The180

Democracy Hacks: A new seating plan for MPs

The Democracy Hacks keep coming. The 180 is running a special series where we take your simple, concrete ideas to improve democracy. This week, an idea from Iceland, via NDP MP Peter Stoffer. Stoffer's idea is to change the physical layout of the House of Commons.
Iceland's Parliament in action. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)

The Democracy Hacks keep coming. The 180 is running a special series where we take your simple, concrete ideas to improve democracy. This week, an idea from Iceland, via NDP MP Peter Stoffer. Stoffer's idea is to change the physical layout of the House of Commons.

In Iceland's Althingi (that's what they call their Parliament), MPs sit in a 180 degree arc. Stoffer says it's much less confrontational than the Canadian layout, where MPs face each other across a great gap, like two armies about to battle. He thinks Canada's style lowers the tone of debate.


"You always hear in the House of Commons, 'well on this side of the house, we do it this way.' Why do you say that to each other? It's almost child-like."

Peter Stoffer


He says a semi-circle seating arrangement would lead to more constructive, less confrontational, conversation.

And it's not just the layout of the seats Stoffer would like to mimic, but the order in which MPs are seated. In Iceland, that changes regularly, and parties don't sit together in blocks. Stoffer says getting to know your parliamentary neighbour could go a long way to improving the tone of discourse in the house.


"I think it would be great if I sat next to a Conservative one week, and a Liberal the next week. I think it would be quite good because first of all you get to know them, you get to find out who their family is and what they're thinking, and you sit there and you're talking to one another, you're only bound to get to like one another and then earn that respect from one another."

Peter Stoffer


Stoffer thinks a change like this could ultimately bring Canadians back to the polls: "You could find years from now, if we did this model, that debate and discourse would be much more respectful, and maybe, just maybe, Canadians will tune in more and maybe we get them back to the polls so they can vote for the party of their choice."

And in case you're wondering how likely it is the government would up and overhaul the House: it's already slated for major renovations in 2018.

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