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 […]

When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 3

(This is the third installment of a series on the history of ministerial statements and officially recognized party status. Please read Part 1 and Part 2 before proceeding.) As discussed in Part 1, the Standing Order governing Statements by Ministers was adopted in 1964 on a provisional basis. The new rule, which allowed only for factual pronouncements of government policy, also required that these not provoke debate. It further codified the existing practice of responses by the opposition. The new rule read as follows: On motions, as listed in section (2) of this standing order, a minister of the crown may make an announcement or a statement of government policy. Any such announcement or statement should be limited to facts […]

When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 2

(This is the second installment of a series on the history of ministerial statements and officially recognized party status. Please read Part 1 before proceeding.) After the amendments to the Senate and House of Commons Act contained in Bill C-91 were adopted in July 1963, the House adjourned for the summer. During the summer, the Social Credit Party (SC) split into the Quebec-based Ralliement des Créditistes (RC) with 13 members led by Mr. Caouette, and the western-based Social Credit Party, under the “national” leadership of Mr. Thompson, with the remaining 11 members. Before the House resumed sitting in September, the leaders of each faction contacted the Speaker to explain what had transpired. The NDP also wrote to the Speaker and asked that […]

When a Party isn’t a Party, Part 1

On March 24 2015, the Prime Minister of Canada delivered a ministerial statement to the House of Commons on the matter of expanding Canada’s mission in Iraq against the Islamic State (ISIL). The leader of the Opposition as well as the leader of the third party followed with responses of their own; Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s efforts to speak were denied by the House. Later in the week, in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, Ms May stated: The right to speak on behalf of my constituents is something I asserted from my first day in the House. As each leader stood to welcome the new Speaker, I stood and was recognized. It is not for the major […]

This tells you, Mr. Speaker, that notwithstanding the complaints and carping of the opposition, we actually have more ample debate here than they do in the British House of Commons.

Peter Van Loan, Government House Leader

Quality over Quantity

On 15 September 2014, MP Elizabeth May raised a questions of privilege in the Canadian House of Commons over the Government’s “unprecedented” use of time allocation, which she argued, has “obstructed, undermined and impeded” her rights and the rights of her colleagues, in particular those from smaller parties and independents. In his response to Ms. May’s question of privilege, the Government House Leader dismissed her concerns that the House had insufficient time to properly scrutinize legislation and hold the Government to account  by comparing the Canadian House of Commons to the UK House of Commons, which I will quote in its entirety: Contrary to the arguments of many in the opposition and media pundits, we actually have more extensive debate […]

On programming motions

Maclean’s Aaron Wherry’s recent column looks at the current Canadian government’s extreme fondness for using time allocation to speed passage of its legislation through the House of Commons. I strongly urge everyone to read it. What I found particularly interesting in the piece was the Government House Leader’s justification for use of time allocation. In essence, they are using it to, in his words, schedule how legislation proceeds through the various stages:’ There’s no doubt we have used it as a scheduling device, not as a limiting of debate device. So, yeah, we’ve tried to change the culture around it, the whole meaning of it and what it does. In the past, I think, while it was intended when drafted as a scheduling […]