Keyword Post: MPs Indemnities, salaries and allowances

This is another post in response to recent keyword search activity on this blog. The information contained herein is very easily accessible here, on the Parliament of Canada website, which should always be your first stop when trying to find anything having to do with the Parliament of Canada, MPs, Senators, etc. (See this post for more useful resources you might want to bookmark for future reference). If you are looking for information about the salaries and allowances for UK MPs, please consult this fact sheet from the UK Parliament website.

The salaries and allowances of Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) are adjusted on April 1 each year. Increases to the salaries of MPs are based on an index of base-wage increases from major settlements of private-sector bargaining units maintained by the federal Department of Human Resources Development.  In accordance with the Expenditure Restraint Act of 2010, the sessional allowance and additional salaries are frozen at the 2009-2010 levels until the end of fiscal year 2012-2013.

The base salary for every single MP elected to the House of Commons is currently CAD$157,731.00.

MPs who have extra responsibilities, such as the Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, Leaders of other parties, parliamentary secretaries, party house leaders, etc., receive additional compensation. The Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Commons, Leader of the Opposition and Cabinet Ministers also get a car allowance which is currently set at $2,122.00.

The following is a chart of the additional compensation and total salaries for some parliamentary functions. Please consult the link posted above for a complete list of current MPs Indemnities and Allowances. All figures quoted in Canadian dollars.

Title Additional Salary Total Salary*
Prime Minister $157,731 $315,462
Speaker $  75,516 $233,247
Leader of the Opposition $  75,516 $233,247
Cabinet Minister $  75,516 $233,247
Minister of State $  56,637 $214,368
Leaders of Other Parties $  53,694 $211,425
Deputy Speaker $ 40,679 $198,410
Government Whip $  28,420 $186,151
Opposition Whip $  28,420 $186,151
Other Party Whips $  11,165 $168,896
Parliamentary Secretaries $  15,834 $173,565
Chair of Standing Committee $  11,165 $168,896
Caucus Chair – Government $  11,165 $168,896
Caucus Chair – Opposition $  11,165 $168,896
Caucus Chairs – Other Parties $    5,684 $163,415

*Does not include the car allowance for those entitled to one.

Shadow critics do not receive any additional compensation above the base MP salary. The only opposition members who receive additional compensation are the Leader of the Official Opposition, the leaders of other parties, the Opposition whip and other party whips, Opposition and other party deputy whips, Opposition and other party caucus chairs, Opposition and other party House leaders as well as the Deputy House leaders. There are other positions which may be held by opposition members which receive an additional indemnity, such committee chairs, deputy chairs, etc. Again, please consult the official list on the Parliament of Canada website.

 

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Privilege, the press, the law and the Internet

A recent Guardian editorial on the matter of balancing parliamentary privilege and responsible behaviour concluded thusly:

When parliament last examined the question of privilege, the internet was still in its infancy. Social media were embryonic. And the ink on the Human Rights Act was barely dry. The possibility that parliamentary privilege might intersect with the online world and the role of the press in all its complexity was not even imagined. At the very least, a new select committee examination is now required. And so, inescapably, are some clearer new responsibilities to go with MPs’ ancient rights.

This was in response to the recent naming in Parliament of a prominent footballer by MP John Hemmings in defiance of a super-injunction that is still in force. Hemmings used parliamentary privilege to name the footballer and argued that he had a right to do so because the footballer’s name had already been revealed by a Scottish newspaper (which argued it wasn’t bound by the restrictions of an injunction issued by an English court) as well as in papers from other countries and, more importantly, by 75,000 users on Twitter. It wasn’t the first time Hemmings had revealed the names of persons covered by a super injunction.

Parliamentary privilege grants MPs virtually unlimited freedom of speech. As explained in Erskine May:

Subject to the rules of order in debate, a Member may state whatever he thinks fit in debate, however offensive it may be to the feelings, or injurious to the character, of individuals; and he is protected by his privilege from any action for libel, as well as from any other question or molestation. (23rd ed., p. 96)

The problem is that while the press won the right back in the 18th century to report on what is said in Parliament, it is protected by qualified privilege only. Media reporting of Parliamentary proceedings is protected by the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840. This Act provides absolute immunity from civil or criminal proceedings for Hansard and any other publication of Parliament. It also provides qualified privilege in civil and criminal proceedings for individuals who publish a summary of material published in Hansard, as long as this is done in good faith and without malice.

Thus, when Hemmings named the footballer in question, this raised an important dilemma for English newspapers: the terms of the injunction barred them from naming the footballer, yet they had the right to report on what was said in Parliament. There is no judicial decision as to whether a summary of material published in Hansard which intentionally had the effect of frustrating a court order would be considered by the courts to be in good faith and without malice.

The traditional press are also confronted with the reality of information subject to a court injunction becoming public knowledge via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, while the press must respect the terms set forth in these various super injunctions.

This is just one example of the growing conflict between the law and the realities of social media and the Internet. I recently blogged about a section of Canada’s Elections Act which makes it illegal to publish election results from one part of the country before polls have closed in other parts of the country. This was easily enforceable back in the days of only radio and newspapers, and even with the advent of television, but it becomes much more difficult – if not impossible – to enforce online.

Similarly, Canadian judges grant publication bans on evidence presented at bail hearings and preliminary inquiries if the accused asks for one. During the trial, anything that is said or presented in court while the jury is away cannot be reported. Only after the trial can the press reveal “what the jury didn’t see.” However, here again, social media and the Internet are presenting a challenge to such measures, such as this recent case involving Facebook, and this case involving the Internet in general.

Few people will dispute the fact that the Internet and social media present major challenges to enforcing certain laws, or sections of laws, that predate the advent of instantaneous global communication.The footballer named by MP Hemmings is trying to sue Twitter, a move described as futile by Mark Stephens, a senior media lawyer at British law firm Finers Stephens Innocent:

“This is not only scraping the bottom of the barrel, this is beneath the barrel. This [injunction] information is already available on servers outside of this jurisdiction and on website outside this jurisdiction,” he said.

“You would have to be a moron in a hurry to suggest to this footballer that he throw good money and publicly excoriate himself yet further.”

In an op ed piece in the Guardian, Richard Hillgrove, a business and political public relations consultant, argues that Twitter and other social media cannot be allowed to operate outside the law. However, what he proposes strikes me to be as futile as the attempt to sue Twitter:

Clearly, they are going to have to introduce a delay mechanism so that content can be checked before it goes up. There will have to be a completely different structure, which will be difficult when the whole thing about Twitter is its spontaneity.

The ancient tradition of parliamentary privilege is not immune to scrutiny and reconsideration either. A report published recently by a committee headed by Lord Neuberger, master of the rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales), Report of the Committee on Super-Injunctions: Super-Injunctions, Anonymised Injunctions and Open Justice, concluded that while injunctions cannot bind members of Parliament during debates in the House of Commons or House of Lords, those who report on those debates are in a less certain position:

Where media reporting of Parliamentary proceedings does not attract qualified privilege, it is unclear whether it would be protected at common law from contempt proceedings if it breached a court order. There is such protection in defamation proceedings for honest, fair and accurate reporting of Parliamentary proceedings. There is no reported case which decides whether the common law protection from contempt applies. There is an argument that the common law should adopt the same position in respect of reports of Parliamentary proceedings as it does in respect of reports of court proceedings.

While parliamentary privilege grants MPs and Lords almost absolute freedom of speech, there are some restrictions on this freedom, such as the sub judice rule. Simply put, matters awaiting the adjudication of a court of law should not be brought forward in debate. You can read the current resolution governing matters sub judice here. While parliamentary committees have revisited the matter of sub judice in 2005 and 2006, they’ve not examined the issue of the impact of social media and the Internet on matters before the courts, and the obvious conflicts this would present for both parliamentarians and the media alike.

As the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege concluded back in 1999:

The privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament places a corresponding duty on every member to use the freedom responsibly. The duty is all the greater now that the debates of the two Houses may be broadcast live anywhere in the world. (…)

Free speech is the most important parliamentary privilege and members should be careful not to abuse it. Ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual member. We cannot improve on the words of the Commons procedure committee of session 1988-89:

‘We reiterate that the privilege of freedom of speech is an essential protection for members in carrying out their duties. There is no point in this privilege unless it provides guarantees against attempts from outside to control what members choose to say in the House. However, privilege carries with it responsibilities as well as rights; and those responsibilities have to be exercised within the rules laid down by the House and in conformity with the standards it expects of its members. Irresponsible or reckless use of privilege can cause great harm to outside individuals who enjoy no legal redress and, in some circumstances, could be prejudicial to the national interest. The strongest safeguard against so-called abuses is the self-discipline of individual members. This means, for instance, that a member should take steps, before making a potentially damaging accusation against a named individual, to ensure not only that evidence exists but that it comes from a normally reliable source. This does not imply that a member needs to have evidence that would satisfy a court, but that he should act on the basis of something firmer than mere rumour or supposition.’

Needless to say, these are all very complex issues, and the UK and Canada are far from being alone in confronting them. Balancing privacy rights with freedom of the press, parliamentary privilege and the free-for-all that is the Internet and social media will undoubtedly remain one of the biggest challenges facing governments for some time to come.

 

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Quote of the day

In Australia we no longer have a democracy, we have an elected dictatorship. We elect a political party one day every three years and the rest of the time, it dictates to us. - Sir Marcus Oliphant, Governor of South Australia from 1971-1976.

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Keyword Post: Types of Government

There have been various queries in my keyword search activity from people looking for explanations of minority vs. coalition vs majority government, and so I decided to write a brief post explaining the different types of government.

In parliamentary systems, such as the UK and Canada and many other countries, the head of state and the head of government are two separate offices. Often, the head of state is a mostly ceremonial position. In parliamentary systems, the people do not elect the head of government directly. He or she is the leader of the party which ends up forming the government following an election.

Different types of government can emerge in a parliamentary system.

Majority government occurs when a single party or a coalition of parties commands a majority of seats in the legislative body. For example, the Canadian House of Commons has 308 seats, and in the 2 May 2011 election, the Conservative Party won 166 seats, a comfortable majority. This is a single-party majority government. Single-party majority governments are most common in countries that use First-past-the-Post (FPTP). They occur more rarely in countries which use some form of proportional representation (PR). However, majority government can also be achieved through coalitions of two or more parties. This form of majority government is more common in countries that use PR. What is important to understand is that whether the majority is formed by one party or a coalition of parties, it holds a majority of seats in the legislative body.

As stated above, in countries that use some form of PR, one party winning a majority of seats does not happen often. In countries that use FPTP, however, single-party majority is the more common outcome. However, even in countries using FPTP, elections will result in no party winning a majority of seats. The British call this a “hung parliament”. Canadians typically refer to it as a “minority parliament”. Countries where this is the usual outcome simply call it an election result or a parliament. Following such an outcome, it is up to the parliament elected to determine which party, or group of parties, can work together to form a government that will command the confidence of the House.

In Canada, hung parliaments have traditionally resulted in single-party minority government. Single-party minority government is when a party governs on its own, even though it does not have a majority in the House. It depends on other parties to support key pieces of legislation, such as the Budget bill. This support is often sought on an issue-by-issue basis. For example, one party might support it on the Budget in exchange for the inclusion of specific tax cuts or other measures, but a different party will offer the needed support on a different piece of legislation. As long as other parties support it on key votes (called Confidence bills), it continues to govern. If, however, the party loses the confidence of the House, the government will fall.

Another option is multi-party minority government, either as coalition (see the Netherlands 2010) or a less-formal arrangement. A party may reach some sort of agreement with another party (or parties) which will allow it to govern for a specific period of time with the guaranteed support of the other party (or parties), but these parties will still not command a majority of the seats in the legislature. In other instances, they may end up commanding a majority of the seats, but it still won’t be a majority government. For example, in 1985, in the Canadian province of Ontario, the Liberal Party and the NDP signed an accord that would see the NDP support the Liberals for two years, in exchange for the Liberals advancing some key NDP policies during that time. Together the two parties did command a majority of seats in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, but it wasn’t officially a majority government. The NDP weren’t part of the government; it was a Liberal minority government, but with a formal agreement of support for two years from the NDP (see this post for more information about the Liberal-NDP Accord).

Contrast this to the May 2010 election in the UK which resulted in a hung parliament. In that case, two parties, the Conservatives (307 seats) and the Liberal Democrats (57 seats), opted to form a formal coalition government. A coalition differs from an accord between two (or more) parties because the parties forming the coalition will be represented in the government. In the case of the UK, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, is the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, is the Deputy Prime Minister. There are five Liberal Democrats serving in cabinet, and many more serving as ministers of state (junior ministers). The combined Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats add up to a majority of the seats in the UK House of Commons (364 of the House of Commons’ 650 seats), and so the Coalition is a majority government, but one made up of two parties.

As previously stated, coalitions are very common in countries that use proportional representation since it is difficult for a single party to win a majority of seats under PR. Often these coalitions include more than two parties.

In some countries, parties join forces after fighting elections separately to form a majority government. This was the case in the UK in 2010. In other countries, notably those where coalition government is the expected outcome, some coalitions are decided before elections, which gives the parties the best chance of immediate government after the election.

There are advantages and disadvantages with each of these forms of government. A majority government, particularly a single-party majority government, is probably one of the most powerful forms of democratically-elected government. The former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Lord Hailsham, in a Richard Dimbleby Lecture at the BBC in 1976, referred to it as an “elected dictatorship”. This is because a majority government determines the legislative agenda of Parliament and government bills will virtually always pass in the House of Commons as it is practically impossible for the Opposition to prevent them from passing or even amending the bills in any meaningful way. While some prefer this form of strong, decisive government, others see this as a major drawback – the unfettered power of a majority government to do as it pleases for the duration of its term in office. Coalition majority government, however, often appeals more to those who dislike single-party majority since a coalition must accommodate the various policies of its member parties, which requires each member party of the coalition to compromise on some issues to find a suitable middle-ground that will be acceptable to all members of the coalition.

A minority government, be it single- or multi-party, must be more flexible since it needs the support of another party (or parties) in order to get bills passed (and stay in power). However, minorities can also be very unstable, and often don’t manage to last for an entire term in office.

Another criticism some level at coalition government is that it can be prone to internal disharmony and fractionalism (of course, this can plague a single-party government as well). Also, in countries which use PR, depending on the form of proportional representation used, very small, fringe parties may end up playing the role of kingmaker and gain far more for their support than their vote would otherwise indicate. The “purer” the form of PR used, the more problematic this can be (if one considers this to be a problem). Israel is a good example of such a system. It has a very low minimum threshold (only 2%) for a party to gain a seat. The low vote-threshold for entry into parliament, as well as the need for parties with small numbers of seats to form coalition governments, results in a highly fragmented political spectrum, with small parties (often extremely religious ones) exercising extensive power (relative to their electoral support) within coalitions.

If you have any further questions regarding any of the above, please comment and I will attempt to answer your questions as best I can.

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Quote of the day

The United Kingdom seems to be in the middle of that sort of constructive quarrel now. Usually when I travel from Washington to Britain I move from less gloom to more gloom. But this time the mood is reversed. The British political system is basically functional while the American system is not. – David Brooks, “Britain is a picture of how politics should work,” The Guardian, 24 May 2011

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The honourable member

One of the more curious aspects of debate in the House of Commons is that Members do not refer to each other by name, but by title, position or constituency name. This is done to guard against the tendency to personalize debate. Any Member who offends this tradition – either accidentally or on purpose – is quickly brought to order, often by other Members, as we can see in this exchange:

Mr. Ken Boshcoff (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion. My comments today will focus on the heart of the issue, ensuring that the government uses our taxpayer dollars to support Canadian industry.
(…)
All these cuts are hurting our regions and costing jobs for our citizens when there is no need to make the cuts. The money jar is full and overflowing, yet the Harper government continues in the heartless and shameful penny pinching.

An hon. member: You can’t say “Harper”.

Mr. Ken Boshcoff: Did I say that? I apologize immediately.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): Order, please. The member should refer to colleagues by their riding names or by their titles.

Mr. Ken Boshcoff: When I do something wrong, I appreciate the chastisement. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

While the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons refers to Members or calls on them to speak by their constituency, in the UK House of Commons, the Speaker refers to members by name when he or she calls on them to speak.

In general, in the UK House of Commons, the description used is “the Honourable Member for [constituency]“. However, Privy Council members (senior Ministers, past or present, and other senior Members) are “the Right Honourable Member for … “. In Canada, only the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are generally referred to as “the Right Honourable”. However, if a former Prime Minister was still sitting in the House, he or she would also be referred to as “Right Honourable”, as would any other Member with this designation.

Often in debate in the UK, the constituency is omitted and a Member will be described as “the Honourable Member who spoke last”, “the Right Honourable Lady (or Gentleman) opposite”, etc. Ministers are usually described by their titles (e.g. “the Secretary of State”, or “the Minister” or as “the Right Honourable Gentleman, the Prime Minister” etc).

Members of the same party are most often called “my Honourable (or Right Honourable) friend“:

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): Last Friday I visited Rawlins community college in my constituency and spoke to a very bright group of economics students. We discussed the fact that Governments cannot spend money they do not have. The students understood that; why does my right hon. Friend think the Opposition do not?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I know the Opposition do not like to hear about the mess they left, but let me give them some new published information about the mess they left. This is what we inherited: we are 72nd on wastefulness of Government spending, behind Kazakhstan and Cambodia; 108th on Government debt, behind Malawi, Lesotho and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Libya; and-this is the best one-on the soundness of banks, we are 133rd. Our banks, under Labour, were less sound than those in Serbia, Estonia, Madagascar and Chad. That is the record we inherited from the Opposition, and we will not tire of reminding them.

The reality of coalition government posed a bit of a dilemma at first for Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, since they were now both, arguably, on the same side, as was demonstrated during the debate on the Queen’s Speech at the opening of the new Parliament in May 2010:

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): (…) This coalition throws up difficult problems of parliamentary etiquette, and I am the first to have to tackle them. Should I refer to my Liberal Democrat colleague as “my hon. Friend,” but that is a term reserved for members of our own parties? How about “my honourable partner”? The word “partner”, however, nowadays implies an even greater degree of intimacy than friendship, which is clearly what the Daily Mail fears, so I will stick to “my honourable ally.”

Mr. Lilley’s use of “honourable ally” didn’t catch on, and Conservative and Lib Dem MPs usually refer to each other simply as “the honourable Member” (or honourable Gentleman/Lady). However, I have noted that at times, they will also use “my honourable Friend.” The Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, fairly frequently refers to Conservative MPs that way when he is at the dispatch box. Other ministers have done the same.

This use of “honourable friend” isn’t common in the Canadian House of Commons. Members will occasionally refer to another member as “my friend”, but unlike in the UK, that usage isn’t reserved solely for members of the same party, as we can see in this exchange between an MP from the Bloc Québécois and a Conservative minister:

Ms. Louise Thibault (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ): Mr. Speaker, does the member for Beauport—Limoilou admit—and this is my first question—that the aerospace industry in Quebec represents about 60% of this economic market? I say 60% to avoid any quibbling about whether it is 57.5% or 60%. Since she began her speech by talking about fairness—she used the words “fair spinoffs”—, why is it, talking about fair spinoffs, that her government is unable to target, in the case of a contract awarded without any call for tenders, spinoffs across Canada using known figures, such as that of 60% in Quebec? Finally, since she used those words, will she vote in favour of this motion?

Mrs. Sylvie Boucher (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from the Bloc. Contrary to the Bloc, the Conservatives recognize the existence of a wide aerospace market. It always makes me smile when members from the Bloc hold forth and get all worked up, when they are the first to protest against any military spending. You do not want any. Maybe you should read your own party stand on military spending before criticizing a government which Quebeckers are proud to be part of. We are in power to make decisions, something that you will never be able to do.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): I would just remind the hon. parliamentary secretary to address her comments to the Chair and not directly to colleagues.

Here we see another important rule of address: a Member persistently offending against the tradition by using “you” is likely to be corrected by the Speaker. “You” refers to the occupant of the Chair alone.

Canadian MPs will also refer to other MPs as their “colleague”, or simply “the member”, but they are far less likely to refer to another MP as “honourable”. It isn’t unheard of, but it certainly isn’t commonplace as it is in the UK. A quick search through the Debates from various random days found at most maybe one or two instances of one member using the term “honourable” when referring to another member. Most days had no examples of this phrasing being used. It is even rarer for Canadian MPs to refer to fellow MPs as gentlemen or ladies – honourable or otherwise. I found a few examples from Committee hearings (dating back over ten years), but only one from recent debates:

Mr. Joe Preston (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC): Madam Speaker, I guess I should just point out right at the outset that this is what I dealt with all last week: a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of what he is supposed to talk about; a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of his time; and, I am sorry to say, a side of the table that just would not stay in the bounds of politeness. It was about as discouraging as it might get.

I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and I am happy to admit them. Long before politics I knew the member for Kings—Hants and found him to be a very honourable gentleman. This week he has tried my patience on that one, as to whether I really truly believe it at all any more.

While these rules and conventions might strike many as quaint, they do affect the tone of debate in the House. I have to say that I do find the UK House of Commons, even at its most raucous, which would be during PMQs, more respectful in tone than the Canadian House of Commons. This is certainly the case if we are comparing Question Period with PMQs. Debates on Bills in both Houses are much more sedate affairs (most of the time), and this is when Canadian MPs are most likely to use terms such as “friend” and “colleague”.

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Important Political Resources

I admit to being somewhat surprised by some of the keyword searches that bring people to this blog. It seems that too many people have no idea where to get key information – somehow they end up on this blog rather than on the sites they should be visiting to get the information they want. Consequently, I thought I would provide links to key resources based on recent keyword search activity. I will add to this post over time, as needed. Also, if any readers know of sites that should be added to this list, please comment with the link or use the site’s contact form to let me know.

Topics: Election results Canada, Election results UK, general information regarding how elections, by-elections, referendums are carried out, election financing laws, voting procedures, etc.

Elections Canada: If you are looking for information pertaining to any aspect of elections in Canada, Elections Canada should be your first stop. It will most likely be the only site you need to visit. It provides detailed election results of current and past elections, you can even download the data in CVS format. There is extensive information explaining how the voting system works, information for voters, for candidates, for parties, information about political parties, financing regulations, research and discussion papers on all things electoral, and even back-issues of the no-longer-published Electoral Insight magazine, which provides a wealth of interesting articles on various aspects of voting and elections in Canada (some dated by this point, but nonetheless interesting). If you’re looking for information about voting procedures in a particular Canadian province or territory, Elections Canada also has links to the Elections body of each (under the heading Provincial and Territorial Election Officials).

Electoral Commission: Sadly, the UK’s Electoral Commission doesn’t have the same mandate Elections Canada does – it doesn’t oversee or administer national elections. However, it still provides statistics, analysis and reports on elections, as well as information on party financing, boundary reviews, information for voters, and much more. This should still be the first place people visit for information about elections in the UK.

Another useful elections-related site for those interested in Canadian elections is the Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections. Any possible statistic you might want about Canadian elections (going back to 1997 only) can probably be found here.

Topics: Parliamentary privilege, parliamentary procedure

A lot of people regularly search for “parliamentary privilege” and end up on my blog. I have written a few posts dealing with some aspects of privilege, but it is a very complex subject matter, and I am hardly an expert. The usual sources for information about privilege are the procedure manuals published by various parliamentary bodies. The most famous – the “bible” so to speak, is Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, now in it’s 24th edition. Sadly, Erskine May is not available online, however, the procedure manuals of the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Parliaments are. Each has detailed sections on parliamentary privilege, and all quote Erskine May extensively.

Readers might also want to consult the UK Joint Select Committee on Privilege’s 1999 report: Parliamentary Privilege – First Report. It is somewhat dated, but still provides a thorough overview of the topic.

Topics: How Goverment works, parliamentary seating charts, number of MPs by party, general information about MPs, Committee business and reports, status of legislation before the House, Hansard, etc.

The first stop for anyone interested in any of the above, or related topics should be the official website of the parliament of the country you’re interested in. They normally have all that information and more. Here are the parliamentary websites of the countries this blog focuses on the most: Parliament of Canada, UK Parliament, Parliament of Australia, Parliament of New Zealand.

Topic: Styles of Address

Wondering how to refer to an MP, Judge, foreign dignitary, member of the Royal Family or a parliamentary secretary? The site you want is Heritage Canada’s Styles of Address. Or you could try Australia’s equivalent. And we mustn’t forget Debrett’s, the authoritative guide to addressing people.

Topic: Politicians using social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Canada: PoliTwitter aggregates the Twitter, Facebook, blog and other feeds of any elected federal or provincial official in Canada who has any online social media presence. You can sort them by federal/provincial, by province, and by party. It allows you to see immediately what various politicians and parties are tweeting, blogging and generally discussing online. You might also want to check out TweetCommons, which does something similar.

UK: PoVoice UK does something similar, but only with Twitter activity from UK politicians. It doesn’t seem to be as extensive as PoliTwitter, for example, I can’t tell if politicians have to voluntarily add their feed to it, or how it works, exactly, but I don’t follow it and so can’t really comment that much on how useful it might be. There is also TweetMinster which follows much more than MPs.

Australia: TweetMP documents all Australian federal MPs on Twitter.

Again, if you know of a site that you think should be included on this list, please comment with the relevant information, or use the Contact form.

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Quote of the day

Once politics became a contest pitting one identity group against another, it was no longer possible to compromise. Everything became a status war between my kind of people and your kind of people. Even a small concession came to seem like moral capitulation. Those who tried to build relationships across party lines were ostracised. Among politicians, loyalty to the party overshadowed loyalty to institutions like the Senate or the House. Politics was no longer about trade-offs, it was a contest for honour and group supremacy. Amidst this partisan ugliness, public trust in government and political institutions collapsed. – David Brooks, The Social Animal (as quoted in this Guardian article)

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Quote of the day

What to call indigenous groups is intensely political in Canada, reflecting the power struggle over land, resources and government funding between these groups and the government and also among the groups themselves. Complicating the matter is a lack of consistency on naming that makes the area a minefield for non-indigenous Canadians who may not be up to date on what is and is not an acceptable term. In this way it is similar to shifting terminology in America for African-Americans. – The Economist, 19 May 2011

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