Reforming Question Period, Pt 1 – Canada

Question period, oral questions, questions orales. No matter the name, Question Period is perhaps the focal point of parliamentary debate for most. This is an unfortunate development, however, since it has become an increasingly raucous, hyper-partisan showdown which accomplishes little other than to confirm in the minds of many that Parliament is a childish, churlish place. This hasn’t always been the case. The House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition, provides us with a detailed history of the evolution of Question Period in the House of Commons, which I encourage you to read. Since I don’t want the bulk of this post to focus on the evolution of Question Period, I will summarize as follows: the first oral question […]

Mr. Speaker

Peter Milliken announced recently that he won’t seek re-election. Mr. Milliken has been an MP for 22 years, but more importantly, he has been the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons for the past nine years. During that time, Milliken has figured in some rather momentous events in Canadian politics.  He is the longest serving Speaker in Canadian history, elected to the post three times and acclaimed once. There have been only 10 tie-breaking votes cast by the 34 Speakers who have presided over the Commons since Confederation. Mr. Milliken has cast half of them. He is also the only Speaker in Canadian history to decide a confidence vote. There is often some confusion among the general public regarding […]

Reclaiming Parliament

An essential feature of parliamentary government is that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to, or must answer to, the House of Commons for their actions. The House of Commons controls the executive by passing or rejecting its Bills and by forcing Ministers of the Crown to answer for their actions, for example during oral questions. The Lower House may attempt to bring down the government by rejecting a motion of confidence or by passing a motion of no confidence. Over time, however, in both Canada and the UK at least, the House of Commons’ scrutiny of the government has weakened. Its authority has been undermined both unintentionally and deliberately, to the point where the House has become […]

On Petitions

All authorities agree that the right of petitioning parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure. – Speaker Gaspard Fauteux (Debates, June 18, 1947, pp. 4278-9) The right of citizens to petition Parliament for redress of grievance well entrenched, based as it is on tradition that dates back centuries and established precedent. The following historical overview is taken from the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd edition 2009. Petitioning the Crown (and later Parliament) for redress of a grievance originated in the 13th century, during the reign of Edward I. […]

Investigative inquiries and sensitive information: two approaches

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War was launched in July 2009 by the UK Government to consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath, to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. The inquiry was set up by the Labour Government, with the members appointed by the Prime Minister, after consulting the opposition parties. A detailed protocol was agreed to for dealing with sensitive information, including the release of, or making public references to, […]

Forming governments in Westminster parliamentary systems

“The verdict of public opinion was pretty clear. Losers don’t get to form coalitions. Winners are the ones who form governments. The coalition in Britain — it is important to point out it was formed by the party that won the election.” – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 3 June 2010 The formation of a government following a general election in a Westminster parliamentary system (in particular, one using First-Past-the-Post) follows certain conventions. It is important to understand that voters in countries such as the UK and Canada do not vote to elect a government, much less a prime minister. They each vote in their individual constituencies or ridings to elect a Member of Parliament (MP), who will represent them […]