Friday, August 19, 2016

History of MPs as ombudsmen

Apparently there's a little tiff in Ottawa about MPs not getting sufficiently special treatment from government departments when their offices try to sort out constituents' immigration claims.  I was intrigued to see the discussion provoke this post at Routine Proceedings, where several commentators note that the MP was not invented to be a complaint resolution officers. MPs are there to legislate, declares one, and another say, no, they are there to hold governments to account.

I was floating some ideas analogous to these about twenty years ago in 1867: How the Fathers Made A Deal, and it was a pretty lonely project then. (As in "You must be out of your mind.") So it's intriguing to see a groundswell -- still in the minority, but winning the argument most of the time -- for taking Parliament and the role of Parliament seriously.

I think it is having an effect on the electoral reform discussion too.  The serious better-government challenge isn't making the electoral system work better, it's making parliament work better. That is mostly about MPs and what they can and will do. Fiddling with electoral reform, in ways that will mostly make MPs even weaker and less able to hold leaders and government to account, is likely to erode the possibilities of reforming parliament itself.  Good to see there are some commentators who are alive to that.

(I know, MPs want the good will of their constituents, for good reason. If a constituent wants an 80th birthday letter for Grandma, or support over a screwed up EI claim, or assistance getting the relatives their citizenship, obviously the constituency office wants to oblige. It's the idea that that is all, or enough, from MPs, that needs to be confronted.)

Image: Wikipedia Commons.

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