(Québec) There is something solemn about the atmosphere at the Parliament Building. The woodwork, stained glass and mythical rooms like the Blue Room remind us that the place is steeped in history. A story that is written by the deputies, at the pace dictated by the “regulations”. Certain articles of this code of procedure, which has not been revised for more than 10 years, date back to the 19e century. In Quebec, we are busy dusting it off.
“We have to modernize all that,” said the government’s parliamentary leader, Simon Jolin-Barrette, in an interview with The Press. The National Assembly must better value the role of deputies, he said, particularly those – many – who are neither ministers nor critics of the opposition.
“Citizens also have a lot to gain. It is important, it is their democracy. When we dust off the regulations to make them more efficient, that allows us to deal with more subjects. [Mais] when we are caught in the procedure, as we are currently, the citizens are less well served, [car on a] less time to deal with substantive issues,” he argues.
The pandemic has forced MPs to review their ways. Remote parliamentary committees, groups invited to comment on bills in hybrid mode: these advances, Mr. Jolin-Barrette wishes to perpetuate. A father of young children, he also sees it as a way to improve the work-family balance of elected officials.
“With the 2022 elections, we welcomed the most women MPs, but we are not yet 50-50. If we want to make sure we welcome more women and young people with families, we have to make the National Assembly more flexible and accessible,” he said.
The idea, specifies Mr. Jolin-Barrette, is to arrive at a consensus “where everyone is comfortable, to ensure that the role of parliamentarians is valued, whether they are in government or in the ‘opposing’.
During the last mandate, all the political parties represented in Parliament, as well as the President of the National Assembly, tabled their proposals to reform parliamentarism. These ideas will come to life when formal negotiations begin in the coming months.
Say “goodbye” to the king
The parliamentary leader of Québec solidaire (QS), Alexandre Leduc, recalls that a good way to reform parliamentarism — as his party proposed, as did the Parti québécois (PQ) and the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) — would be to abolish the requirement for MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Both the CAQ and QS have promised to introduce a bill to do so. The PQ, for their part, are demanding the adoption of a motion that would allow them to sit, between now and the adoption of the law, even if they have not taken the oath.
The issue is also being discussed these days in the negotiations between the parties to recognize the PQ and the Solidarity groups as parliamentary groups, even if they do not meet the conditions dictated by the regulations (having had 12 MNAs elected or having obtained at least 20% of the votes).
Stating that it was still too early in the mandate to talk about parliamentary reform, in the context where the parties are currently negotiating their status and their budgets in Parliament, the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois declined our requests for interviews. .
Change the tone
No need to watch The game Where Politics buffs to know that the tone often rises in the Blue Room. Parliamentary reform will tackle Question Period. Several ideas are proposed: increase the time devoted to it, ensure a minimum number of questions, or even organize a question period once a year intended exclusively for the Prime Minister.
“Parliamentary democracy is a civilized way of doing what used to be settled otherwise with sabers or crossbows”, recalls the former solidarity deputy Amir Khadir.
A certain level of adversity is legitimate. But Mr. Khadir would like a minister not to immediately perceive an opposition critic as someone who wants to undermine his credibility.
“There are people who have the strength of character to do it. But instead of waiting for strong personalities to overcome […] habits, which are to be completely impervious to elected officials who come from opposing camps, let’s change the culture. Let’s make that the rule, while keeping the possibility of criticizing each other without being embarrassed, ”he said.
Former MP Lise Thériault, who was dean of the Liberal caucus, concedes for her part that politics can be “flat” when you are relegated to the back seats of government. But, if she welcomes a reform that would give more responsibilities to deputies, she opposes the CAQ’s proposal to withdraw ministers from the study of bills. ” It’s him [le ministre] who has the power to accept changes [et qui] going to say yes to the amendments,” she said.
Former Parti Québécois parliamentary leader Martin Ouellet deplores the fact that petitions tabled in Parliament receive so little attention. ” With […] a government with 90 deputies requires checks and balances. […] That’s why if we don’t go further with a reform of the voting system, citizens must have the opportunity to challenge decisions and bring about debates that are not questions that the government judges priority,” he said.
Ideas put into play
The Press read and analyzed the proposals of each political party represented in the National Assembly in terms of parliamentary reform. Here are some examples.
Future Quebec Coalition
- Allow parliamentarians to question the Prime Minister once a year, for two hours, on any subject
- Create a deliberation chamber parallel to the Blue Room, the Citizens’ Affairs Chamber, to hear “deputies’ business” (including those of the ruling party), “a new section offering an additional platform for parliamentarians to debate, among other things, of bills that will not come from the government”
- That ministers no longer take part in the study of bills in parliamentary committee
- That the Committee on the National Assembly meet every legislature to “assess the advisability” of setting up a special cross-partisan committee on an important issue
Quebec Liberal Party
- Increase the time devoted to Question Period from 45 to 60 minutes
- Create an itinerant parliamentary committee that would meet citizens at the start of a new legislature to gather their concerns and challenge them on a particular subject; the committee’s report would then be debated in Parliament
- Schedule a question period for the Prime Minister every two cycles of 10 meetings
- Create a parliamentary committee to monitor petitions
- Create a public registry of support for bills that are not introduced by the government and that these bills be considered if they obtain a set number of voter signatures
- Create a “Chamber of Generations”, i.e. a consultative and supervisory parliamentary chamber dedicated to long-term issues
- Create a position of Parliamentary Director of Science with the mandate to equip parliamentarians who sit in the Chamber of Generations by producing reports and analyzes
- Put in place a process allowing the citizens of a riding to trigger, by means of a petition, a recall referendum on their MNA
- Create a committee on petitions responsible for studying petitions presented to the Assembly
- Abolish the oath to the king
- Make Wednesday “Opposition Day” for opposition parties to decide on agenda items
- Guarantee 10 questions per question period, instead of the current 45-minute limit