2011 OBA Reply to the Throne Speech – Part Two

Political Reform

The OBA will ‘immediately overhaul the Parliamentary Elections Act.’

I presume that the policy positions that follow this sentence refer to what they would overhaul the Parliamentary Elections Act to become. These are:

– Extend the advance poll for those who are travelling;
– Establish absentee ballots for students living abroad;

Of these above two, I have no issue with and support them, although it is not clear how far they would extend the advance poll, or how they would establish absentee ballots for students living abroad. On the latter issue I guess they could either set up a mail-in system (which has potential problems of fraud) or try to use British Embassies/Consulates overseas to provide the necessary infrastructure for this policy. It’s not clear if that is even possible though – but it’s definitely an idea I’d like to see developed!

– Introduce ‘measures to bring a greater level of accountability to the political process than we have today.’

It’s really not clear if this is an actual policy position or just political rhetoric. If the former, what does it mean? If the latter, well, it’s oddly placed.

– ‘We will give people the opportunity to initiate referenda on major issues of the day.’

I actually thought that we currently had that option, that a certain number of signatures was sufficient to trigger a referendum; I’ll have to check that out.

– Right to recall of MPs;
– Introduce fixed-term elections;

I am supportive of both of these policies, although I am wondering what mechanism they propose for the ‘right to recall’ policy. I presume this will require a petition of a sufficient quorum of constituents (say a third or a simply majority), but it is possible to design these things so that while they’re officially ‘on the books’ they are practically impossible to realise. More detail is thus required. Similarly, how long will the fixed-term elections be? Four years? Five years?

– Strengthen Parliamentary Committees;
– Hearings will be open to the public and the press;

Sounds good, and, in general, I have no problem with the above. But how do they propose to do these – are, rather, what does ‘strengthen parliamentary committees’ actually mean in practice?

– Invite a member of the Opposition into Cabinet;

I take this as more rhetoric than anything else. The likelihood of an Opposition MP accepting this offer (or staying as a member of the official Opposition after doing so) are so slim that it’s unlikely to happen. But in making this statement they make themselves look as if they’ve taken the moral high-ground.

– Create a Contractor General, independent of Government, to ‘oversee Government projects, from tendering to completion, to ensure rules and guidelines are strictly enforced and to identify unfair practices or offensive conduct.’

This sounds good, and, in general, I’m not necessarily opposed. My concern though is that it seems redundant, in that I feel the Ombudsman and Auditor General should be able to do this already, and so this is perhaps an unnecessary additional expense and layer of bureaucracy.

– Strengthen the Public Accounts Committee (working with the Auditor General and the proposed Contractor General);

It’s not really clear to me how they propose to ‘strengthen’ the PAC, unless they simply mean the creation of the proposed Contractor General will do this?


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