Reading Time: 2 minutes
Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

Canadians may know who the leaders of certain political parties are, but rarely do they know and understand the role of their member of Parliament (MP).

The MP is responsible for representing you in Ottawa—a position that has lately been diminished despite its importance. Today, local issues have been replaced by party politics. The Canadian political system is beginning to look more American; but the private member’s bill is the fail-safe that holds the last bit of MP autonomy in place.

The private member’s bill is the process where MPs propose a bill or motion for the House to consider. This process allows for a lot of flexibility, and the subject matter is endless; everything from disability tax credits to initiating studies on housing can be represented by private member’s bills.

Private member’s bills ensure that local issues are not lost in party politics, which tend to only address national issues. The New Democratic Party once bragged that they didn’t influence their MPs on how to vote, but now they often do since they’ve taken the role of Official Opposition. This influence is called whipping—it’s not as violent as it sounds, but it does abuse the individual nature of the MP.

A private member’s bill can represent local concerns with national implications or it can be a cause an MP is passionate about. The process gives MPs the opportunity to follow through on campaign promises—which is really the rock-star performance all MPs strive for. Most MPs only get one chance to create legal change, so if they won’t ever be prime minister, this is the highlight. Career highlight or not these bills are taken for granted and often ignored by citizens.

An MP only gets an opportunity to present a private member’s bill every five to seven years, although it can happen sooner depending on circumstances. There are 308 MPs who sit in the lower chamber, and only 30 at a time get the chance to bring business before the Legislature. After each election there is a lottery to see who will present first, and just like picking teams on the playground at recess, it sucks to be picked last.

In the last decade, many MPs have never had a chance to present a private member’s bill. Considering Canada has had mostly minority governments that last an average of one and a half years, some MPs never had their turn to present a bill before an election was called. It is frustrating when you work hard to draft a bill and never get the chance to present it.

For the most part, the process of the private member’s bill is used well, but it never really receives attention from citizens or the media. One bill that achieved celebrity status recently was MP Stephen Woodworth’s bill, M-312—a motion that many people believed would resurrect the abortion debate. Yet there are so many important issues big and small that are addressed in privatemember’s bills. Many Canadians need to realize that there is more to Parliament than government bills and Question Period.

Private member’s bills have a responsibility to represent local views on a stage seen from coast to coast to coast. MPs shouldn’t take these bills for granted and neither should citizens; we all need to focus more on this facet of the Canadian political system, otherwise we will begin to give away any unique local representation we have.