Thank you very much for the opportunity to address this committee.
My name is Mike Morden. I'm the research director at the Samara Centre for Democracy. Next to me is Dr. Paul E.J. Thomas, our senior research associate.
As you may know, the Samara Centre is an independent, non-partisan charity that is dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy through research and programming. We want to thank the committee for undertaking this study. Doing so reflects its commitment to stewardship of our Parliament and our democracy by extension. That includes examining issues that are not on any political front burner but deserve consideration because they hold the potential for incremental improvement of our institutions. That's a role we also want to help play.
The Samara Centre supports the creation of a parallel debating chamber. We would also like to encourage the committee to keep the following objectives in mind when designing such a chamber: it advances a clear value proposition by not solely duplicating the business and character of the main chamber; it empowers backbench MPs by providing greater control over the agenda and substance of debates; by doing so, it makes parliamentary debates more relevant and accessible to ordinary Canadians; and it may be used as a platform for experimentation in order to drive improvement to the state of debate in Parliament overall.
As members might have already reviewed the brief that we submitted last month, we would like to save the bulk of our time in order to address questions as best as we are able. I will open just briefly by describing our interest in this proposal. Paul, who is wiser on this subject, and indeed on most things, will then speak about the model of a parallel chamber that we think is best suited to improve the life and work of the Canadian Parliament and to strengthen its ties to citizens.
Since its founding, the Samara Centre has conducted exit interviews with former parliamentarians after they have retired or faced electoral defeat. A central theme of this work is the strong sense among MPs that extensive party control over many facets of parliamentary life hinders their ability to independently advocate on issues and meaningfully influence government policy and legislation. We've always argued that such limitations have important implications for the overall health of our representative democracy.
In our most recent round of interviews, undertaken after the 2015 general election, we were also surprised and troubled to discover just how dismissive former MPs were of parliamentary debates in particular. We took up that theme again last year, when we collaborated with the all-party democracy caucus to survey current MPs. We asked questions of members to assess where they felt more or less empowered to do the work of democratic representation. The strongest finding to us was that debates were the domain of parliamentary work where MPs felt they made the least impact. In fact, two-thirds of MPs who responded were dissatisfied with the state of debate in the House. Just 6% identified debates as an area of parliamentary work where they felt empowered to influence policy or legislation.
We have also observed, as others have, an increase in partisan conflict over time in Parliament, reflected most simply in the recent and sustained spike in the use of time allocation. That conflict reflects the legitimate desire of opposition MPs—and, we would hope, all MPs—to debate and deliberate on government business while also advancing issues independently. It also reflects the legitimate desire of executives of all party stripes to advance government business. That tension will not resolve itself organically, and could conceivably get worse.
Finally, consistent with the views of MPs, our ongoing surveys of ordinary Canadians have repeatedly found the perception that MPs do a better job of reflecting the views of their parties than of their constituents. We want citizens to see themselves more closely reflected in parliamentary debates.
In short, we see four overlapping problems that a parallel chamber could help resolve: one, disempowered MPs who, because of party control, are hampered in their ability to represent their constituents; two, persistent unhappiness with the quality of parliamentary debate, even among MPs; three, a parliamentary time crunch; and four, an enduring disconnect between Canadians and their Parliament.