Institutional Reforms For Representative
Government, Peter Aucoin, Research Co-ordinator, University of Toronto Press,
Toronto, 1986, 159 pages.
This is a difficult book to assess. It has
many of the ingredients of success. It is an outgrowth of the fruitful and
generally successful research and publications programme of the Royal
Commission on the Economic Union. The title of the volume pinpoints two vital
issues, institutional reform and representativeness. The research co-ordinator
is a respected public administration specialist at Dalhousie University. Three
of the four contributors are major scholars John Courtney (Saskatchewan),
William Irvine (Queen's), and Vincent Lemieux (Laval). The fourth contributor,
Peter Dobell, is a long-time observer and participant in parliamentary affairs.
Judged individually, each of the four chapters is good to very, very good.
However, the value of the book as a whole seems to be a little less than the
value of the sum of its parts.
Professor Courtney, a known advocate of a
large House of Commons, provides a broad, systematic overview of the issue of
the "Size of Canada's Parliament." He discusses the question of
Parliamentary size from the vantage of Canada's obligations to under-populated
regions of the country, British political experience, representativeness, the
autonomy of individual MPs, the size of the Commons chamber, the style of
Parliamentary debate, and the actual financial cost of a larger Commons.
In a chapter entitled "Some Comments on
Parliamentary Reform," Peter Dobell offers a personal view on selected
aspects of free votes in the Commons, private members' bills, the role of the
Opposition in Commons' committees of inquiry, and the benefits of horizontal
Professor Irvine, a long-time known advocate
of proportional representation, offers a clear sighted encyclopedic overview of
the many proposals for electoral system reform in Canada. This will be a useful
source for many years to come. But, Irvine can be faulted for downplaying the
powerful cross-national literature critical of the impact of PR on the renewal
of party elites and the effectiveness of government. Even if Irvine is in the
end right, it might have been helpful to show why his opponents (mainly non
Canadian) are wrong.
Professor Lemieux provides an elegantly
written and well organized overview of referenda both abroad and among the
Canadian provinces. This too will remain a useful source of baseline information
and thought for some time to come. If Lemieux can be faulted, it can be for not
enough attention given to the process by which referendum questions are worded.
He does note the similarity between polls and referenda, but misses the
opportunity to explore their interplay.
It is difficult to know to what extent the
authors and research co-ordinator should be commended or faulted because it is
unclear under what constraints they laboured. The book would have benefitted
from a strong introductory chapter explaining why these four themes were
selected from among the myriad of potential issues in institutional reform. The
mandate of institutional reform and representativeness could lead to many
studies of Parliament alone, not to mention studies of public service
appointments and accountability, the powers of regulatory agencies, the mass
media, freedom of information, lobbying, citizen-government relations, and so
A strong introductory chapter might also
have explained why the authors were chosen for their particular tasks. Three of
the contributors were already parti pris on at least some of the issues which
they explored. Would the book have been more useful to readers if it had
contained structured rebuttals?
A strong introductory chapter might also have
shed light on the mode of analysis which contributors were expected to adopt.
Were the chapters to be written for an audience of specialists or a lay
audience? At least two of the chapters were suitable for specialists while one
of the chapters had some of the character of an undergraduate primer. Were the
chapters to be rigorously structured around specific reform issues or were they
to be discursive essays? Were the chapters to be systematically cross-national
or essentially Canadian with occasional British or American anecdotes? Answers
to these questions might have made a good book still better.
Conrad Winn, Professor of Political Science, Carleton University