The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention.


217 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9465-1
DDC 328.71'072




Reviewed by Paul G. Thomas

Paul G. Thomas is a political science professor at the University of
Manitoba and the co-author of Canadian Public Administration:
Problematical Perspectives.


When most Canadians think of Parliament they usually have in mind the House of Commons, and these days their thoughts are usually not very positive. In fact, Parliament also consists of the appointed Senate and the Crown, the latter represented by the governor general. Professor Smith has written a trilogy of scholarly books on the three components, and this is the last and most recent of those works. There has been a need for a contemporary study of the House of Commons for some time (the last major book first appeared in 1987) and this book offers a fresh, insightful analysis of the role of the Commons within the Canadian constitutional order and the wider political system.


The integrating theme of the book is that the public’s disillusionment with the House of Commons reflects the contemporary disagreements over what type of democracy Canadians want and over a related theory of representation that would provide the foundations for the design and operation of the House of Commons. Three models of democracy are identified as in tension—the electoral, the parliamentary, and the constitutional theories—each of which presumes a different role for Parliament and its component parts. Professor Smith analyzes the forces that have left Canadians dissatisfied with all their political institutions. He writes about constitutional reform efforts of earlier decades, the impacts of the Charter of Rights and Freedom, debates over the electoral reform, the social composition of the Commons’ membership, how the institution has been studied, and possible lines of reform.


This is not a detailed study of the organization and procedures of the Commons, nor is it an analysis of the behaviours of Members of Parliament. Rather, it seeks to blend theory and a general overview of the performance of the institution and to explain why it is held in low esteem by the public. It draws upon a wide range of diverse sources and the erudition of the presentation is certain to impress Professor Smith’s academic colleagues, who are the primary, intended audience.


Smith, David E., “The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,