A Model Parliament for Canada

Canadian Parliamentary Review, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

A Model Parliament for Canada


This article proposes creation of a new institution for the training of future legislators and as a laboratory for experimenting with parliamentary reform.

After retiring from active politics I founded the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. Its goal is to raise the knowledge and skill level of practitioners in the political arena. You may be familiar with a couple of our projects. We worked with Carleton University in Ottawa to establish Canada's first master's program in political management designed especially for political staffers. We also have a facility in Calgary that we use for training political volunteers. Their work is so important to the operation of our democracy.

We are presently developing a project aimed specifically at the training needs of future parliamentarians. We call this a Model Parliament for Canada. It is still in the conceptual stage but this facility, once completed, would serve not only to train future legislators but as a laboratory to try various proposals for parliamentary reform. Before outlining the idea in detail let me outline my personal background which may explain how I became interested in such a project.

Some Personal Thoughts

I come from a political family. My father Ernest Manning spent 33 years as an elected member of the Alberta legislature including 25 years as Premier.

He had a particular interest in the representational function of elected members and in the law-making function of legislatures.

In the 1950s when polling was just beginning he would do what he called "calibrating the caucus." He would take a questionnaire developed by pollsters and ask his caucus to fill it out, not by giving their own opinions but rather how they thought the people of Alberta would respond. He would then compare their responses to the province-wide poll results. His caucus was fairly experienced and there was a range of issues on which they were within 3% of the wider poll. However on another set of issues the caucus acted more as an interest group and in those cases their views were considerably different from the population at large. The role of the leader, he believed, was to know on what issues the caucus was really representative and on which issues it was acting as an interest group.

He also had a real interest in law-making. When I was a teenager he encouraged me read the Revised Statutes of Alberta which ran to about six volumes. Behind every statute, he told me, was a real story involving real people. As a legislator you have to know the story behind the statute as well as a set of criteria for evaluating a bill. So my background was very much influenced by considerations of how to make democratic representation and lawmaking more effective.

Later I was involved in starting new political parties. In 1993 the Reform Party arrived in the House of Commons with 52 members only two of whom had ever sat in an assembly before. The traditional view is that legislators learn on the job but that is getting more and more difficult to do. The Reform experience led me to reflect long and hard about the whole issue of training people for the role of legislator.

I am sure many of the new members elected to Canada's House of Commons in May 2011 had never thought about their role as law makers. The parties taught them about campaigning and political strategy but not how to make laws. In these days of instant communication if a young person makes a mistake the next day a million people will know about it. So the idea of learning on the job is no longer a good pedagogical model.

If we ever get this model parliament up and running the inscription I am going to put over the entrance is Intrate peratus (Enter Prepared). That is what Cicero advised the many Romans who were anxious to get into the Roman Senate. He thought it better to first study all things that you needed to know and it took him ten years to prepare for his entry to the Senate.

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