Thoughts on a Charter of the Commonwealth

Article 1 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Vol 35 No 2Thoughts on a Charter of the Commonwealth

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia in October 2011, the leaders agreed to study the possibility of a Commonwealth Charter. The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, subsequently asked the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to do a consultation and report on the feasibility and advisability of the proposed Charter. The following article is an extract from the Senate hearings.

Québec Monument to Honour Women in Politics

Article 2 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Québec Monument to Honour Women in Politics

In Québec, as of the election on December 8, 2008, around thirty percent of MNAs are women. In fact, women have not been a part of Québec’s political landscape for long. Marie-Claire Kirkland was the first woman to win a seat in the National Assembly, and that was not until December 14, 1961. She was the lone female voice among hundreds of men for 12 years until she left politics in 1973, at which time Lise Bacon was elected. In 1976, Ms Bacon was re-elected, and four new women also won seats, under the Parti Québécois banner: Lise Payette, Louise Sauvé Cuerrier, Jocelyne Ouellet and Denise Leblanc-Bantey. In the Fall of 2012 a statue on the grounds of the National Assembly will honour all women in political life.

The role of women in politics is a subject that comes up often during elections. How many women are running? What do they do? Do they approach politics differently than men? Do they truly represent women’s interests? There are so many good questions being asked that we often forget that the fight for equality in politics is not yet won. There is still room for many more women in the political world, which has favoured men for far too long. As of October 31, 2011, only 19.5% of people elected to parliaments around the world were women.

Prime Minister’s Questions in the United Kingdom

Article 3 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Prime Minister’s Questions in the United Kingdom

At Westminster every Wednesday when the House in session the Prime Minister responds to questions for about thirty minutes. In recent years there has been some discussion in Canada about the pros and cons of instituting a similar practice. This article outlines the history of the British procedure and some problems that have developed with it over the years.

For most of the public Prime Minister’s Questions is the shop window of the House of Commons. The media coverage of that thirty minute slot dominates all other proceedings in Parliament during the rest of the week. If the country comes to an adverse conclusion about the House because of what it witnesses in those exchanges, then the noble work of a dozen Select Committees will pale into insignificance by comparison. If we are serious about enhancing the standing of the House in the eyes of those whom we serve then we cannot ignore the seriously impaired impression which PMQs has been and is leaving on the electorate. It is the elephant in the green room.

The Québec National Assembly

Article 4 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

The Québec National Assembly

The legislature of Québec is one of the oldest in Canada. Although it exhibits the main characteristics of a British-style legislature, its history is marked by the cleavage between anglophones and francophones and the affirmation of the Québécois identity. This unique background sets the Québec National Assembly apart from the other provincial legislatures and is reflected in its institutional framework, party dynamics and members. This paper is an overview of the principal features of the Québec National Assembly including its history, procedures and membership.

The history of the Québec legislature1 begins with the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the British colony into two provinces and gave each an elected legislature. The legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada were structured like Westminster and saw their share of conflict and experimentation. The system in Lower Canada was composed of the elected Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council and a governor responsible for the executive function. The latter was assisted by the Executive Council, whose members were chosen by London. The system was only superficially democratic. In fact, the Legislative Assembly’s powers were extremely limited. The cleavage between anglophones and francophones was at the forefront of political conflicts. Francophones were determined to see their interests, institutions and language respected as illustrated by a fierce debate on the status of the French language at the start of the first legislative session. The anglophones controlled the legislature and had a firm grip on the budget, which fed the francophones’ anger. In 1838, the Patriotes revolt forced a suspension of the Constitution. Political institutions were temporarily replaced by a special unelected council, during which time Lord Durham produced his famous report.

The Westminster Approach to Prorogation, Dissolution and Fixed Date Elections

Article 5 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

The Westminster Approach to Prorogation, Dissolution and Fixed Date Elections

The Queen has various reserve powers, or personal prerogatives, including prorogation, dissolution and summoning of parliament, and dismissing and appointing a prime minister. The use of these powers is pursuant to unwritten constitutional conventions and are, in theory, the same for all Commonwealth countries that have retained the Queen as head of state. Yet in practice they operate differently – far more democratically – in England, where the Queen is present, than in Canada, where a governor general has been appointed to represent the Queen and manage these powers on Her behalf. This paper examines the British approach, contrasts it with the Canadian, and shows how Canada could improve its democracy by adopting the British practices.

Re-examining the Estimates and Supply Process

Article 6 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Re-examining the Estimates and Supply Process

In February 2012 the Standing Committee on Government Operations undertook a study on the state of Canada’s Estimates and Supply process. One of the first witnesses to be called before the Committee was the parliamentary Budget Officer. The following is his opening presentation. For the full transcript see the meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, February 29, 2012.

The time is right for substantive change. The context for change is both institutional and fiscal. From an institutional vantage point, I agree with Senator Murray who recently described the estimates and supply process as an “empty ritual”.

Bilingualism and Bijuralism at the Supreme Court of Canada

Article 7 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Bilingualism and Bijuralism at the Supreme Court of Canada

Section 5 of the Supreme Court Act states “Any person may be appointed a judge who is or has been a judge of a superior court of a province or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years standing at the bar of a province.” Other than a legislated requirement for three judges to be members of the Québec Bar, there are no other qualifications. In June 2008, Bill C-559 was introduced by Yvon Godin, MP for Acadie-Bathurst. It required that candidates for the Supreme Court may be appointed only if he or she understands French and English without the assistance of an interpreter. Although the Bill did not become law, this article shows that bilingualism for the Court is a highly controversial topic. It also argues that a more important issue, bijuralism, was largely ignored in the recent debate. The author believes that Canada would be better off if the debate about bilingualism included a debate about bijuralism.

Ask most people in Canada about bilingualism, and chances are you will elicit an opinion, whether positive or negative. Ask people about bijuralism and chances are you will elicit a confused look. Bilingualism is covered in the media, debated regularly in Parliament and taught in schools. Few in Canada, outside the legal field, would even know Canada is a bijural country with nine common law provinces and one civil law province, Québec.

50th Canadian Regional CPA Conference, Québec

Article 8 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

50th Canadian Regional CPA Conference, Québec

The Fiftieth Conference of the Canadian Region, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association takes place in Québec City July 15-21, 2012. This article traces the evolution of the Canadian Region with particular emphasis on previous conferences organized by the Québec Branch.

According to Ian Imrie, former Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Region, the rationale for a meeting of Canadian representatives within the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was partly to help legislators develop an understanding of the parliamentary process. Also,

Parliamentary Bookshelf Vol 35 No 2

Article 9 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

Parliamentary Bookshelf

The Evolving Canadian Crown, by Jennifer Smith and D. Michael Jackson, Montréal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012, 248 pages.

In this year of the Diamond Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II, who succeeded to the throne at the young age of 25 in 1952 following the premature death of her father, King George VI, is celebrating sixty years on the throne. The Queen’s reign has been by most measures a great success. Despite the tremendous changes which have occurred in the United Kingdom, Canada and the Commonwealth over the last sixty years, the Queen and “The Firm” (the other members of the Royal Family) have, with only a few notable false steps, demonstrated a remarkable capacity to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and expectations.