Politics
2 min

Why more MPs isn’t such a bad thing

Amidst the talk about the bill to add new
seats to the House of Commons is an old refrain that we hear time and again –
why bother adding new MPs? Don’t we have too many already? Why don’t we do like
the Americans do and just redistribute from the maximum number that we’ve set
and be done with it?

Well, the answer that I would give is no,
we actually don’t have too many, and in fact don’t have enough. If you look at
a chamber like the UK House of Commons, which has more than 600 MPs, you see
a different kind of dynamic that emerges. Yes, they have double the population
of Canada, but bear with me for a second. If you look at the dynamics of the
government benches, by the time you add up cabinet ministers, ministers of
state, parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs, that’s roughly half the
caucus. So if you’re a backbencher, you’re easily one person’s screw-up away
from a promotion, and you become less likely to do your job of criticizing the
government that your party forms.

If you look at the UK backbenches, you
know that there are a number of MPs who aren’t afraid to criticize their
own party leaders. But it’s because there are enough MPs that there is a group
of backbenchers who know they’ll never make it into Cabinet, or get hand-picked
to chair a committee (well, that’s the case here, as much as we pretend the
chairs are voted on, thanks in part to changes the Reform Party ushered in), so
they aren’t afraid of speaking out. They know their constituents will likely
send them back, so it affords them a measure of independence that we’re not
really seeing here in the Canadian backbenches. You will recall that the job of
an MP is to hold the government to account – and that includes governing party
backbenchers. And giving MPs space to do that job of accountability is
important.

But what about the cost? This is
immediately what a certain constituency of journalists and pundits will bring
up. But I will posit two things – number one is that you honestly
couldn’t pay me enough to be an MP. Number two is asking what kind of a price
tag we want to put on strong democratic parliamentary institutions. For
everyone who says that MPs are overpaid, with all their perks and their “gold-plated
pensions,” that doesn’t really put the job in its proper context and
perspective. And it’s not just about salary – it’s also about the kinds of
resources that we afford to MPs, and that’s part of the problem. Not only could
we stand to have a few more to break the hold of the promise of
promotion, but we would all be better off if they had budgets for staff that had
expertise in subject areas. Unless, of course, you think that nickel-and-diming
democracy is the way to go.

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