The opening salvos of Question Period today in the House of Commons were extremely revealing in terms of the political posturing that will undoubtedly begin as we move closer and closer to a general election. Notably absent from the House of Commons chamber during Question Period was Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. However, Lisa Raitt opened up the portion of the parliamentary day on the topic of the carbon tax:
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister was asked a simple question, whether Canadians can expect to pay higher fuel prices with the carbon tax. His response was a bit jarring. He said, yes, and that is what Canadians expect because that is leadership.
What the Prime Minister views as leadership is literally terrifying to widows and single moms across this country. At the very least, they deserve to know one thing. How much will the carbon tax cost them?
The Prime Minister responded to the opposition benches on point but not without reaching to the previous Conservative government (without question exactly where the Conservatives can be defined as weak on the environment):
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are yet again demonstrating not just their tenuous relationship with the truth, but also with the understanding that we have to take good, clean action on carbon. After 10 long years of the Harper Conservatives doing absolutely nothing on the environment, the same Conservatives show that they just do not get it.
We are putting a price on carbon pollution because it will reduce emissions and drive growth in the right direction at the same time. While Harper Conservatives believe that by making the economy and the environment work together and that somehow Canada is broken, we will continue to invest in clean technology.
Note how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau out and out calls the opposition Conservatives in this 42nd Parliament the “Harper Conservatives” despite the fact that Stephen Harper is no longer their leader. We can expect the Liberals to come out heavy linking the current caucus to the past and the fact that many front bench members are long in the tooth Conservatives from that era makes it a viable political tactic.
Lisa Raitt would not let the issue of the carbon tax go and rose again to follow-up on her first question:
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s lead ministers simply do not understand that they are very much out of touch with the reality of what’s happening and the gravity of the issue that we are speaking of. I remember the days, and a lot of us do, of being able to put just five bucks in the gas tank in order to get to my work at the Dairy Queen, and there are people like that today in my riding who experience that.
This is a serious matter that is going to affect the affordability of life for many Canadians. His government knows how much it costs. Why will he not tell them?
And Prime Minister Trudeau refused to hold back in evoking the name (and apparent puppet master abilities) of Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
Mr. Speaker, we have been putting in place practical, low-cost measures to tackle climate change and drive clean growth, including pricing pollution. It is clear that the Conservatives have no intention of taking climate change seriously and have no plan to promote clean growth in Canada. This is exactly the kind of inaction we saw in 10 years under Stephen Harper, who still very much apparently controls the backbench of the Conservative Party, and these Conservatives are no different. (emphasis added)
It is important to understand and worth mentioning that the linking of Stephen Harper to the current Conservative caucus is a test balloon at this point. The Trudeau Liberals have previously labelled Andrew Scheer “Stephen Harper with a smile” and that line and sentiment will be tested now by the Liberals to determine its strength going into an election campaign. It will be key to watch the polls, in particular the approval rates of Trudeau and Scheer to understand the impact of this tactic and whether or not it will be effective enough to be featured during the next election campaign.
There was a final exchange between Lisa Raitt and the Prime Minister over the carbon tax and again Trudeau linked the current caucus to the previous Conservative government:
The Harper Conservatives still demonstrate that they do not get it. They are stuck in what they were doing for 10 years. Canadians had enough.
It was another Conservative MP, Gérard Deltell, who asked the next question to the Prime Minister, the subject remained the carbon tax:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to repeat what I said because it is the truth and it comes from Natural Resources Canada. The Conservatives’ record from 2005 to 2015 is the following: a 2.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 16.9% increase in GDP.
That is the Conservative record. We lowered greenhouse gas emissions and grew the economy. We did that without the Liberal carbon tax.
Why does the Prime Minister want to impose a tax on Canadians?
The Prime Minister did not step off message once in his reply:
Mr. Speaker, if these Conservatives want to run another campaign based on how well they did during the Harper years, I urge them to do so. Canadians rejected the approach of the Harper government, which presided over the worst record of economic growth since the Great Depression, was unable to create energy jobs in new markets, and failed to provide Canadians with the future they needed. Canadians made a choice: they rejected Harper and his Conservatives.
The Trudeau Liberal logic goes something like this: the current Conservative caucus is being run by Stephen Harper behind the scenes and their leader is no different than Stephen Harper (note how note once into QP at this point has Trudeau even mentioned Andrew Scheer), Canadians rejected Stephen Harper in the last election, therefore Canadians ought to reject the current Conservative caucus.
The issue of the carbon tax presents a perfect litmus test to begin determining the posturing that will develop as the election period encroaches. For the Conservatives, the issue is their bread and butter in terms of populism (everyone gets talking about the price of gasoline), plays to the geographical base and presents an opportunity to tap back into the 905 around Toronto. For the Liberals the carbon tax is their centerpiece environmental policy that they will hold up as taking real action on climate change in Canada (which is especially important given the mixed messaging of environmental stewardship from the Liberals coming out of the pipeline debates). It is also a great avenue to attack the previous Conservative government because of their quantifiable failure to act on environmental issues. It will be particularly interesting to watch the Liberals roll out their attempt to link the current Conservative caucus to Stephen Harper, whether or not it will be effective absolutely remains to be seen.
Parliament Hill is one of the most beautiful seats of government in the world. The transformation of Ottawa from a back-water logging town, miles away from anything of any importance in early Canada, has been carefully crafted to create a city that reflects the diverse and unique culture and history of Canada. In particular, icons in and around the Parliament Buildings, including within the House of Commons and Senate chambers, present to Canadians a stunning visual history of their roots and aspirations in the formation of a country forged out of distant New World colonies and vast wilderness. In this post we will explore Parliament Hill and learn about the history and intent of icons which have been crafted around the Parliament Buildings.
The Centennial Flame was lit on 1 January 1967 to mark the 100th anniversary of Confederation at the start of the year. It was lit in the presence of then Prime Minister Leaster B. Pearson. The monument is in the form of a flame that burns above a fountain that is lined with the coat of arms of all 10 provinces in Canada. It was envisioned by the federal government and contracted as a joint venture with the provinces in order to honour the provinces uniquely during the centennial celebrations. It has become tradition in Canada for Canadians visiting Parliament Hill to toss coin change into the fountain for good luck. The money collected through this is deposited in a government account and funds the Centennial Flame Research Award which is given “to a person with a disability to enable him or her to conduct research and prepare a report on the contributions of one or more Canadians with disabilities to the public life of Canada or the activities of Parliament.” The Centennial Flame is often mistakenly called the eternal flame. The flame however is not eternal and is often extinguished in bad weather (common in Ottawa) or for routine maintenance– interestingly, however, the fountain does not freeze during winter because of the heating from the flame slightly above the waterline.
The Peace Tower that dominates Centre Block is probably one of the most recognizable features of Parliament Hill and Ottawa as a whole. The tower is 92.2 m tall and features approximately 370 gargoyles, grotesques, and friezes which are common in the Victorian High Gothic style of the Parliamentary precent. After the fire that took the original Centre Block in 1916, the creation of a memorial at the end of World War I coincided, and a tower for the facade of the new Centre Block was conceived. It was officially unveiled in 1922. Within the tower, above the porte-cochere, there is a memorial to all who died during the First World War called the Memorial Chamber. It is a valued 7.3 by 7.3 metre space with tall stained glass windows and the floor is made up of brass plates from shells used during the war. Near the peak of the Peace Tower is a 53-bell carillon that was dedicated to the commemoration of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I and was inaugurated on 1 July 1927, the 60th anniversary of Confederation. The Peace Tower was the first location that the new maple leaf Canadian Flag was flown above Parliament Hill on 15 February 1965.
The Library of Parliament is the oldest part of the Centre Block as a result of a quick thinking clerk closing the giant bronze doors that separate it from the rest of the building during the fire in 1916. The design of the library was inspired by the British Museum Reading Room and is formed circular in the form of a chapter house. It is separated from Centre Block via the Hall of Honour. The roots of the Library go back to the 1790s when the legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada established libraries along the lines of the UK parliament. With the uniting of the two regions under the United Province of Canada the libraries were merged and continued through Confederation in 1867. The Library features Hansard records from almost every legislative assembly in Canada, periodicals for MPs and Senators and significant state reports and publications. Since 1870 there have been only eight Parliamentary Librarians.
When entering Centre Block from the main entrance and walking through the porte-cochere of the Peace Tower one immediately enters Confederation Hall. The entire Centre Block is arranged symmetrically around Confederation Hall and the columns and stone work that dominates the walls and vaulted ceiling present a bold and confident entrance for the seat of government. The arcaded arches are topped by gables sculpted to commemorate the confederated nature of Canada and they support one side of the hall’s fan vaulted ceiling with carved bosses, while the other side rests on a single column in the centre of the room. This column is borne on a stone carved with an image of Neptune amongst sea lions and fish in a mythical sea. It was placed at noon on 2 July 1917, to mark the 50th anniversary of Confederation, and above it was carved the words:
1867 JULY 1917 ON THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH COLONIES IN NORTH AMERICA AS THE DOMINION OF CANADA THE PARLIAMENT AND PEOPLE DEDICATE THIS BUILDING IN PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION AFTER DAMAGE BY FIRE AS A MEMORIAL OF THE DEEDS OF THEIR FOREFATHERS AND OF THE VALOUR OF THOSE CANADIANS WHO IN THE GREAT WAR FOUGHT FOR THE LIBERTIES OF CANADA, OF THE EMPIRE AND OF HUMANITY.
Running along a north-south axis from Confederation Hall to the Library of Parliament is the Hall of Honour. This passageway serves as the corridors where the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament traverse during the Opening of Parliament and the start of each new sitting of Parliament. It is also the location of laying persons receiving state honours for funerals. The hall is bisected by small, vaulted corridors, the east one leading to a committee room, and the west to the old reading room; the latter is known as the Correspondents’ Entrance, as it is lined with bosses and label stops sculpted by Cléophas Soucy between 1949 and 1950 into the visages of ten notable parliamentary correspondents: Charles Bishop, Henri Bourassa, John Wesley Dafoe, Joseph Howe, Grattan O’Leary, Frank Oliver, John Ross Robertson, Philip Dansken Ross, Joseph Israël Tarte, and Robert S. White. he Hall of Honour was intended to be a gallery where statues of notable Canadians would be arranged in the niches along each side. That plan was later abandoned in favour of a more general purpose of commemorating the 1916 fire, as well as honouring those who participated in the Great War. The sculptures remain incomplete; only the north end, closest to the Library of Parliament, has completed carvings.
House of Commons
Centre Block houses both Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons is located in the west side of the building and the Senate is located in the east. The foyer of the House of Commons is accessed via the South Corridor of Confederation Hall. The threshold of the House of Commons features a large ornately carved wooden double door. This is one of the most public spaces within parliament (aside from the House of Commons chamber itself) and is a common feature of news broadcasts across Canada during scrums following significant events within the Commons chamber. It was also a personal favourite location for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to conduct official government announcements. On either side of the entrance are wooden coat lockers for Members of Parliament.
The building’s western wing contains the House of Commons chamber, along with its antechamber and lobbies for the government and opposition, on the east and west sides of the main commons space. The doors to all are of white oak trimmed with hand-wrought iron.
The chamber is 21 metres long, 16 metres wide, and has seats for 320 members of parliament and 580 persons in the upper gallery that runs around the room’s second level. The overall colour scheme is in green—visible in the carpeting, bench upholstery, draperies, paint within the gilded honeycomb cork plaster work of the cove, and the stretched linen canvas over the ceiling—and is reflective of the colour used in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom since at least 1663. That canvas, sitting 14.7 m above the commons floor and designed in 1920 by the New York decorating firm Mack, Jenney and Tyler, is painted with the heraldic symbols of the Canadian, provincial, and territorial coats of arms, with medallions at the intersections of diagonal stencilled bands in an argyle pattern. Running below this, and above the cove, is a continuous gold leafcornicecreated in 1919 by Ferdinand Anthony Leonard Cerracchio (1888-1964), which displays a row of gilt figures, broken at the peak of each pointed arch by cherubs holding a cartouche, and behind all of which runs a painted grapevine with Tudor roses.
On the floor, the opposing members’ benches are spaced 3.96 m apart on either side of the room, a measurement said to be equivalent to two swords’ length, harkening back to when English members of parliament carried swords into the chamber. Directly between, directly opposite the main door, on the chamber’s axis, is the speaker‘s chair, made in 1921 by the English firm of Harry Hems as an exact replica of that in the British House of Commons. It is topped by a carved wood canopy bearing a rendition of the royal coat of arms of Canada sculpted in wood from the roof of the Westminster Hall, which was built in 1397; the whole was a gift from the British branch of what is today the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The chair has since been augmented with a hydraulic lift, lighting, writing surfaces, and, at the foot of the chair, a television screen and computer screen to aid the speaker in monitoring the process of the house. Behind the chair is a door that gives the speaker access to the speaker’s corridor, which links the commons chamber to the speaker’s chambers, and which is lined with portraits of past speakers of the House of Commons.
In the commons chamber’s east and west walls are 12 windows topped by pointed arches with hood moulds terminated by pendant drops. The glazing within is stained glass, commissioned as a Centennial Project in 1967 by then Speaker of the House of Commons Lucien Lamoureux. Each window contains approximately 2,000 pieces of hand-blown glass—created in Ottawa by Russell C. Goodman using medieval techniques—arranged in a Decorated Gothic style pattern designed by R. Eleanor Milne. Divided into four sections by stone mullions, the upper parts contain geometrical tracery and provincial and territorial floral emblems amongst ferns; in the tracery at the head of the windows are symbols extracted from the coats of arms of the provinces and territories.
As with other areas of the Centre Block, the commons walls are enriched with shafts, blind tracery, friezes, and a sculpture programme. The room was the last space in the building to be carved, with sculptural work only beginning in the late 1950s and continuing intermittently for the following two decades; approximately 225 blocks of varying sizes still remain uncarved. Amongst the work done are three series of stone works: The British North America Act, a set of 12 high reliefs on the east and west walls of the chamber, carved between 1978 and 1985, and illustrating through symbols and narrative themes associated with the federal and provincial responsibilities laid out in the British North America Act; Evolution of Life, a series of 14 sculptures within the spandrels of the pier-arches at the north and south ends of the House of Commons, depicting Canada’s palaeontological past and the evolution of humanity through philosophy, science, and the imagination; and Speakers and Clerks, comprising four heads carved on the jambs of the two doors on either side of the Speaker’s chair, depicting the speakers and clerks of the House of Commons at the time of the opening of both parliament buildings in 1867 and 1920, respectively.
To the Senate’s immediate south is the Senate foyer, a double height space surrounded by a double layered colonnade, the inside ring of attached shaft columns rising to the ceiling and the outside ring of rose coloured limestone columns supporting a second floor gallery. Within the stonework are sculpted depictions of important figures in pre-Confederation Canada, as well as self-portraits of the sculptors who fashioned the stone. A number are dedicated as the Sovereigns’ Arches, with corbels sculpted into depictions of Canada’s monarchs; the latest addition being that of Queen Elizabeth II, unveiled on 9 December 2010. The entire ceiling is of a Tudor style stone tracery filled with stained glass depicting royal emblems, such as provincial coats of arms, as well as symbols of First Nations and the names of all the speakers of the Senate up until the ceiling’s installation in 1920. Above the exterior entrance into the foyer is a stained glass window commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Designed by Christopher Goodman and Angela Zissoff of Kelowna, British Columbia, with input from the Speaker of the Senate, Noël A. Kinsella, and the Canadian Secretary to the Queen and Usher of the Black Rod, Kevin MacLeod, and approved by the Queen, the window shows Elizabeth and Queen Victoria with their respective royal cyphers and renditions of the Centre Block during the reign of each monarch. A gift to the monarch from the Senate, it was constructed over six weeks from 500 pieces of machine made and mouth-blown glass from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. The Queen unveiled a model at Rideau Hall on 30 June 2011 and, after the finished piece’s installation, the window was dedicated by Governor GeneralDavid Johnston on 7 February 2012.
The Senate chamber’s overall colour is red, seen in the upholstery, carpeting, and draperies, and reflecting the colour scheme of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom; red was a more royal colour, associated with the Crown and hereditary peers. Capping the room is a gilt ceiling with deep octagonal coffers, each filled with heraldic symbols, including maple leaves, fleurs-de-lis, lions rampant, clàrsach, Welsh Dragons, and lions passant. This plane rests on six pairs and four single pilasters, each of which is capped by a caryatid, and between which are clerestory windows. Below the windows is a continuous architrave, broken only by baldachins at the base of each of the above pilasters.
On the chamber’s east and west walls are eight murals depicting scenes from the First World War. Painted in between 1916 and 1920, they were originally part of the more than 1,000 piece Canadian War Memorials Fund, founded by the Lord Beaverbrook, and were intended to hang in a specific memorial structure. But the project was never completed, and the works were stored at the National Gallery of Canada until, in 1921, parliament requested some of the collection’s oil paintings on loan for display in the Centre Block. The murals have remained in the Senate chamber ever since.
Edgar Bundy‘s Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire, 1915, depicts the first landing of Canadian troops in France, at Saint-Nazaire, led off the Novian by the pipe band of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, and watched by officers, troops, and townspeople. Algernon Talmage painted A Mobile Veterinary Unit in France, showing a scene on the Cambrai front, where a Canadian Mobile Veterinary Unit is taking wounded horses to an evacuating station. Railway Construction in France was painted by Leonard Richmond to show the construction of a railway by the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps, in the deepest trench in France. James Kerr-Lawson was commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund to create both Arras, the Dead City—which depicts the ruins of Arras Cathedral as they were in 1917—and The Cloth Hall, Ypres, a painting of the destroyed, 600-year-old Cloth Hall in Ypres. Claire Atwood‘s On Leave documents (as battlefield scenes were thought inappropriate subject matter for female artists) the home front activities of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at a YMCA canteen in one of London‘s train stations as they await their train to the battlefront. The Watch on the Rhine (The Last Phase) was painted by Sir William Rothenstein to symbolically represent the defeat of Germany, with a British howitzer facing across the Rhine, and old and new Germany embodied in the ancient hills and factory chimney. And Sir George Clausen‘s Returning to the Reconquered Land was painted to illustrate agricultural land behind the front lines in France and shows people returning to their destroyed homes following the armistice.
During consideration on a particular bill or motion, it may be prudent for the House of Commons to resolve itself into a committee composed of all of the members of the House. These committees are known as Committees of the Whole and they have a unique purpose in the body of parliamentary procedure. Each time the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, a new committee of that particular session is formed, thus, over the span of a session many ad hoc Committees of the Whole can be formed.
A Historical Perspective
Committees of the Whole were borne out of the British parliamentary tradition of grand committees that started prior to the reign of King James I. These committees considered legislation that was brought before the House and it became practice to allow any member who was in attendance of these meetings to speak and be heard. It was during the reign of James I and Charles I in the mid-1600s that these grand committees became known as Committees of the Whole and procedures similar to what we have today in Canada were formalized in our parliamentary tradition. In their early days, Committees of the Whole were forums that were struck to debate bills of great interest. By forming a committee outside of the sitting of the House of Commons itself, ordinary members were afforded a greater chance of getting their questions heard and answered. More importantly, the removal of the Speaker and all officers of parliament who were viewed to have the interest of the King at heart, meant that members were given more latitude to discuss controversial subjects.
There is as little sense of reality in appointing a committee of sixty members as there is in having a Committee of the Whole of 265: it is hopeless to expect a committee of such size to accomplish any useful work. (W.F. Dawson, Procedure in the Canadian House of Commons, p. 209)
In Canada the colonies adopted the practices of the British House of Commons and thus Committees of the Whole were brought over. In Lower Canada, four grand committees were struck at the start of each session that covered four broad but important areas of government. Addresses to the Crown were often first proposed and debated in the Committee of the Whole. At Confederation, the Parliament of Canada adopted the procedures of the former Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada which required that issues of taxation, trade or public revenue had to be first considered by a Committee of the Whole before any resolution or bill could be passed by the House of Commons.
From 1867 to 1968 there were three main committees of the whole House of Commons; the Committee of Supply, the Committee of Ways and Means and Committees of the Whole House. The House of Commons often resolved into the Committee of Supply to consider budgetary matters and supply estimates provided to the House by the government. In 1968 after a special committee was struck to review and revise the rules of the House of Commons, changes were made to the committee structure. Standing Committees would be formed at the start of each session with membership limited to a certain number of members and partisan representation being based on the composition of the House as a whole. The process of resolving into a Committee of the Whole for matters of routine legislation, which financial matters were increasingly being viewed as, was seen as too cumbersome and complex for the entire House. The new streamlined process saw most Committees of the Whole in Canada fall by the wayside. And by 1975, the only remaining committee composed of all members of the House of Commons is the Committee of the Whole itself.
Special Rules and Procedures
When the House resolves into a Committee of the Whole there are significant changes to the rules and procedures which govern that particular body. While Standing Order 101 clearly states that all rules and procedures of the House of Commons shall remain in force while the House is resolved into a Committee of the Whole, it goes on to further add that rules pertaining to the seconding of motions and the length of speeches do not apply while in a Committee of the Whole. In fact, one of the most attractive aspects about Committees of the Whole is that members are permitted to speak more than once and may speak for up to 20 minutes on a particular topic, provided it is relevant to the bill or motion at hand. The general decorum while in a Committee of the Whole is much less formal that when the House itself is in session. The Speaker, for example, is not present in the Chair and actually leaves the Chamber entirely while the committee is meeting. The Mace is moved from the Table to the bracket just below out of sight. Members are not required to stand in their place to speak (they may sit anywhere they like in the House) and often civil servants are brought to the floor of the House to assist Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries during deliberations.
On 11 June 2008, Stephen Harper issued an apology to aboriginal Canadians for the role of the federal government in the residential school system. During this apology, the House resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole which allowed aboriginal leaders to be on the floor of the Chamber during the speech and as well to address members present following the remarks from the Prime Minister. This is an example of the differences between the House of Commons being in session and being resolved into a Committee of the Whole.
Procedures for Resolving into Committee
The rules and procedures regarding how the House of Commons resolves into a Committee of the Whole have changed over time. Today, an order in placed on the Order Paper for the Speaker to vacate the Chair and the House to resolve into a Committee of the Whole is carried out without debate or objection. Once read in the House at the appropriate time, the Speaker simply gets up and leaves the Chair and the Chamber. The Sergeant-at-Arms will move the Mace from its place at the Table to the bracket just underneath the Table and all of the Officers of Parliament will vacate the Chamber. The Deputy Speaker, or more accurately, the Chair of the Committee of the Whole takes their place at the end of the Table (where the Clerk of the House of Commons typically sits) and the Speaker’s Chair is left vacant. The image of a vacant Speaker’s Chair and the Table will no Mace present is a sign that the House of Commons is no longer in formal session and has resolved into a Committee of the Whole. Individual members may also begin moving about the House at this time. It is not uncommon for the minister or parliamentary secretary relevant to the particular item being considered to take a seat along the front bench where government members normally sit. It is also not uncommon for civil servants to be escorted into and out of the Chamber during this time to assist ministers or parliamentary secretaries during the meeting of the committee.
When an Order of the Day is read for the House to go into a Committee of the Whole or when it is ordered that a bill be considered in a Committee of the Whole, the Speaker shall leave the Chair without question put. (House of Commons Standing Order 100)
A quorum of 20 members is required for the committee to sit. The quorum must be present when the House resolves itself into committee and during the entirety of the meeting. If at any time a member rises to draw to attention to a lack of quorum, the Chair will count members present and if a quorum is not met they will vacate the chair and report the status to the Speaker. The Speaker will take their chair and the Chair of the Committee of the Whole will report to the Speaker that a quorum is not present. If at this time the Speaker sees that there still is no quorum present than they will order the bells rung. If after 15 minutes of the bells ringing quorum has not been met than the House and committee will adjourn for the day and the proceedings will resume where they left off the following day.
Conduct of Debate
There are four unique characteristics of a Committee of the Whole in contrast to the rules and procedures in place when the House of Commons is in session. First, the rules of motions and the seconding of motions is different. No motion from the Committee of the Whole requires a seconder and motions may only be withdrawn by the mover or by unanimous consent of the committee. Second, members may speak more than once and, third, members may speak for up to 20 minutes with the exception of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition who have unlimited time to speak, if they wish. And lastly, members are not required to be in their place during the meeting of the committee and often move about the Chamber during the meeting.
(1) The Standing Orders of the House shall be observed in Committees of the Whole so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
(2) Speeches in Committees of the Whole must be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration.
(3) No Member, except the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, shall speak for more than twenty minutes at a time in any Committee of the Whole. (House of Commons Standing Order 101)
When the Committee of the Whole is interrupted to permit the House of Commons to carry on with routine proceedings (for example, Oral Questions), the Chair will simply vacate their seat and the Speaker will resume the Chair. Once in place, the Chair reports the status of the committee to the Speaker and requests leave for further time to deliberate. The scheduling of Committees of the Whole is generally conducted by the Speaker in consultation with the House Leaders from each political party (with strong input from the majority leader). Once the Speaker takes the Chair and the Mace is moved back to the Table than the House of Commons resumes its sitting and carries on with proceedings.
If debate is required to be extended for any reason, members may not move such a motion without notice as in the House of Commons. Rather, notice must be given so that the Chair can make arrangements to report the status of the committee to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Any request for debate extension must go through the Speaker of the House of Commons who is responsible for committees of the House.
Voting within the Committee of the Whole is first done by voice. If the Chair hears no objection to a bill or motion than it is deemed passed without opposition. Any member may request a standing vote. The standing vote is done differently than in the House of Commons because a members name is not recorded in divisions. Members are not necessarily in their place, they simply rise where they stand on the division they wish and they are counted out-loud by the Chair. At the end of the count the matter is either affirmed or negatived and the committee moves on the next item of business. Typically the Chair does not vote in Committees of the Whole but may do so in order to break up a tie between the committee in the same fashion as the Speaker in the House of Commons (that is in such a way as to maintain the status quo).
Committees of the Whole are used in the modern Canadian parliament to debate matters of particular importance which may require input from members beyond what would be permitted in the Standing Committee model. The desire to resolve into a Committee of the Whole is generally started by the government or opposition House Leader and is added to the Order Paper as required. Committees of the Whole have also been used to allow the government to make an announcement and allow members of the public to address the Chamber. It is not uncommon to see orders for the House to resolve into a Committee of the Whole in the consideration of controversial legislation or main estimates or to conduct a less formal take-note debate on a particular subject.
Photo credit: Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the Committee of the Whole while aboriginal leaders listen on the floor of the House of Commons. Buzzfeed.
…without question something worth taking a look at, especially in light of recent rumours that Conservatives are looking to impose term limits on their leaders. Stephen Harper served as Prime Minister of Canada for nearly nine years after winning three elections as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. However, he is not the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history, that honour rests with William Lyon Mackenzie King who served just over 21 years after winning six elections as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Four prime ministers in Canadian history have served mandates that were not consecutive, meaning they stayed on as leader of their party (or in one case, briefly retired) regardless of a general election loss from an incumbency position. Over half of Canadian prime ministers have served over 5 years in office and of those eleven, only one managed in with only a single mandate (the average number of mandate for that top half was two).
This picture of our head of government in Canada is in stark contrast to the United States which, through constitutional amendment, have limited the terms of their Presidents to two four year terms. The exception would be in time of great needs, for example a time of war, which has only occurred once in the history of that country. The argument articulated in the United States justifying term limits rests on an overall check and balance that limits the control of a powerful personality occupying the White House.
But there are also arguments against terms limits which are entirely valid. For example, it is argued that an eight year cycle of leadership results in short-sighted executive government. There is also an argument to be made about an executive formulated on a mandated short term against a legislature that can have members re-elected for an indefinite period of time, and the power imbalance which is created in such a situation.
We can debate the merits of term limits back and forth, but the fact remains that in Canada the office of the Prime Minister is not an official office within the structure of our executive and legislature. In fact, the title of Prime Minister is not used once in any constitutional document in Canada (same for in the United Kingdom). This is significant and there are important reasons why this apparent oversight is in fact intentional. Primarily, the prime minister of Canada is first and foremost a member of the legislature. This is a fundamental tenant of responsible government in Canada; the practice of executive members of the government being drawn from elected members of Parliament. This is in contrast to the government system in the United States where the head of state is separate from the legislature, not infused as in our British parliamentary model. In the US system, the President is directly accountable to the people, in Canada the prime minister is directly accountable to the House of Commons which is composed of members who are directly accountable to the people (which include the sitting PM directly as a member).
In the United States, the president is chosen in an election which is separate from that of the legislature. Each of the two major political parties have established primary systems designed to determine their respective candidate for the presidential election. It is all done separate from the mechanisms that support the election of the legislature. In Canada, the prime minister is chosen based on which party is able to establish and maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. Canadians play no role in choosing the prime minister aside from electing their respective member of Parliament. Our accountability of this system is based on the fact that the person chosen by our head of state (the Queen delegated to the Governor-General) will only come from the elected batch of members in the House of Commons. And the mechanisms of who goes forward from that batch is entirely based on partisan politics. We do not chose, as Canadians, who leads the various parties and thus has a chance of becoming Prime Minister. As members of the respective parties we may have a say, and the mechanism of that voice is determine through internal party constitutions and by-laws. A party could very well select a leader among only elected members of their own caucus (as was done in the United Kingdom for centuries).
In our current political system in Canada, it would be impossible and irresponsible to impose term limits on the prime minister. It would be terribly undemocratic to impose restrictions on who a group of Canadians formed as a political party can elected as their leader and for how long. Political parties themselves are free to impose limits on their leaders, and indeed can indirectly impose limits on the prime minister by having these limits internally. But there simply would be no statutory avenue for the legislature to establish law that would impose a limit on the prime minister without their being a limit within their own party.
The wake of the 42nd General Canadian election the House of Commons has returned a majority Liberal government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau. As we discussed earlier, one of his first priorities is the appointment of the 29th Canadian Ministry and what will become the Liberal government cabinet (set to happen on 4 Nov 15 with a Swearing-in Ceremony at Rideau Hall). These collective appointments will become the executive arm of government, one of the most important parliamentary institutions, so let’s take a look at what goes into building a modern Canadian cabinet, and the procedure and law that surrounds its creation.
House of Commons Procedures and Practice 2nd Ed explains executive authority as “vested in the Sovereign and exercised by the Governor in Council.” It goes on to further explain that this authority is exercised “by and with the advice and consent of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada; in practice, it is the Governor General acting with the advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.” Privy Councillors are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister and these appointees are styled “Honourable” for life (the Prime Minister being styled “Right Honourable” for life).
Although the terms “Ministry” and “Cabinet” are commonly used interchangeably, in fact a Ministry is composed of both Cabinet Ministers and Secretaries of State. Most Cabinet appointees are designated Ministers in charge of government departments (or ministries) although some may be given responsibility for an important policy portfolio. Secretaries of State are assigned to assist Cabinet Ministers in specific areas within their portfolios. They are members of the Ministry (sworn to the Privy Council) but not of Cabinet. In addition, the Parliament of Canada Act provides for the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries (Members who assist Cabinet Ministers but who are not members of the Ministry). Finally, provision may be made for the appointment of an Acting Minister in the event a Minister is absent or incapacitated, or the office is vacant.
The appointments made in the formation of the Ministry and cabinet represent one of the most important decisions made by a governing Prime Minister. Justin Trudeau has an 184 member strong caucus from which to draw his Ministry and build a cabinet. He has already begun to inform Canadians on how he will approach the formation by the inclusion of 50/50 men and women and a reach out to aboriginal Canadians. Considering that the Liberal party swept through 4/5 Canadian regions, Trudeau will have a significant pool of people to draw experience and representation on his cabinet. House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed explains the Prime Minister’s prerogative regarding the formation and composition of the cabinet:
A Prime Minister’s choice of Ministers is influenced by political considerations respecting, for example, geography, gender and ethnicity. However, the Prime Minister alone decides on the size of the Ministry and what constitutes an appropriate balance of representation.
The exact size of Canadian Ministries and cabinets have fluctuated and for the most part have grown over the course of Canada’s history. Pierre Trudeau remarked in his Memoirs in a caption for a photo showing his cabinet that the photo was from a “time when cabinets could fit around a single table.” In the featured image for this post, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker is seen with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Governor General Vincent Massey and the entire 18th Canada Ministry (National Film Board of Canada, MG01/XVII/JGD438). The inline photo is from the swearing-in ceremony of the 28th Canadian Ministry chaired by Stephen Harper. You can see the significant difference in size and visible representation from 1957 to 2006.
The results of 42nd Canadian General Election. Liberal candidates from across the country were elected to 184 seats in the House of Commons, earning a majority government under the leadership of Prime Minister in-waiting Justin Trudeau. The Conservative Party of Canada saw candidates elected in 99 ridings and will form the Official Opposition in the 42nd Parliament of Canada. Trudeau will (within the next two weeks) appoint the 29th Canadian Ministry from among his 184-strong caucus. The NDP was reduced to third party status with 44 seats and the Bloc next in line with 10 seats. Green Party leader Elizabeth May held her Saanich–Gulf Islands riding on Vancouver Island. But the results of this election are probably not news to you. The question is what happens now that the election has finished and we have a new majority government in Canada?
First let’s understand what has happened in parliament as a result of the election. Most importantly, the 41st Parliament of Canada has given way to the 42nd Parliament. This is the largest parliament in Canadian history with 338 seats distributed evenly across ridings roughly equally representing over 35-million electors. The direct result of casting a ballot on 19 Oct 15 was the formation of this parliament. This is why you were not handed a ballot with the name Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair, Stephen Harper or Elizabeth May on it (unless you lived in their particular riding of course).
As a result of the formation of the 42nd Parliament of Canada, a new ministry is now required. Through responsible government, the Governor-General is compelled to appoint persons who have been duly elected into parliament to form the Canadian Ministry and who gets appointed to lead it depends on who can command the confidence of the House of Commons. Once a new parliament is formed, convention dictates that the Governor-General assess parliament to determine the potential requirement for new ministry (or the continuance of the current) and designates a Prime Minister, if required. Justin Trudeau is currently technically the Prime Minister in-waiting because he has not been designated by the Governor-General (that I know of as of this being posted), but that is a really technical detail; Justin Trudeau will lead the next ministry and will become Prime Minister with a majority government. During this entire period, the current Prime Minister has not been relieved of his responsibility as the leader of the country. Stephen Harper at the time of this publication is (was) still Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the 28th Canadian Ministry. Justin Trudeau has indicated that he will appoint a new cabinet in two weeks which will start with a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall overseen by the Governor-General of Canada. This will be the official start of the 29th Canadian Ministry under Justin Trudeau.
This all might seem very technical but there are some implications for our country. Suppose, for example, that something tragic happened in the country, no doubt Stephen Harper would be legally permitted to issue orders if required. He might listen to input from Trudeau, as the Prime Minister designate, but whether there is an exact requirement is legally dubious. On the flip side, suppose for some reason Justin Trudeau was unable to fulfill his duties as an MP and thus as Prime Minister (for example, a major illness suddenly discovered). A new person could be appointed by the Liberal caucus and eventually elected by the party membership to take his place. This could happen at any time during the ministry as well, however it would start a new ministry (and Trudeau would be required to resign). But these are topics for other posts, the important thing is that the Prime Minister from a legal standpoint is just the person who can marshal command of the House of Commons (all major federal parties have developed internal mechanisms for how this person is elected and legitimized within the party and parliament through convention).
Now, we may not know to what extant Harper may still exercise power as out-going Prime Minister but we do know that Trudeau and his soon-to-be ministry are moving in on parliament. In the coming two weeks Harper will move his office out of the Langevin Block (home of the PMO and Privy Council) and Justin Trudeau will move in. There are already indications that public servants at the Privy Council (the bureaucratic arm of the PMO) have begun to comb through the Liberal platform to present options on how to implement their promises. In short order, briefing material will be created for each soon-to-be-appointed minister that will include a letter from the leader explaining his vision for their portfolio and sometimes a letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada. Most of this material has most likely already begun to be put together by civil servants across the country.
Trudeau himself will be busy combing through his caucus to build a representative government. Cabinet-making in Canada has always been a particular art. All of the way back to the United Province of Canada when cabinet required an absolute balance between French and English (often with two leaders speaking different policy agendas). In modern political times the cabinet must still be balanced with representation from Quebec, but also from Eastern Canada (where the Liberals preformed very strongly), Central Canada and Western Canada. The cabinet will also have to include a proportional number of woman and aboriginals reflecting the values of Canadians. The Liberal government will need new-Canadians and people of all perspectives in order to build a cabinet which is representative of the people. And we also cannot forgot competency, which is required of every minister in order to quarterback the leaders’ vision for the government and implementation of policy within their respective departments.
So the short answer to the question of what is happening post-election is that Harper remains Prime Minister until the new ministry is sworn-in and the Liberals, in particular Justin Trudeau, are extremely busy.
…the short answer is yes. The long answer is the purpose of this post. The question is, could Prime Minister Stephen Harper hold on to power without earning a plurality of seats in the House of Commons on Monday, 19 Oct 15? Before we can answer the question, however, there are a few misconceptions we have to clear up and a few terms we have to define and better understand.
The Ministry. House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed describes the Ministry as “exercis[ing] the practical functions of government, [which] has no fixed maximum duration. Its duration is measured by the tenure of its Prime Minister and is calculated from the day the Prime Minister takes the oath of office to the day the Prime Minister dies, resigns or is dismissed.” Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of the 28th Canadian Ministry which was sworn in with the confidence of the House of Commons on 6 Feb 06. The Ministry continues regardless of the outcome of an election and thus the composition of each particular parliament. The 28th Canadian Minister continues at the time of this being published.
The Parliament. House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd Ed defines parliament as the period “between elections during which the institution of Parliament exercises its powers—is calculated from the date set for the return of the writs following a general election to its dissolution by the Governor General.” There is also a five year limit set on any part in accordance with the Constitution Act and that there must be a sitting once every 12 months. The parliament which just ended was the 41st Parliament. Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister through three distinct parliaments (two being hung parliaments) which combined had seven separate sessions.
A Session of Parliament. A session exists within a parliament. Every parliament convenes in the first session of the respective parliament with a Speech from the Throne, an election of a Speaker of the House of Commons and the swearing-in of Members (this opening is often made distinct from others in calling it the opening of parliament). Subsequent sessions open with all of the fanfare of the first session, however do not include the election of a Speaker and the swearing-in of Members. The ending of one session into another is called prorogation of parliament and it is trigged by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Hung Parliament. Often referred to as a minority government parliament. A hung parliament is one in which a clear option for the Governor-General in terms of who will be invited to form government is not present. In a hung parliament, the sitting Prime Minister retains the Ministry and carries on in government (the incumbency convention) but often in modern times a new Ministry is formed by the leader of the party with the plurality of seats in the House of Commons (if not the sitting Prime Minister).
On 2 Aug 15 the 41st Parliament came to a close when the writs were dropped by the Governor-General David Johnston on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It started the longest campaign in modern Canadian political history. On 19 Oct 15, Canadians will head to the polls and cast ballots for candidates in the largest number of elections ever to take place in the country– 338 in total. From all of those elections, partisan (or independent) candidates will earn seats in the House of Commons– Canada’s legislature– and the 42nd Parliament will be composed. Out of the composition of the 42nd Parliament one of two things will happen; (1) the 28th Canadian Ministry will be invited to continue to govern or (2) the 29th Canadian Ministry will begin with a new leader being invited to form government. The first situation could happen if the Conservative Party of Canada receives a majority of seats in the House of Commons, a plurality of seats in the House of Commons or, in a hung parliament and without a plurality of seats, invokes the incumbency convention. The second situation could happen if, in a hung parliament and without a plurality of seats, Stephen Harper steps down as Prime Minister and the Governor-General invites the leader with the plurality of seats to form government or if another party wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
Let’s use the most recent poll numbers and seat projections from Eric Grenier at threehundredeight.com to understand a plausible situation where Stephen Harper would legitimately and constitutionally hold on to power without having a majority of seats or a plurality of seats in the House of Commons. Suppose a Conservative upset resulted in that party taking the high end of 139 seats to the low end of the Liberals with 124 seats. Regardless of how many seats the NDP, Green Party and Bloc have the 28th Canadian Ministry would be standing to the right of the Speaker during the opening of the 42nd Parliament. Whether or not their Speech from the Throne would pass is another question, and as a matter of confidence it would mean the end of that Ministry. However, the opening itself could be delayed up to an entire year after the closing of the last Parliament, specifically 2 Aug 2016. Even if the NDP and Liberals decided to merge and form a majority of seats in the House of Commons, they would have to convince the Governor-General that the incumbency convention should not stand, which would be a tough sell.
Another example where Stephen Harper could hold on to power is more sinister in terms of how Canadians have come to understand the function of the House of Commons and the formation of government (which, for the record, is largely misinformed) but I would argue is more plausible than the first situation (at least in terms of the composition of parliament as a result of the election). Let’s say it goes right down the middle of Mr. Grenier’s seat count projection. The Liberal Party taking 149 seats, the Conservative Party 118 and the NDP 66 (again, it wouldn’t matter how the other parties came out). In this instance the 28th Canadian Ministry would continue as per the incumbency convention. There is a snag here however, as all three federal leaders have stated that they believe the statement that the leader with the plurality of seats gets first crack at forming government to be true and so, politically speaking, Harper would face pressure to step down (thus keeping the incumbency convention intact as well). However, Stephen Harper could decide to not step down, remain Prime Minister and delay the opening of parliament to buy time. This is highly unlikely, but would be well within the bounds of the Constitution.
The situation becomes even more aggravated if we close the gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals in terms of seat count (most likely how the chips are going to fall in my opinion). Imagine the Liberals taking 130 seats to the Conservatives taking 128 seats. Stephen Harper would remain Prime Minister and one or both remaining major federal parties would most likely be looking to a leadership convention. In that instance, a delay in the opening of parliament, or even an immediate opening of it, would change the landscape. It would become even tougher for the Liberals and the NDP to vote down Harper in the House of Commons if a delay in opening parliament included the election of a new Conservative leader who could face parliament with a Throne Speech riddled with goodies for the other federal parties.
There are several scenarios in which Stephen Harper could remain Prime Minister into the 42nd Parliament of Canada. The only sure way for critics to see him out for 24 Sussex Drive would be for the Liberals or the NDP to win a clear majority of seats in the House of Commons. Considering that a majority government outcome in the election has pretty much all but been ruled out during this extremely long campaign, we just may all be in for a constitutional lesson tomorrow evening.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice Ed 2 defines the official opposition (also know as Her Majesty’s Opposition) as “…the opposition party with the largest number of seats” in the House of Commons. The leader of this party is also conventionally styled the Leader of the Official Opposition (LOO). Every parliament since confederation has had an official opposition despite the fact that the institution itself is never once mentioned in any constitutional document. The existence of the official opposition is drawn from the preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867 which calls for a parliament “similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” And while there is no mention of the official opposition in any constitutional document, special rights and privileges are granted to the institution through the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. These special rights and privileges include the right for the leader (or another member of the official opposition) to have unlimited time during debate to respond to the prime minister and the privilege to ask the first question during Oral Questions.
Three Contributing Factors
Interestingly, while we have had an official opposition in Canada for as long as we have had a House of Commons and parliament, very little has been written or explored specifically about the institution and its role in parliament. David E. Smith in his seminal work on the opposition in Canada titled Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics scratches the surface of the role and function of the opposition, including opposition members of third and fourth parties in the House of Commons and concludes that the institution itself is unique from parliament to parliament and its role is largely driven (1) by the current composition of the House of Commons (majority or minority government, for example), (2) the issue at hand and (3) the personalities of the leaders within the House and government.
The Role of the Official Opposition in Canada
The first and obvious role of the official opposition in the House of Commons is to hold the government to account on all measures presented within the House and advanced by the government. It does not follow however that the opposition is forced to oppose all measures of the government despite the fact that such a situation would appear to undermine an institution charged with opposition. An example of such a situation would be a minority government being sustained with the support of a third party or, in the extreme, members from the official opposition. In order to maintain a degree of value of opposition in such an instance, official opposition leaders have advocated a vote abstaining from supporting or rejecting the government (and thus continuing confidence within the House). This is exactly what happened in 2005 when Stephen Harper (at the time the LOO) changed his stance on the budget presented by the governing Liberal Party and along with the NDP and Bloc abstained his caucus from voting, effectively allowing the government to advance in confidence of the House of Commons (notably, this was the largest abstention on any piece of legislation in Canadian history). However, for the most part, these moments are few and far between and more often than not the official opposition will oppose government legislation and initiatives. The mechanism by which the official opposition can constructively oppose the government is through amendments to legislation which are often tabled shortly after the prime minister or a minister presents a new piece of legislation. Another mechanism is through the presentation of minority reports from committees which are presented by the leader or a member of the official opposition immediately after the tabling of a report from a parliamentary committee. These minority reports often capture issues which the opposition drew from the investigation surrounding a piece of government legislation or initiative and may or may not propose an alternative course of action. And of course, the most direct means of opposition toward the government at the official opposition’s disposal is voting against government motions and legislation when divisions are called.
David E. Smith asserts in Across the Aisle that the “practice of opposition in the Canadian Parliament has never conformed to the theory of opposition found in political science textbooks” (p. 101). And this statement is strikingly accurate. As mentioned earlier, what drives the role and effectiveness of an official opposition are not the laws and conventions which enable it, but the composition of the House which contains it, the issues which drive it and the personalities who lead it. The official opposition has been as colourful, if not more so, than that of the government-of-the-day since confederation.
Case Studies: Medicare and the Afghanistan Engagement
A contemporary example of the changing role of opposition in Canada can be derived in the passing of a national health insurance program in Canada, known as Medicare. In was under a minority government parliament that medicare was passed with the support of the governing Liberals under Lester B. Pearson, the official opposition under the leadership of Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker and the third party NDP under the leadership of T.C. Douglas. It was through previous legislation introduced by Diefenbaker for a national hospital insurance programme that modelled the provincial medical insurance programme introduced in Saskatchewan while Douglas was the CCF premier that was instrumental in providing the framework for a more robust federal programme. Also, the opposition found support among key government ministers, especially Paul Martin Sr. who was a long-time supporter of a national healthcare plan for Canadians. In this instance, the government was able to secure support from opposition parties in a minority government parliament and medicare was introduced. We see how the composition of the House of Commons (a minority government requiring the support of opposition parties in order to advance legislation), the issue of the day (an almost universally supported concept of a federal medical insurance programme) and the personalities (support from key government ministers) articulated the role of the opposition and enabled the creation of one of the most popular government programmes in Canadian history.
The detailed article on the official opposition in the Compendium of Procedure explains that “by law, [the leader of the official opposition] must be consulted before certain important decisions are taken by the Government” and this was made evident in the lead-up to sending Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr. (as he then was) sought support from the Leader of the Official Opposition Stephen Harper (as he then was) prior to sending troops into combat. The logic in gaining such support was driven by the importance of the issue at hand. The belief was that since sending Canadians into combat had been such a contentious issue in the past especially in the passage of conscription legislation during World Wars One and Two, it was important for the government to seek support from all parties in the House of Commons. Such an initiative on the face seems to go against of the role of the opposition to oppose the government, but realistically it provides the opposition parties a chance to influence federal policy. However, the question of when and how such action by the government is deemed so important as to warrant support or consolation from the opposition benches is left to the government itself and is a cause of disagreement among parties in the House of Commons themselves. This was evident in 2014 when Stephen Harper did not seek unanimous parliamentary support to authorize the use of CF-18s for airstrikes against Libya. The justification from the government was that the mission did not constitute a direct “boots-on-the-ground” campaign and thus was not important or grand enough to require all-party support. In this case study we again see how the role and effectiveness of the opposition is driven by the composition of parliament, the nature of the issue at hand and the personalities of the leaders within the House of Commons.
Smith is absolutely correct when he concludes that three main factors contribute to a changing role for the opposition in Canada. He is even more correct when he points out that no political science textbook can capture this changing role. However, despite this, there is no question that the role of the opposition is key to the democratic function of parliament. Or, as Sir Wilfred Laurier succinctly explained,
… it is indeed essential for the country that the shades of opinion which are represented on both sides of this House should be placed as far as possible on a footing of equality and that we should have a strong opposition to voice the views of those who do not think with the majority.