it’s more than that! The modern Members of Parliament need lots of information at their hands. How else are they going to know the ramifications of acts being considered or come back with a snappy bit of data to squelch a fib from the opposition parties. They need a wide desk that can handle a big screen and lots of paper. You just can’t do that on the tiny desks in The House, and a squelch a day later just doesn’t have the same effect. The House not only looks medieval, its members are stuck there. That’s terrible, and inefficient. Colds, flues, and measles probably spread easily through The House.
And it’s only going to get worse as the number of people in The House increases.
Therein lies my idea.
You see, most business in The House is carried on by the Big Players such as the Prime Ministers and their Cabinets, the Ministers of This and That. And the important members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The rest of the elected Members of Parliament are known as “backbenchers”. With only a rare exception, these don’t have much to do until there’s a vote, and they then vote in favor of whatever the VIPs in their party vote for. No wonder the member from Greenfields West looks bored sometimes.
There is a public perception that backbenchers are there to follow the leaders like sheep (some people have even cruelly referred to backbenchers as “baaaaackbenchers”.)
I propose a separate room (or suite of rooms) for the backbenchers. I mean, like, separate, in another building. Some place where each backbencher Member of Parliament can have a far bigger office than they’ve got now, with comfortable seating, good coffee, and a direct link both to The House and to his riding. It’s backbencher heaven. The backbenchers can access media, current stats, party policy, and FreeCell. And fact checkers can indicate the presence of dubious data being used by the opposition.
The backbencher room is pictured as a spacious office area, with large desks and state of the art computers to keep backbenchers in touch with their ridings and The House, a vast improvement on the current picture of seats empty except for the odd backbencher trying to keep awake, a scene which does not impress the public. Instead of napping with a newspaper in The House backbenchers could be keeping track of their ridings, polls, and the levels of support for their party’s promises, as well as indulging in lively debate about supporting or challenging their party’s stand on various issues. Efficient and professional.
Picture this: when the member from Greenfields West is at his fancy new desk somewhere in Ottawa, he signs in and is deemed to be legally “present in The House”. A light on a panel within The House itself would indicate the presence of a backbencher in the backbencher room (using a retinal scan), for quorum purposes. Admit it: a voting board that lit up with the votes of backbenchers would be more visually impressive than the current view of members standing one by one.
He works on issues that are important to his voters in Greenfields West and keeps an eye on The House Screen.
When it’s voting time in The House, the member from Greenfields West presses the “In Favor” (or, theoretically even, “not in favor”) button, and his vote is registered in The House. There will be a large display of fancy lights in The House. The buttons for the backbenchers light up (looks good on TV) brilliantly and a computer tallies the total votes, from both VIPS in The House and from backbenchers over in Backbencher Heaven. Efficient, easy, and showy (looks good on the nightly TV.) And the member from Greenfields West gets lots more work done on riding issues, increasing his chances of getting re-elected!
But The Big Benefit
But the big benefit is for the Big Cheeses in The House. They can all have big desks with even bigger built-in screens and data processors than the backbenchers. (People associate bigger desks with importance.) Topics can be argued and facts can be thrown around with the true accuracy of Statistics Canada and Google. When the leader of a party makes a great point, those of his party will cheer and clap, along with (on speakers) those of the backbenchers that press the Cheer And Clap buttons over in Backbencher Heaven.
Visually, The House would be more full of people debating government business, without the sense that the backbencher seats are generally empty, like seats at a stadium where the home team hasn’t won a game in years, when, in fact those House seats are for members who are probably working in their home ridings or in committee meetings. Stock videos of Backbencher Heaven and its hard-working occupants would be made available to media.
This isn’t some sort of sneaky shortcut; given the increased working space of each member of parliament; it would promote an efficiently in the creation and modification of government business the whole world could admire. (Britain and the States would be sure to follow our lead. Crowding worse in their government houses but, like Canada, they’re stuck with trying to make do with historical buildings poorly enlarged.)
Besides, let’s be honest; discussion and debate take place almost exclusively between leaders and more important members of the parties, anyway. This does, of course, give the impression that the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers make all the decisions and run the country. Which is, of course, the truth.
The Electronic Age - Partly
We should note that proximity of Backbencher Heaven to The House is not actually, in this electronic age, necessary. But it would be at least more traditional to have it somewhere within a few blocks of the parliament buildings.
However, if nothing is available in central Ottawa, the backbenchers can go to Hull. It’s just across the river and only a taxi ride away from the parliament buildings if the member from Greenfields West has a committee meeting to attend.
Farther Into The Future
Some of these changes might seem to be the “thin edge of the wedge”, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Consider the following:
- Backbencher’s computers could be set to automatically indicate a vote for all their party’s proposals (unless the members have previously indicated they might challenge their own party on some items).
- The backbenchers could spend most time away from Ottawa, voting from their riding office or home. After all, backbenchers most useful work is done in their own ridings. Eventually backbenchers would go to Ottawa mostly for parties, photo-ops and fireworks on Canada Day.
- Maybe, when there is a need to look like everyone is present, most backbenchers in The House could be represented with holograms while the backbenchers themselves stayed at home tending to riding needs. Holograms a few centimeters thick would allow the appearance of “everyone present”. It seems a bit heretical now, but the public is getting used to such things in electronic media.
Canada’s senate is an unelected group who seem to (or claim to) work very hard without normally anything of permanent value for their salaries and perks. Previously I’d considered appointing, to this Canadian senate, folk singers and poets. These people would work at a fraction of the current rate, and at least have something to show at the end of each year.
But now I have a better idea; artificial people represented by CGI holograms.
Each synthetic senator would represent a specific region for group of the Canadian public. They could be made to look like superheroes, cutesy little blue people, or even talking dogs. Their duties would be to amalgamate the trending tweets from their public, (minus the usual troll comments) and forward the consensus to The House and the media.
So I Ask You
Is this idea worth me getting myself: a) a cold beer from the fridge, b) a wee dram of highland scotch, or c) ….(something else)…..?