Some Personal Thoughts on Question Period

Article 1 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Vol 33 No 4Some Personal Thoughts on Question Period

On October 6, 2010 a Private Member’s motion by Michael Chong to reform Question Period was adopted by the House of Commons and sent to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. (For details of the proposed reform see the Autumn issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review). In this article one member of Parliament explains why he supports reform of Question Period.

Reflections on Reforming Question Period

Article 2 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Reflections on Reforming Question Period

There has been much discussion recently about ways to reform Question Period. Much of it has centred around motion M-517 by Michael Chong. (See Autumn 2010 issue for a full discussion of this motion). In this article a longtime MP and former House Leader put the issue into a longer term perspective.

I would like to start by congratulating my colleague, Michael Chong, for his efforts to reform Question Period in the House of Commons. The motion he has brought before the House is an ambitious one. Using the United Kingdom as an example, Mr. Chong has clearly and succinctly outlined how he believes Question Period can be changed for the better.

Oversight of Regulations by Parliamentarians

Article 3 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Oversight of Regulations by Parliamentarians

Regulations sometimes referred to as delegated legislation or subordinate legislation are a common feature in modern parliamentary democracies in Canada and throughout the world. They give specific form and substance to laws and set out the finer details of an act’s operation. The common characteristic is that the parent statute must specify that such orders can be made and for what purpose. This article examines some of the advantages and disadvantages that have arisen from their use. It also discusses those jurisdictions that have developed processes for the review of regulations. Lastly, it will provide some suggestions on how to increase the role of parliamentarians in the review process.

Practical considerations and the administrative needs of modern states have made it unavoidable that legislatures shift some of their lawmaking authority to the executive branch. Governments typically pass hundreds–if not thousands–of pieces of delegated legislation each year in order to function effectively and efficiently. Obviously, legislative assemblies are simply incapable of processing every regulation in the same manner as a bill. Parliamentary time and resources are simply too scarce. Furthermore, many regulatory initiatives are specific in scope, and would be unlikely to warrant the full consideration of the House.

The Role of the Governor General: Some Lessons from Australia and the Commonwealth

Article 4 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

The Role of the Governor General: Some Lessons from Australia and the Commonwealth

As Canadians wrestle with issues of prorogation, coalitions, fixed elections and even the nomenclature of their head of state it is useful to look at practices in other Commonwealth countries. Of course each country will have its own tradition and conventions but we can better understand Canadian issues by putting them in a comparative perspective. This paper looks at recent developments relating to the role of the Governor General including his/her role in the making or unmaking of Governments.

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

Article 5 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

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.

Toward a Rational Redistribution of Seats in Canada’s Senate

Article 6 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Toward a Rational Redistribution of Seats in Canada’s Senate

The current division of seats in the Senate of Canada provides neither representation-by-population nor provincial equality, nor any compromise between the two. It is based on no consistent formula or principle. It is an incoherent hodge-podge of obsolete nineteenth-century regionalism and later exceptions and adjustments. This paper proposes three fundamental principles that might assist future leaders in rethinking seat distribution. First, the obsolete regionalism that formed the basis of the current distribution of Senate seats ought to be abandoned and seats distributed on a strictly provincial basis; second, the distribution of seats ought to give some weight to the equal franchise of each province as a member of the Canadian federation; and third, to the extent that the number of seats held by each province is based on a variable (such as population), the constitution should entrench a formula responsive to that variable instead of a fixed allocation, to reduce the necessity of future constitutional amendments.

At present, there are 105 regular seats in the Senate. One province has four seats, five provinces have six each, two have ten each, two have 24 each, and the territories have one each. These various levels of representation are purely arbitrary, and not connected to population, geographic size, cultural distinctiveness or any other factor. The Prime Minister may appoint either four or eight extra Senators to pass contentious legislation. None of those extra Senators may come from Newfoundland and Labrador or any of the territories. Many Senators represent entire provinces, but many others choose a specific area within the province as their ‘senatorial designation.’ Only Quebec has permanently delineated senatorial districts. None of those districts are in Quebec’s north, so that region is formally without any representation in the Senate.

Parliamentarians’ Influence on Public Policy: The Case of Education

Article 7 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

Parliamentarians’ Influence on Public Policy: The Case of Education

In the 1990s, nearly 35% of Quebec high school students dropped out before graduation. A number of lobby groups, including the Centrale de l’enseignement du Québec and the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, took advantage of the 1994 election campaign to call for a provincial conference on education. In October 1995, Education Minister Jean Garon appointed a Commission for the Estates General on Education (CEGE), which after 16 months of work submitted a report titled Renewing Our Education System: Ten Priority Areas. On the basis of this report, Pauline Marois, who succeeded Jean Garon, proposed a far-reaching overhaul of the province’s education system. This case study shows that education reform, like other public policies, was the result of work by the government and by advisory bodies. A number of authors assert that the power of representative bodies is in decline, but few studies have analyzed their role in the making of public policy. The aim of this article is to understand the way in which the parliamentarians in Quebec’s National Assembly influenced the content of the 1997 education reform.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer Two Years Later: A Progress Report

Article 8 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

The Parliamentary Budget Officer Two Years Later: A Progress Report

In March 2008 Canada’s newest watchdog, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, was appointed with considerable fanfare and widespread support. Two years later the record of achievements is considerable – five economic and fiscal updates and more than twenty research reports, all of which have been widely praised – but both the post and its first incumbent, Kevin Page, have also proven highly controversial. This article explores the development of the office and the problems that have surfaced since the Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed.

New Obligations of MPs Under the Lobbying Act

Article 9 / 11 , Vol 33 No 4 (Winter)

New Obligations of MPs Under the Lobbying Act

In response to a debate about the access that former MPs have in the corridors of power, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day announced that the rules for designated public office holders would be expanded to include MPs, Senators, and the senior staff in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons and in the Senate. After a comparatively short public comment period, the new rules went into effect in concert with the return of Parliament on September 20th, 2010. This article looks at the results of some of the changes.

Members of Parliament and Senators now have very specific obligations under the Lobbying Act, which apply to all designated public office holders (DPOHs). The three “R”s of Lobbying in Canada are: Register, Record and Report. Only the second applies to DPOHs. MPs and Senators do not have to report on their activities and who they have met with. MPs and Senators are required to keep records about what pre-arranged oral communications they have with registered lobbyists. They are required to keep these records so that they can verify the reports of lobbyists when asked by the Lobbying Commissioner. Lobbyists are the only ones who are obligated to register their lobbying activity and subsequently report their pre-arranged meetings.