The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some significant changes to how parliaments in Canada, and around the world, operate – particularly as they employ new technologies to increase parliamentarians’ ability to work and meet virtually. In the face of a similar pandemic about 100 years ago, these technologies didn’t exist or were in their infancy. In this article, the author explores how Canada’s provincial legislatures and federal parliament responded to the 1918-1919 Influenza and finds that many simply didn’t meet during the pandemic’s peak (or bizarrely held buffets immediately afterwards).
For all the talk of “unprecedented times,” it can sometimes be easy to forget that Canada has been through pandemics before. The 1918-19 Influenza pandemic (also known as the Spanish flu outbreak – a misnomer as the illness did not originate in Spain) devastated Canada – claiming around 50,000 Canadian lives and infecting thousands more, around 1 in 4 Canadians.1 The onset of this highly contagious and deadly disease forced the closure of public spaces across the country – including bars, schools, and other non-essential public spaces.2 Mask mandates were enacted and stay-at-home orders were imposed on some regions, much like today.3 With limited access to telephones – and Zoom decades away – what changes did provincial and territorial legislatures and the federal Parliament adopt in order to continue working through these difficult times?
A selection of recent publications relating to parliamentary studies prepared with the assistance of the Library of Parliament (September 2020 – November 2020)
Baroness Taylor of Bolton. “A question of confidence? The Constitution Committee’s view on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.” Constitution Unit blog 5p., September 18, 2020.
Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada by Alex Marland, UBC Press: Vancouver, 2020, 480 pages
Alex Marland’s newest book, Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada, takes a fresh look at the phenomenon of party discipline in Canada’s parliaments. The book focuses mainly on the post-2000 Internet age, and even delves into the dynamics of recent events such as the 2019 SNC-Lavalin affair and partisan operations under the COVID-19 crisis. It is a fresh addition to the study of Canadian politics, written in a clear and accessible tone yet rife with diligent detail and sharp analysis.
Progressive Conservative MLA for Kings Centre Bill Oliver was elected Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly on October 7, 2020. Speaker Oliver was acclaimed when the only other candidate, Ross Wetmore, PC MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac, withdrew his name from consideration shortly before the vote was set to take place.
First elected to the legislature in 2014 and re-elected in 2018 and 2020, Speaker Oliver served as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure in the previous parliament.
Finding a silver-lining in the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult, but not impossible. The necessity of moving conferences and seminars to digital platforms has opened up new possibilities for participation. In this article, the author explains how the CSPG’s recent virtual offerings have expanded the range of presenters able to participate and created some exciting and informative events.
The Canadian Study of Parliament Group (CSPG) has begun hosting virtual events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, our annual conference entitled “Perspectives on Legislatures and Legislative Power: Past, Present, Future” brought together presenters from five continents to share their experiences and insights on various aspects of parliamentary institutions. It was the largest and most ambitious CSPG program yet – and the CSPG hopes to build on this with its upcoming seminar programs.
The Canadian parliamentary system is based on accepted rules, norms and conventions. Populism denotes a form of governing in which the perceived will of “the people” can be used as a means to challenge the very rules and conventions which underline responsible government. In this article, the author considers the rise of self-styled “populist” regimes in recent years and raises questions as to what extent populism may threaten the traditions and practices of Canada’s parliamentary system, and conversely whether the parliamentary system is capable of acting as a shield against the anti-democratic impulses of populism.
“Everyone knows that on a large scale democracy is pernicious nonsense – a country or even a county cannot be run by a self-seeking parcel of tub-thumping politicians working on popular emotion, rousing the mob.”
History, tradition, convention and precedents are important to Westminster parliamentary institutions; however, new challenges demand flexibility to adjust the rules and set new precedents when necessary. In this article, the author explains how the Legislative Assembly of Ontario has modified Standing Orders and how the Speaker is using discretion to ensure fair participation by the significant number of MLAs who sit as Independents.
Our Westminster parliamentary institutions date back centuries, yet each new Parliament comes with challenges and changes that require us to adjust the rules and set new precedents.
In 2018, a committee of the Canadian House of Commons conducted an inquiry into how it might better incorporate Indigenous languages in its proceedings. One witness in that inquiry gave evidence from over 15,000 kilometres away, in the Northern Territory of Australia. While many of the challenges faced by speakers of Indigenous languages in Canada and Australia are very different, it appears that each jurisdiction might have something to learn from the other – as indicated by the knowledge shared in 2018. This article advances the project of comparing the Canadian and Australian approach to incorporating Indigenous languages in federal and sub-federal parliamentary proceedings. The analysis will touch upon the symbolic importance of facilitating Indigenous language use in parliament, the practical benefits flowing from the same, and the logistical issues – including interpretation, translation, recording and funding – that arise.
In May 2017, Robert-Falcon Ouellette gave a speech to the Canadian House of Commons on violence within Indigenous communities. Ouellette spoke in Cree, because he wanted to “address the violence in a manner that would be noticed” and to reach the younger population.1 Although Ouellette had contacted the relevant parliamentary office ahead of time and provided the English text of the speech, no simultaneous interpretation was offered from Cree to English. Although Ouellette’s use of Cree did not contravene the Standing Orders, it highlighted the fact that no mechanism existed to have his words simultaneously interpreted so that other Members could understand him. After the speech, Ouellette objected to the status quo and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs conducted an inquiry into the use of Indigenous languages in House Proceedings and Committees.2 During the course of that inquiry, the Committee received testimony for 31 witnesses, the last of whom gave evidence from some 15,000 kilometres away in Australia. That witness – Michael Tatham, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory – explained the extent to which Indigenous languages were then accommodated within the Northern Territory Parliament. This distant Australian witness’ appearance before the Committee, and the inclusion of his evidence in the final report, suggests that – as much as there are significant differences between the obstacles to Indigenous parliamentary involvement in Canada and Australia – there are also potentially some shared experiences. In this article, we hope to outline the current position in Australia with respect to the use of Indigenous languages in Parliament, touching upon the symbolic importance of facilitating Indigenous language use, the practical benefits flowing from the same, and the logistical issues – including interpretation, translation, recording and funding – that arise. In the course of our discussion we focus in particular on recent developments and, where possible, we drawn on comparisons with the Canadian experience.
When women backbenchers participate in Question Period and Private Members’ Business, are their interventions gendered? Are they more likely than men to address stereotypically feminine issues and less likely to address stereotypically masculine issues? In this article, the authors investigate these questions by analyzing all of the interventions in Question Period and Private Members’ Business by backbenchers in the 42nd Parliament between September 16 and December 13, 2018. Using software to code the interventions, they determined that the gendered division of labour on stereotypically feminine issues was much more evident in Question Period than Private Members’ Business. While women were no less likely than men to address stereotypically masculine issues, they were more likely than men to intervene on matters considered stereotypically feminine. The authors conclude that judging what these patterns of gendered interventions mean for our political culture and institutions depends on a person’s perspective.