Idea alert


Brian Topp figures it’s time we figure out what the rules of our parliamentary democracy are.

A good place to start would be with the New Zealand cabinet manual. Developed incrementally under many governments over 30 years, with the fingerprints and agreement of all of that country’s political parties, this manual is a well-written, publicly-accessible rulebook setting out many of the basic rules the game in a multi-party Westminster Parliament, written from the perspective of the executive branch.

The British government is currently consulting the public about a similar guide. If you dote on the details of parliamentary government – and if you’re on this website reading stuff in this section, you probably do – it’s a good read.

It’s an idea that Peter Russell, the constitutional scholar, is apparently pursuing.


Idea alert

  1. But they already have a manual. Not publicly-accessible, so I don't know if its well-written or not. Ask Don Martin if it is.

  2. We also have the House of Commons' online Compendium of Procedure, which is (IMO) an accessible guide based on the Canadian parliamentary bible: House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, Edited by Audrey O'Brien and Marc Bosc (the 2009 update of 2000's "Marleau and Montpetit" edition). both are available online.

  3. "The Privy Council Office (the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister) balances too many conflicts to be trusted to answer one of the key questions thrown up by Canada's recent history, which is this: How does Parliament perform its role as a permanent electoral college?

    Parliament itself needs to answer that question."
    What on earth is Topp on about here? PCO doesn't set the rules for Parliament, Parliament sets the rules for itself, and these rules are carefully researched and published by the Clerk of the House of Commons and his/her staff and published as the book I noted above (House of Commons Procedure and Practice) and in Standing Order of the House of Commons (which is a formal rulebook, and not at all accessible). None of these resources are secret, all are available online, and I have posted the links, but all of my comments with links are going to purgatory today.

  4. This, perhaps more than anything else, would strike fear into the heart of Stephen Harper.

  5. . . . all of my comments with links are going to purgatory today.

    No. They are not. Please continue.

  6. can you see a reply to my comment above with two links? because I can't

  7. Here's a trick… if one of your responses disappears or doesn't show up, write another reply to the original message. Both will show up. Then delete the 'dummy' response.

  8. test

  9. what would? If Parliament wrote down it's procedures and practices in some kind of book? A "book of House of Commons Procedure and Practice," as it were? Perhaps they would even give it a Library of Congress classification (off the top of my head let's just say "KE4658.C36 2009"), a somewhat-Canadian firm like Thomson-Reuters could publish it, and an electronic version could even be posted online for quick, searchable access… yes, indeed, there's no way Stephen Harper could confidently be Prime Minister in such circumstances!

  10. thanks for the tip, but so far, no dice.

  11. His career as PM has been highlighted by playing fast and loose with procedure and presenting the rules as whatever he says they are, and are most convenient at the time. The last thing he would want is making the rules accessible and well known.

  12. but they are accessible, and I don't imagine New Zealand's cabinet rules are much better known (just guessing here, but they since never came up in Flight of the Conchords, or in the Lord of the Rings trilogy…)

  13. Sure they're in print, but bringing new attention to them and presenting them in a slicker more easily digested format? Harper would consider this double-plus ungood!

  14. I'll blame PMSH for a lot that's wrong with politics these days, but I'm sorry, Canadians' disinterest and ignorance of the machinery of government is not one of them. I used to lead political studies seminars where half the class (these are politics students at Canadian universities) didn't know or care a bit about how our government worked, so I don't think that the poor slickness and digestibility of the available resources is the root of the problem (and they are available, not just in print, I would encourage you to check out the Online Compendium, it's a great site. I would give you the link, but if I include it, my comment won't be posted, so please google it).

  15. YOu miss the point. Whether stephen harper may not be to blame, but to some extent he benefits. Even if its small and unlikely to boost knowledge or participation, why even go there?

  16. yeah that's a great point… Harper is not to blame, but cant you see how evil he is? I mean come on, he's a conservative!! and he's from Alberta… so it doesnt matter that he has nothing to do with this story, MikeT needs a way to spin this against Harper – because that's what Mike T does – whenever anything happens, it's just further proof that Harper is evil.

  17. Wow! It appears to me as if all 7 people in Canada who are literate in parliamentary procedure are commenting on Wherry's boards. Pretty impressive.

    Now, how many adults who are eligible to vote does that leave?

    And what will Harper do if even half of them actually cotton on to what he tries to get away with?

  18. yeah that's a great point… Harper is not to blame, but cant you see how evil he is? I mean come on, he's a conservative!! and he's from Alberta…

    He's not from Alberta.

  19. "Even if its small and unlikely to boost knowledge or participation, why even go there?"
    clearly I am missing the point, because I don't have a clue what you're talking about anymore.

  20. Well sure, in the sense that we're all from Eden, or Noah's Ark or somesuchplace, but really, how long does someone have to live somewhere before one gets to be "from there" in this country of settlers and immigrants (First Nations notwithstanding)?

  21. . . . .how long does someone have to live somewhere before one gets to be "from there" in this country of settlers and immigrants (First Nations notwithstanding)?

    I take your point.

    However, I dispute the implication that Harper is from, ahem, here.

  22. Oh boy, the desperation in some of these posts is readily apparent. The more Harper is in charge and the more his government remains in power the more the anti Harper crowd shows their desperation. Now they want manuals produced.

    Hey boys talk to your buddies in the opposition. It is easy to solve the problem. Vote non confidence and force an election. He wouldn't dare prorogue again. What? They know they can't win. Oh well, four more years of Stephen Harper I guess.

  23. Maybe Conchords doesn't explicitly reference them, but you can see they are part of the culture, as when Murray calls a band meeting.

  24. prisent.

  25. Hey, I just read that last week. I borrowed it and haven't returned it yet. Since its free, now I don't feel quite so bad. Yes, I'll return it.

  26. Your desperation detector needs some calibration. :-)

  27. I can see how it might not come across. I meant that why take the risk bringing attention to the rules or making them more accessible, even if he is not the source of the lack of knowledge.

    Which leads me to believe I should have stated that it isn't figuring out the rules of parliament that would strike fear into Harper, it's the idea that people would pay attention to them. In that respect, I think he'd like to take a "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain approach".

  28. Oh it needs more then calibration, it needs retorquing. :)

  29. Youyr suggestions clearly demonstrate that you should read Forsey's How Canadians Govern Themselves (link is above). I sincerely thought all Canadian schoolchildren read it.

  30. You got to be kidding about school children reading this stuff. Our education system is so screwed up that we are lucky if our kids can read and write when they leave school let alone taking the time to read about constitutional affairs.

    Funny the Liberal party has ruled Canada for 75 of the last 115 years and I don't recall people demanding that the public start reading about the constitution etc. etc.

    The fact is Mr. Harper undestands full well the constitution and the powers that he has. He is using those powers because he is operating within a dysfunctional parliamentary system that was not designed for consistent minority governments. He is up against three left wing parties that are determined that he not achieve any legislative success that he can take to the Canadian people in an election campaign.

    Because of this the supporters of the opposition parties are desperate to find some way of unseating Mr. Harper even so far as to suggest that somehow Mr. Harper is not playing by the rules. That is a perposderous assertion.

  31. My children read Forsey's booklet (it's very short) when they were in high-school. If your teenage children cannot read and understand such a booklet, then you have a parenting problem. It's up to you. You don't have to rely on the nanny-state to instill the love of reading to your children.

    I have never claimed that Harper is not playing by the rules. However, Mr. Harper is saying and promising things he knows he cannot deliver – a perfect example would be his promise of fixed election dates and the tone of the debates he encourages. Do I need to give you links to elected conservatives' stating in the HoC that a prime minister no longer would be able to ask for an election when he his adversary is weak? I have the right to express my opposition to a politician purposely belittles our country, its people and its institutions by lying to its citizens.

    Do you really believe that Mr. Harper had NO idea that a recession was in the cards in the fall of 2006? Cause if he didn't lie to us, then he's a total idiot.

  32. Sure, the CPC is somewhat hobbled by minority government status….why not drop the writ and get that majority that will get rid of all your troubles? The rules allow it, what's the holdup?

  33. Yeah, some detorquing would be great!!

  34. So my comment ends up being an attack on my parenting skills eh. I simply made an observation. You can take it or leave it but you do not know me and have no idea about me personally. So get off the pot.

    So Mr. Harper is to blame for everything. The opposition parties and the media who attack the government and Mr. Harper every chance they get are blameless. Fixed election dates work best in a majority government situation. Chretien use to call elections when he was three years into his mandate or when a new opposition leader was elected i.e. Stockwell Day. That was clear abuse of power.

    You can complain about anything you want. That is your right. However, to suggest that the PM is belittling the country is utter nonsense. I want to hear the lies he supposedly has told. Instead of making a generalized statement put some facts forward.

    Yes the PM of the country should run around yelling the sky is falling the sky is falling. By the way you suggest that we had a recession coming in 06. That would be 08 right?

  35. Heh, Mr. Harper has the job. He doesn't need an election. It is the anti Harper crowd that keeps whining that the country is falling apart and he is insulting the country blah, blah, blah.
    If they believe it and it is not just rhetoric then they should put their money where their mouths are. You and both know they are simply grandstanding. Problem for the opposition and their supporters many Canadians are not listening to the hyperbolic rhetoric and torqued headlines.

  36. Ahhh, my mistake. I obviously misunderstood this:

    He is up against three left wing parties that are determined that he not achieve any legislative success that he can take to the Canadian people in an election campaign.

    which I interpreted to mean Harper is being thwarted.

  37. Maybe I do know you – one thing I know about you is that you don't have the courage to express your views and put your name to them. You may not have children, you may be a monk, so how could I attack your parenting skills when you're only an acronym.

    For Harper to suggest that Canada is a second-rate anyting is belittling the country. Who the hell does he think he is? The big judge in the sky?

    Harper called an election after 2 years in power, without being defeated in the HoC, a useless and expensive excercise. And yes, I meant 08 for the recession, when Harper either lied or proved to be an idiot. There is no other explanation possible.

    By the way, regarding Stockwell Day, can anyone tell me why it's so smart for a political party to go into a leadership convention three years into a government? Isn't that a stupid thing to do?

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