Some notable parliamentary traditions

Parliamentary traditions and procedure in Canada and the United Kingdom are very similar, which is not at all surprising since Canada largely adopted the same form of parliamentary government, with slight modifications to better accommodate the realities of a federation. While some of these conventions and traditions might strike many as quaint and anachronistic, they are still practiced out of homage to the long fight for Parliament’s independence from the Crown. For example, the tradition that a newly-elected Speaker should “resist” being led up to the Speaker’s Chair is simply an acknowledgement to the past, when the role of Speaker was often a very dangerous one. Indeed, several Speakers were executed by the Monarch for being bearers of news the […]

Has the Backbench Business Committee been too successful?

Previously, I wrote a post in response to search queries from people wondering if the Backbench Business Committee (or BBBCom) has been a success. In that post, I noted that it was a bit difficult to answer that question because I wasn’t certain how one would measure  – or even define – success in this context. Recent events in the UK House of Commons are perhaps a greater indication that indeed, the BBBCom has been a success. So much so that perhaps the Government felt a need to try to curtail it to a degree – or at least, that is what some think might be going on. On Monday, 12 March 2012, the Government moved a motion that would […]

On irrelevance

One of the fundamental principles of parliamentary procedure is that debate in the House must lead to a decision within a reasonable period of time. Over time, the business of government became more complex, and legislatures had increasingly limited time available to them to consider this business. It was therefore essential to do so as efficiently as possible. Requiring that speeches (as well as questions and comments) remain relevant to the matter being debated allows the House to reach decisions without needless obstruction and excludes discussions that aren’t conducive to that end. The practice of restraining debate that is either repetitious or irrelevant to the matter under discussion dates back to the earliest days of the English House of Commons. […]

On the origins of the Canadian Senate

A reader queried as to the origins of the Canadian Senate – why was it decided that the upper chamber should be unelected, why is it based on regional representation rather than equal provincial representation, etc. I would refer readers to an excellent paper prepared by the Senate’s own Committees and Private Legislation Directorate entitled A Legislative and Historical Overview of the Senate of Canada. I will highlight the main points made in the study. According the paper’s author(s), the upper House was critically important to those negotiating Confederation. Back in the 1800s, all of the British North American colonies, except British Columbia, were bicameral – meaning they had two chambers, a legislative assembly and a legislative council. The legislative […]

Why there won’t be a debate on the Drop the Health Bill e-petition

On 28 February 2012, the UK House of Commons Backbench Business Committee declined an application to hold a debate on an e-petition calling on Parliament to drop the Government’s bill to reform the National Health Service (NHS). The e-petition had received over 100,000 signatures, and the request for a debate was brought to the Committee by Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. The reasons why the debate was refused centred primarily on two important considerations: the bill had received, and would continue to receive, debate in Parliament, and the request for a debate on dropping the bill would be better suited to an Opposition day debate rather than a Backbench business debate. As explained on the […]

A video is worth a thousand words

I have written many posts about various procedural measures used in the British House of Commons that I think would be welcomed additions to the Canadian House of Commons. While I have attempted to describe these measures in detail, viewing them in action would probably be far more enlightening. The BBC’s Democracy Live website makes available clips of specific proceedings from the UK House of Commons (and Lords), making it quite easy for me to provide readers with clips of urgent questions, ministerial statements and other proceedings. Note – I don’t expect anyone to watch any of these in their entirely, but even if you watch them for only 10-15 minutes, you will gain a better sense of what is […]