The National Assembly of Quebec was one of many Canadian parliaments that had to confront the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, the author outlines the steps taken to ensure parliamentary activities could continue and what temporary – and longer-term – changes were made to respond to the directives of public health officials.
This research note compares the responses of Canadian provincial cabinet governments to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic health crisis with a focus on New Brunswick’s unique and somewhat exceptional formation of an all party cabinet committee on COVID-19 in March 2020. The article reviews the responses of provincial cabinets to the pandemic with special attention to their relationship to opposition parties and leaders. While the Savoie thesis has dominated Canadian understanding of cabinet governance, we suggest that centralization of power is only one likely feature and not the dominant feature of cabinet government. With our findings of the current cases, we argue that the defining characteristic of cabinet government in Westminster systems is its “flexibility of method”1
and “capacity for change”.2
Like so many other Canadians, political staffers working for MPs and Senators on Parliament Hill and in constituency offices navigated some dramatic changes in their jobs in the early months of the global pandemic. In this article, the author reports on survey responses from 175 of these staffers and individual interviews with 10 MP staffers (representing all officially recognized parties in the House of Commons) and one Senate assistant. He notes that many staffers reported working longer hours and experiencing challenging work-life balance when working from home, frustration from the lack of information they received about government programs relating to the pandemic, and stress from the effects of isolation and fears about their health and safety when working from their offices. He concludes first by reiterating the important role political staffers, and particular frontline constituency office staff, play in assisting Canadians navigate the federal bureaucracy and, second, by cautioning parties and the parliamentary administration that counselling and services for staffers may be needed to minimize the harmful effects of this unprecedented period.
Canadian MPs have only very recently had access to paid maternity and parental leave. Yet there is an absence in related rules and arrangements that would allow them to continue representing constituents while being granted leave from the House of Commons. In this article, the authors contrast parenting leave in the Canadian House of Commons with the arrangements now permitted in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons. In light of the experiments with virtual proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors suggest a future where a hybrid parliament that combines in-person and virtual participation or one that permits features like proxy voting would be desirable for not only MPs on parenting leave, but also for any MP who could not be present during a sitting for medical necessity, bereavement, inclement weather, geographic distance, or many other reasons.
Following the initial flurry of activity and uncertainty, as institutions responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world has settled into a new normal in which the disease – and actions to prevent its spread such as travel restrictions and physical/social distancing – will remain part of life for the foreseeable future. Building on a previous article that examined the early actions of Canada’s federal parliament as the world confronted outbreaks of this novel coronavirus, the author now explores how to identify best practices that ensure the health and safety of parliamentarians and parliamentary staff while respecting parliamentary privilege and constitutional requirements. The author suggests that hybrid sittings (a mix of in-person and virtual participation) combined with a greater role for committee work could become a workable medium-term solution for parliaments during a pandemic. He cautions, however, that it must be parliament and not the government that decides how to fulfill the functions that underpin the Westminster system, maintain notions of parliamentary confidence in government and ensure adequate opportunity for opposition review to ensure accountability. Moreover, he notes that any additional authority granted by parliament to the government or self-restrictions imposed in light of pandemic conditions must be temporary and limited to the duration of the pandemic.
In May 2020, the Canadian Parliamentary Review surveyed table clerks at all Canadian legislatures, with support from the Samara Centre for Democracy. In this article, the author summarizes the responses (and adds updates) to provide a rich account of the state of parliamentary democracy in Canada during the early pandemic and into the late spring and early summer. The picture that emerges is one of rapid adaptation in some cases, stasis in others, and legislative staff everywhere working hard to accommodate a new logistical and political reality. Most striking is the deep variance between legislatures in Canada—from those that have not met at all since the pandemic arrived, to those that have carried on with only minimal changes, to those that have radically adapted to incorporate remote and virtual proceedings.
Since the establishment of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905, there have been 20 known instances of familial relationships among Members of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. Table 1 presents a full list of kinship ties. Types of kinship have included: fathers and sons, a mother and son, husbands and wives, brothers, a father and daughter, a brother and sister, a grandmother and grandson, a grandfather and grandson, and an uncle and nephew. Other interesting observations of the kinship ties include:
In 1919 Sarah K. Ramsland not only became the first female to be elected to the Legislative Assembly, but she also became the first and only wife to immediately succeed her husband, as her husband Magnus died in office as the Member for Pelly and she won the subsequent by-election in that constituency. Though re-elected in the General Election of 1921, she was defeated in her bid for re-election in 1925.
The Ramslands do not represent the only occasion of one family member immediately succeeding another. Benjamin Heppner was elected to the constituency of Rosthern in 1995 and 1999, and then to the new constituency of Martensville in 2003. After his death in September 2006, his daughter Nancy ran in and won the subsequent Martensville by-election in March 2007. She was re-elected in the following three General Elections.
On three separate occasions family members have served concurrently in the Legislative Assembly. Fathers and sons Oakland W. Valleau and Delmar S. Valleau served together as MLAs from 1944-48; John H. Brockelbank and John E. Brockelbank from 1964-67, and brothers Edward H. Walker and Robert A. Walker from 1951-56.
The political leanings of related members have differed only three times. Dennis M. Ham was elected in 1975 as a Progressive Conservative while his sister Lynda M. Haverstock was elected 1991 as a Liberal, later sitting as an Independent. William M. Martin was elected in 1916 as a Liberal while his nephew Gordon B. Martin (1986) was Progressive Conservative. Finally, W. Ross Thatcher was elected as a Liberal in 1960 as was his son Colin in 1975, though Colin was re-elected in 1977 as a Progressive Conservative.
There has been one known instance of three generations of a family serving in the Legislative Assembly. Tony Merchant was an MLA from 1975-1978, his mother Sally Merchant from 1964–1967, and his grandfather Vincent Smith from 1934–1938.
In addition to kinship relationships in the Saskatchewan Legislature, there are also cases of kinship between elected officials at the provincial level and the federal level, as outlined in Table 2.
Joseph W. Burton was elected as the MLA for Humboldt in 1938-1943, then as the Member of Parliament for Humboldt from 1943-1949 (returning to provincial politics as the representative for the same constituency from 1952-1956). His son John S. Burton was elected to the House of Commons as the member for the Regina East electoral district in 1968 and served as such until his defeat in the 1972 federal election.
Pana P. Merchant was the second woman to represent Saskatchewan in the Senate, serving from 2002-2017; her husband is Tony Merchant, the member for the provincial constituency of Regina Wascana from 1975-1978.
Employing research from his doctoral dissertation, the author breaks with the consensus position that the first meeting of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada on December 17, 1792, marks the beginning of parliamentarism in Quebec. Instead, he traces a rudimentary form of parliamentarism back to 1764 and shows how it developed over nearly 30 years.
On December 17, 1792, the first members of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada met in the chapel of the episcopal palace in Quebec City. This historic event is considered the beginning of parliamentarism in Quebec. But I must break with this consensus interpretation. In my doctoral dissertation on the origins of parliamentarism in Quebec, entitled Aux sources du parlementarisme dans la Province de Québec, 1764–1791, I show that the foundations of parliamentarism in the province precede the Constitutional Act of 1791.1
Fifty individuals with visible minority origins won their way into Parliament in the federal election of October 31, 2019 – the largest number of such MPs ever to be elected. However, the achievement is tempered somewhat by the fact that the increase from the 2015 election is fairly modest and the population-based deficit in representation is about where it had been in that previous election. On the other hand, when candidates are taken into consideration, the picture that emerges for 2019 is somewhat more positive. The evidence points to the parties, at least in their local guises, continuing to do more to champion visible minority candidacies. Indeed, it is possible that the candidate data yield a better indication of the openness of the electoral process to minorities than simply a tally of the number of visible minority MPs elected.