PSCI 2003 Lecture Notes - Parliamentary Budget Officer, Blood Sport, Office Of The Commissioner Of Official Languages
The idea that parliament is meant to drive representation vs the idea that parliament is meant
to hold the government accountable for its decisions.
Should Mps be more like Elizabeth May? Acting indepedently and autonomously?
On the other hand, the government has to make decisions at the end of the day, while the
opposition bears very little real responsibility.
Passing a bill:
◦ First reading
◦ Second reading, some debate
◦ A vote (Which generally passes in a majority)
◦ Committee stage (About 15 standing committees exist)
◦ Report stage, back to HoC
◦ Third Reading, more debate
◦ Vote (Once again generally passes)
◦ Goes to Senate to repeat all stages
◦ Then goes to GG for Royal Assent and Proclamation
All dictated by a majority government, timetable, content, etc.
The question is, if it's so predictable and controllable, then what is the point of this entire
process? By the logic of representation, it's just a rubber stamp, but, by the logic of
Well, even in a majority, if a bill is too controversial, like Toews Internet Security bill, it will be
highly criticized and stopped.
In this way, the process provides scrutiny to improve bills or catch horrible ones through the
mobilization of consent rather than working to change peoples' minds.
If the government did decide to go through with a controversial bill and push it through, they
would very clearly be taking responsibility for it.
◦ Unique process to Canada
◦ PM doesn't necessarily know what questions he will get, though he can guess and has a
staff whose job it is to guess
◦ “Not answer period” Don't get real answers
◦ Questions controlled by parties, backbenchers don't have freedom to make their own
◦ Heckling, too much yelling, too much back and forth
◦ QP in Britain has a little more autonomy and is a little more civil
◦ Representation:QP is insubstantive, futile
◦ Governance: QP acts as a deterrent to bad policies, because governments know they have
to be ready to answer questions
Committees and Scrutiny
◦ Committees consider bills, amendments
◦ Also initiate studies, inquiries
◦ Committees became more autonomous under Chretien and Mulroney, working together
behind party lines and occasionally causing trouble for the government
◦ Not so much these days, paralyzed by partisanship?
◦ Logics of rep. And gov. Arguements apply here as well.
◦ Role of individual MP
▪ Representing party?
▪ Representing constituency?
▪ Example, NDP want gun control, but rural MPs didn't want to comply.
▪ Representing themselves? Aren't they meant to look at bills and use their critical
▪ Should MPs be free to represent themselves and their constituents or does party
discipline ensure that things get done with clear accountability?
Will technology change parliament?
Will social media engagement enhance or surpass parliamentary reprsentation
By the logic of representation, it allows more communication and dialogue and is therefore a
By the logic of governance, party discipline and the need for accountability will still prevail
In fact, Malloy sees social media as strengthening party lines rather than cutting across them
Used to enforce party discipline by keeping tabs on MPs and giving orders, even in committees
Ministers' offices are way more controlled by the PMO through technology like cell phones
Book “Protecting Canadian Democracy The Senate You Never Knew”
Book “Nice Work The Continuing Scandal of Canada's Senate”
“Sober Second Thought” and Regional representation
You have to have $4000 in property assets to be a Senator
NS 10, NB 10, PEI 4, Nfld+Lab 6, Quebec 24, Ontario 24, BC 6, Alberta 6, Sask 6, Manitoba 6,
Territories 1 each
Senators appointed by the prime minister, almost always strong party supporters
Logic of Representation
◦ Lifetime appointments, lack of accountability
◦ Gross regional imbalances
◦ But, more women (38%) and more diversity
◦ A counterweight to dominant governments
Logic of governance
◦ Potential and sometimes real obstacle to elected government and HoC
◦ Example, Liberal dominated Senate vs Mulroney government on Free Trade and GST
◦ But, better at scrutiny; less petty partisanship
Senate Reform options
1. No major reforms needed
2. Triple E – Elected, effective, equal representation for provinces
3. Abolish it
4. Incremental Change
Optional provincial elections
Harper Government has attempted #4 since 2006
May happen, but no guarantee
Officers of Parliament – The Watchdogs
Independent officials, meant to keep the whole shebang accountable
Auditor General, Privacy Commissioner, Information Commissioner, Official Languages
Commissioner... several others...
Independent – appointed by Parliament, difficult to remove
Fearless watchdogs or unaccountable crusaders?
Parliamentary Budget Officer (Kevin Page)
◦ Created in 2006 by Conservative Government
◦ Not appointed as independent officer of Parliament... but acts as one
◦ No one expected that he would be so outspoken and critical of the government