On Heckling in the Chamber

Samara’s recent report into heckling in the Canadian House of Commons (No One is Listening) proposes a number of recommendations to address the situation. It is important to stress that heckling is not a widespread problem. As others have pointed out, it’s a very localized phenomenon, largely limited to one proceeding: Question Period. This is true of pretty much every single Westminster-style parliament out there. If anyone bothered to watch all other parts of the average parliamentary day, this fact would quickly become quite clear to them. The bulk of the parliamentary day in the House of Commons is very decorous and respectful. The behaviours seen during Question Period are not the norm — far from it. The Samara Report […]

The Casting Vote and Confidence Matters

Normally, the Speaker in most Westminster-style parliaments does not participate in debate or vote. However, in the rare instances of a tied division result, the Speaker (except in New Zealand) is called upon to give what is called the casting vote to break the tie. Understandably, for the Speaker to command the trust and respect of the legislature, it is very important that the Speaker’s impartiality not be called into question. For this reason, there are three principles that guide the Speaker in the matter of casting votes. They are: That the Speaker should always vote for further discussion, where this is possible; That, where no further discussion is possible, decisions should not be taken except by a majority; and […]

"It is harder to demand MPs have longer to debate crucial bills once you spend a protracted period of time listening to them do so."

Ian Dunt, tweeted during the second day of the UK House of Commons debate on the Brexit bill

On time limits on speeches

Journalist and author Dale Smith’s latest column for Loonie Politics, “Debate management is a lost art in Canada” (which is paywalled) provides readers with an excellent overview of the decline of parliamentary debate in the Canadian House of Commons. Smith identifies a number of factors that have contributed to the dual problems of 1) the poor quality of debate and 2) time management problems that force governments to rely on time allocation and closure (issues I’ve blogged about extensively, most recently here). In particular, Smith targets the advent of speaking lists provided to the Speaker by Whips and party House leaders, and the reliance on prepared speeches that are then read. This combination creates a situation where there is no […]

On Brexit and parliamentary power plays

Following the victory of the “Leave” side in the referendum on the UK’s status in the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would resign as PM and leader of the Tory party in October — to give the party time to choose a new leader in time for their October Party Conference. For Canadians, if that seems like a really fast time frame in which to have a leadership change, they do party leadership properly — it’s largely in the hands of the party caucus. The party’s 1922 committee, a committee of all backbench Conservative MPs that meets weekly when the Commons is sitting,  will oversee the contest, most likely using the same rules used in the 2005 leadership […]

On Government Motion No. 6

On the evening of May 17, 2016, in the Canadian House of Commons, the Government House Leader filed notice of a motion (Government Business No. 6) which, if adopted, would have imposed even greater, albeit temporary, Government control over the organization of House Business until the House adjourned for the summer. You can read the full text of the motion here, but be forewarned that without a detailed knowledge of the House’s Standing Orders, the text won’t mean much to you. Unsurprisingly, the Opposition parties were incensed by this move, and a question of privilege was raised in the House the next day by the New Democratic Party House Leader, Peter Julian. Mr. Julian argued that the “draconian” motion breached […]

On Organizing House Business Sensibly

In the previous Canadian parliament, a question of privilege was raised concerning the then Government’s excessive recourse to time allocation and how these guillotine measures impacted Members from smaller parties. In the Canadian House of Commons, if a Member belongs to a party which has fewer than 12 elected members in the House, they do not have recognized party status and are treated as independents. Because virtually all procedures in the House of Commons are organized around parties (the officially recognized ones at least) rather than Members as the central agents, this means that the so-called “independent” MPs have extremely limited opportunities to participate in debates at the best of times. The recourse to time allocation on a bill more […]