Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's wonderful to be speaking before you today. I decided to walk my talk, and that's why I'm appearing in person.
Parliament is the beating heart of democracy. You know that. It is tremendously demanding of you, but it also gives tremendously to you. While you have to be commended for how Parliament functioned during the pandemic, those measures must now come to a conclusion. I'm going to explain why that is my belief in terms of the functions Parliament performs in our democratic system.
The policy-making function consists of two roles: a support role to get the government's legislative agenda through, and an accountability role. Both were affected during the pandemic. One study of 80 parliamentary democracies has shown that consultations with the public and public engagement generally were not at their maximum, and in fact suffered greatly.
For the support function, there's importance in being there in person and building those relations across the parties and within parties, and having an in-person caucus allows for more frank feedback than being online does, particularly if people are worried about being recorded.
Accountability also suffered. When you aren't face to face—when the Prime Minister and members of cabinet are not forced to stand up and face the opposition—you lose something. When they must stand up in Parliament and speak to the opposition, they're probably going to have given policies a bit more thought, because they're going to have to justify them. There are subtle checks built into Parliament that we lose when people are not in face-to-face meetings.
The representational function of the House of Commons is very important for, first of all, electoral conversion. It is the House of Commons that converts the results of votes into government and opposition parties, and it's important to have that visual image for Canadians. That is somewhat diminished when you go into a hybrid format.
Politicians come to Ottawa to represent their constituencies and do the national business. However, by understanding constituent interests within the national interests, I believe, they learn to moderate and temper views, and to build better, more inclusive policy across the country. When you stay in your constituency, there's a tendency for what we call “policy capture” to set in, such that you may be influenced by local interests too strongly and not have that tempering effect of the national interest.
Then there are the system maintenance functions Parliament performs. The first is recruitment. By bringing people together, you recruit the people who are going to be the great public servants, whether elected or before they're elected or after they're elected. If they're in Parliament, interacting face to face, they're going to build political acuity and the skills they need to perform those functions even better.
Second, Parliament also integrates. It builds the bridges. People come from across the country and learn about other parts of the country by listening to their colleagues. That creates a certain harmony. There's a socialization function, and this replies to the arguments on diversity. Not requiring people to be in Parliament, or saying that due to particular demographic or personal characteristics, they need to be online, means that if people are not here in person, Parliament is not forced to change.
A good example of that is a member of the Ontario legislature who was hearing impaired. They realized the bells to call people to vote did not work, and that's when they installed lights. That is just one example, but there are many more I could go into, including washrooms. They changed when women came into Parliament, but we won't go into that.
Finally, there's a legitimation function. Parliament must not only work, but it must be seen to work in order for Canadians to understand what government does and why it's important. When the legislature is in operation and there's accountability, you get transparency of policies. Government is seen to work better and people believe their views are being heard.
In my recommendations, which I included in the brief that I know you have, I do mention that the hybrid format would be good for committees, I believe. It could be used there. I think it should be investigated, because you can get more witnesses through that approach. Otherwise, I think Parliament should be sitting in person.
I'll just stop there just to say that Parliament works when it's seen to work. That's a healthy democracy.