Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, Fifth Edition. Editor: Kate Ryan-Lloyd, Acting Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. Assistant Editors: Artour Sogomonian, Procedural Clerk; Susan Sourial, Clerk Assistant, Committees and Interparliamentary Relations; and Ron Wall, Manager, Committee Research Services.
It is an ancient adage that one should not judge a book by its cover. In the case of the fifth edition of Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia (hereafter referred to as PP5), the cover does provide a clue as to content. Not because of its look but because of its size. PP5 is a large format book that reveals, upon reading, large ambitions.
For PP5, editor Kate Ryan-Lloyd (now Clerk of the BC Legislative Assembly) and her team built on the ground-breaking work of E. George MacMinn, the long-serving and much-admired former Clerk who authored the first four editions. But while Ryan-Lloyd acknowledges her debt to MacMinn, she has also constructed a very different work.
In the preface to the third edition (published in 1997), MacMinn writes that a new edition was required (after 10 years) because “if a parliamentary authority is to remain useful to a Legislative Assembly, it must be current” (iii).
The organization and content of the first four editions shows books intended as a reference work for parliamentary practitioners. Like Beauchesne’s Parliamentary Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, these editions contained concise passages of germane procedural information ready-made for inclusion in rulings or statements from the Chair. These editions did not contain much historical or constitutional context because the persons using them already knew that information.
In her preface, Ryan-Lloyd makes it clear that PP5 is aimed at a broader audience and is intended to serve a broader purpose: “More comprehensive content, numbered sections, callouts with key information, an improved index and modern design are hallmarks of this edition. It is my hope that these elements make the content more user-friendly and accessible to Members and all British Columbians”(v) (emphasis added)…I trust that [PP5] will continue to serve as a useful reference tool for Members, Table Officers and staff. It is also my hope that this edition will contribute to further transparency and understanding of how the Legislative Assembly operates. The online availability of this book is a step toward ensuring greater accessibility to this public institution, which is of importance to all British Columbians” (vi).
So, PP5 is designed to provide the same utility as the first four editions while also providing a more encyclopedic narrative of parliamentary procedure, its origins and evolution. This makes PP5 more like Erskine May and House of Commons Procedure and Practice, and less like Beauchesne or its four predecessors in BC.
Does PP5 achieve its ambitious goals? PP5 is a very attractive book. Each page is a full 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper bordered by broad margins. While the first four editions were text based without graphics, flow charts, and other visual assists, a casual flip through PP5 reveals colour photographs, architectural drawings, and different coloured text to draw attention to certain pieces of information. PP5 is certainly a step forward when it comes to the visual appeal of a procedural manual.
In terms of content, the first four editions were organized numerically by standing order. PP5 is organized into 18 thematic chapters. Chapter One is an historical and constitutional overview. Subsequent chapters proceed from general themes (the basis of procedure, the role of Members, etc.) to more specific ones. Each chapter also begins with an introductory section followed by others that take the reader into matters that are increasingly specific and technical.
No matter how visually appealing and well-organized PP5 is, few British Columbians will read an entire procedural manual. But they don’t have to in order to better understand their Legislative Assembly. An interested non-practitioner could learn a lot by reading the introductory chapter and the introductory sections of subsequent chapters.
That being said, PP5’s value as a public education tool will probably come from its on line presence, not from the hardcopy versions of the book. The key is to make potential users aware that the resource exists, where it can be found and how it can be used.
Designing a procedural manual to appeal to a general audience runs the risk of making the work less useful, or more difficult to use, for Members, Table Officers and other practitioners. But this hurdle has also been overcome.
For example, organizing the chapters thematically may leave the practitioner spending time searching the text for information regarding a specific standing order. However, PP5 contains an index to the standing orders by number indicating the page on which each standing order is referenced.
Other important features include: a detailed table of contents and index; chapters that are separated into numbered sections for easier reference; the Standing Orders and relevant legislation current to January 1, 2020; seven appendices containing historical information and a bibliography of sources cited.
Content needed for a useful reference work is here and organized in a way that maximizes utility. Of course, each practitioner will quickly customize their personal copy with dog-eared pages, highlighting, underlining, flags, and marginal notes to mark and annotate those portions most relevant to them.
Assembling a procedural manual is a daunting task at the best of times and the last couple of years have not been the best of times for the BC Legislative Assembly. Ryan-Lloyd and her team deserve credit for forging ahead with PP5 in the face of other distractions.
In the preface Ryan-Lloyd also expresses gratitude to Speaker Darryl Plecas and all Members of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee “who supported the production of the fifth edition” (vi). The gratitude is well extended. An updated version of the fourth edition would have been, one suspects, a less costly venture. Fortunately, the Speaker and LAMC agreed that a more ambitious work was needed. Their confidence in Ryan-Lloyd and her team is well-founded. Members, Table Officers, staff and all British Columbians will be well-served by PP5. The challenge will be to get as many as possible to take advantage of the great resource that is now at their disposal.
Retired Clerk, Yukon Legislative Assembly