The Role of Parliamentary Officers: A Case Study of Two Officers

The Role of Parliamentary Officers: A Case Study of Two Officers

Parliament, the ten provincial legislatures and the three territorial legislatures now host more than seventy-five independent or quasi independent parliamentary officers. Many political scientists have argued that the influence of parliamentary officers is a symptom of Parliament’s decline. The popularity of these officers with the general public reflects the corrosive cynicism about party politics now pervading the Canadian political culture. This article explores the academic critique through a study of the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO).

After the 1993 election the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development recommended the creation of an environmental policy advocate with a broad mandate to promote the greening of Canadian society. Instead the Liberal government accepted the advice of Auditor General Denis Desautels, that the new commissioner should be limited to the auditing of existing environmental programs, and not the advocacy of new policies. Policy advocacy was more appropriately left to MPs.