The Senate – An Essential House of Parliament

Article 2 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

The Senate – An Essential House of Parliament

The Senate plays a critical role in the form and function of the Canadian Parliament. In this article, the Hon. Noël A. Kinsella highlights the Senate’s role as a regional counterweight to representation by population, an independent source of legislative review, an excellent source for investigative policy studies, and a place where appointments can sometimes balance disparities in representation of the Canadian population in the elected chamber. This article is revised from remarks made to the 31st Canadian Presiding Officers’ Conference in Ottawa.

Yet again the Senate is at the centre of a constitutional debate. Last November, the Supreme Court of Canada sat three days hearing arguments on the Senate, dealing with various issues about its reform or abolition. These questions were brought forward by the federal government to clarify the parameters of possible changes or reforms to the Senate. In brief, the government wants to know what it can do without involving the constitutional amending formula of either 7/50 or unanimity. This concentrated attention is not new: in Quebec City in 1864, the Fathers of Confederation devoted six days to the topic of the Senate.

Perspectives on the Election of Committee Chairs

Article 3 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

Perspectives on the Election of Committee Chairs

The following is a revised and abridged version of the October 21, 2013 debate on MP Brad Trost’s private member’s motion (Motion No. 431) which proposes to instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to: (a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the members of House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees; (b) study the practices of other Westminster-style Parliaments in relation to the election of Committee Chairs; (c) propose any necessary modifications to the Standing Orders and practices of the House; and (d) report its findings to the House no later than six months following the adoption of this order.

Brad Trost (Saskatoon—Humboldt, CPC):

The Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building: Honouring our Past and Embracing our Future

Article 4 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

The Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building: Honouring our Past and Embracing our Future

This article looks at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly building and discusses the political developments that led to its construction.

Political Donations and Democratic Equality in Canada

Article 5 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

Political Donations and Democratic Equality in Canada

Equality is a key tenet of democracy. With respect to the financing of federal political parties, one issue relevant to equality concerns has received surprisingly little attention: the phasing out of political parties’ annual per-vote subsidy, set to occur in 2015. Donations from individuals will henceforth become the parties’ primary source of funding; but not all Canadians donate equally. By examining a sample of disclosed donors from Elections Canada databases, combined with census data on neighbourhood income levels, this study establishes that donors are substantially more likely to come from wealthier sections of Canadian society. Despite a relatively low cap on donations – individuals can currently give no more than $1,200 annually – wealthier Canadians carry disproportionate weight in the total aggregate of donation dollars. The study concludes by briefly comparing federal rules to regulations at the provincial level and suggesting methods of mitigating inequalities in the political finance system.

The very essence of democracy is equality.1 Fairness in politics is undeniably something Canadians desire. Since the 2011 federal election, these principles have been front and centre, as a number of issues relating to the conduct of elections have been making headlines and have been actively debated by Canadians concerned about the quality of democracy in this country.

House of Commons Committee Chairs: Perspectives of Two Members of Parliament

Article 6 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

House of Commons Committee Chairs: Perspectives of Two Members of Parliament

In this article, the author looks at the issue of the impartiality of chairs of the House of Commons standing committees during the 41st Parliament. He explains the importance of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, constitutional conventions on responsible government and the disciplinary mechanisms influencing the behaviour of committee members. He suggests reforms to improve the operation of Canada’s House of Commons by examining the situation in the United Kingdom and the way in which the Standing Orders of the House of Commons have evolved over time.

Changing Times at the Canadian Parliamentary Review

Article 7 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

Changing Times at the Canadian Parliamentary Review

The new editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review introduces himself to readers in this article. He explains his approach to his new role and to the publication as being one which fosters discussion and debate about new ideas about parliamentary democracy while recognizing its distinguished past. Particular emphasis will be given to people and projects which seek to continue to make these institutions responsive and relevant to Canadians. A concluding section outlines some of the editorial board’s proposals for the Review during this time of transition and renewal.

As I begin my tenure as editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review, I pause to consider and question my professional purpose and the kind of contribution I can make to this long-standing and well-regarded institution as it enters a period of immense change. I imagine many parliamentarians may have had similar thoughts as they first entered their respective legislatures.

Parliamentary Bookshelf Vol 37 No 1

Article 8 / 10 , Vol 37 No 1 (Spring)

Parliamentary Bookshelf

Imperfect Democracies: The Democratic Deficit in Canada and the United States by Patti Tamara Lenard and Richard Simeon, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2013, 360pp.

Reforming the Senate, ensuring backbench MPs have a voice, alternative voting systems to first-past-the-post, and election finance reform are all issues that Canadians have debated since our inception as a nation. Likewise, the power of the executive branch, a do-nothing congress, political finance & Super PACs, and reforming the legal system have preoccupied policy-makers in the US. In each case, these reforms are debated on the basis that they will, or will not, help to create a more democratic society.