Roundtable: Parliamentary Reform

Article 3 / 12 , Vol 39 No.1 (Spring)

Roundtable: Parliamentary Reform

In May 2015, the Canadian Study of Parliament Group held a conference in Ottawa to discuss parliamentary reform initiatives of the past, present and future. In this roundtable, some of the presenters from that conference discuss reforms from recent history and the prospects for change in parliament in the near term and whether they are optimistic or pessimistic that positive change will occur.

CPR: The Canadian Study of Parliament Group’s conference programme was loosely structured on where we’ve been, where we are now and where we’re going, and I’d like to adopt a similar structure here. Can you tell us a bit about how parliament has changed and evolved over the past 20 to 30 years?

Senate Reform: An Incremental Option

Article 4 / 10 , Vol 38 No 3 (Autumn)

Senate Reform: An Incremental Option

Although constitutional barriers to major Senate reform make the task appear daunting, significant change can be achieved through deliberate evolution which is shaped by consistent objectives. In this article the author identifies an incoherence about the defining purpose of the Senate as a central reason for the failure of past reform initiatives. Outlining the incremental reform option, he suggests practical steps, notably introducing a “job description” and particular qualifications required of Senate appointees. This could improve both appointments and accountability, and also support future nomination committees or other mechanisms.

Canada is once again experiencing a cycle of media attention to alleged Senate scandals and opinion polls showing wide support for change. Unless public emotion about the Senate can be connected to practical solutions and action, however, history suggests that today’s intensity will merely be the prelude to tomorrow’s fatigue and collective indifference. This article explores an approach to reform that does not rely upon constitutional change and could thus be initiated immediately. The Senate today is a very different institution from the Upper House created in 1867 and will continue to evolve, either by default or as a result of deliberate effort. If its evolution is shaped by consistent objectives, significant reform of the Senate can be accomplished incrementally.

Funding the Officers of Parliament: Canada’s Experiment

Article 9 / 12 , Vol 33 No 2 (Summer)

Funding the Officers of Parliament: Canada’s Experiment

The House of Commons Advisory Panel on the Funding and Oversight of Officers of Parliament was established in the fall of 2005 as a two-year pilot project that, more recently, has continued on an ad hoc basis. Centrally, it provides the Treasury Board with recommendations from Parliament concerning the budget requests of officers of Parliament. The expectation was that this could make Parliament the de facto decision-maker about officers of Parliament budgets, and free the officers from concerns about budgetary retribution should their actions antagonize a government. This article provides background on the Panel, an overview of how it works, and an examination of noteworthy developments. It concludes by exploring potential issues and some relevant options.

It is the exclusive prerogative of the Crown to place recommendations for spending before Parliament. Strict adherence to this principle underlies what has remained the central formal limitation upon the independence of the officers of Parliament in Canada at the national level. With the exception of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the estimates of the officers of Parliament have been developed in the same way as those for government departments.1Increases to spending authorities (in effect, organizational budgets) are achieved by submissions to the Treasury Board, developed through a process involving scrutiny by Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) officials and discussions between them and officer of Parliament staff. Ultimately, submissions are considered by the Board along with TBS recommendations. Treasury Board decisions determine the spending estimates that are subsequently placed before Parliament by the President of the Treasury Board for approval.