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 […]

What we have today is a grubby piece of schoolboy intrigue that Michael Dobbs would have been ashamed to have dreamt up for one of his novels. These are matters for the House to deliberate on properly and initiate, not the Executive. These are matters of due process and due thought.

Mr Gordon Marsden, MP

Procedural Passion

In a 2010 speech to the Oxford Union Society, UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow stated: “I appreciate that the words “parliamentary procedure” are not necessarily the most exciting in the English language. Yet, as I have indicated, parliamentary procedure matters.” Speaker Bercow is not the only Member of the House of Commons who feels that way; two of the most passionate debates in the UK Commons in recent months occurred over proposed changes to the House’s Standing Orders. Contrary to what one British journalist believes, the Standing Orders are not “an obscure parliamentary procedure“, rather, the Standing Orders are the rules which guide procedure in parliament. And on two occasions recently, the first on the very last sitting day […]

Is it commonplace for the Minister who has direct responsibility to be absent at the material moment? It is not, although, in fairness, it having happened now under this Government, I should point out that it did happen on one occasion under the last.

Speaker Bercow

“The Minister is not here!”

Proceedings in the UK House of Commons normally unfold in a very orderly, business-like way (PMQs notwithstanding). However, on rare occasions, things do not go to plan, and MPs are left in an uncharacteristic state of some confusion. Such an incident occurred yesterday (4 December 2014). The parliamentary day began normally, with oral answers to questions to the Department of Transport, followed by questions to the House of Commons Commission. Then the Leader of the House delivered the usual Thursday statement outlining the business of the House for the coming week. That was followed by another ministerial statement, this one from the Pensions Minister. Now, ministerial statements in the UK House of Commons tend to last, on average, about an […]

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 […]

Other reforms of Parliament are more urgently needed than electoral reform

A reader left the following comment on my post about the Reform Act’s proposals for party leader selection: While there is much to be said for the concept of MPs having more weight than the average party member in selecting a leader, this assumes that the MPs are properly representative of the party’s voters. Because of our skewed winner-take-all vopting system, this is far from the case. As Stephane Dion never tires of pointing out, our voting system “makes our major parties appear less national and our regions more politically opposed than they really are.” It “artificially amplifies the regional concentration of political party support at the federal level. This regional amplification effect benefits parties with regionally concentrated support and, […]