Precedents and interpretation on privilege

2011-03-10

in Canada, Geek stuff, Law, Politics

Those following the news may find it interesting from a legal and historical perspective to read up on the precedents involving privileges and immunities within the Parliament of Canada.

The most authoritative text on the subject is probably House of Commons Procedure and Practice. It includes an entire chapter on privileges and immunities. It makes being a Member of Parliament sound pretty good, though the rights of the House as a collectivity far eclipse those of individual members.

If you really want to read up on the rules of Parliament – specifically the Confidence Convention – O’Brien and Bosc recommend:

For further information, see Forsey, E.A. and Eglington, G.C., “The Question of Confidence in Responsible Government”, study prepared for the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, Ottawa, 1985. Also of interest are the First and Third Reports of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee) respectively presented to the House on December 20, 1984 (Journals, p. 211) and June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839), as well as Desserud, D., “The Confidence Convention under the Canadian Parliamentary System”, Canadian Study of Parliament Group: Parliamentary Perspectives, No. 7, October 2006.

Or you could have a life and not be a total procedural nerd – your choice.

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. March 10, 2011 at 11:48 pm

On a typical Wednesday, there aren’t many reporters left in the gallery by the time that the daily grind of Question Period reached its awkward and ungainly conclusion. But when 3pm rolls around this afternoon, all eyes — or, at the very least, considerably more eyes than usual — will be fixed firmly on the Speaker, who may — or, please note, may not — hand down his every-minute-more-frantically-anticipated ruling on Liberal MP Scott Brison’s question of privilege on the government’s refusal to produce documents related to the cost of its crime agenda.

If he finds a prima facie breach, it may well trigger a confidence motion — or, alternately, a reference to committee that could ultimately result in such at a later date — which could, in theory, see the government fall as early as this afternoon. Or tomorrow, or when the House gets back the two-week long March break, or after the budget drops, or — you know, whenever. Or not. Wait, did you start reading this entry thinking that finally, we were about to get a definitive answer to the question of when that promised confidence vote will happen? Sorry about that. As always, nobody knows anything, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar, a lunatic or selling something. Then again, maybe we’ll get some answers from the various party caucuses when they emerge from their usual Wednesday confabs later this morning. Hope springs eternal, right?

. March 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Orders of the Day – Parliament resting comfortably, expected to make full recovery.
* March 10, 2011 8:49 AM |
* By Kady O’Malley

Undaunted, it seems, by yesterday’s confirmation by the Speaker that its privileges appear to have been breached by both the government and a sitting cabinet minister, the Grand Inquest of the Nation carries on.

As, it seems, will the debate on the conduct of the party currently in power, courtesy of a serendipitously timed opposition day motion from the Bloc Quebecois:

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party’s circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.

. March 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Stephen Harper faces not just the prospect of being found in contempt of Parliament. He faces a new challenge: to fight an election not simply on economic issues, but on the charge his government abuses power. House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled on Wednesday that, “on its face,” the government withheld information from a parliamentary committee, and that International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda may have misled the House.

If the finding is upheld, as expected, by another parliamentary committee next week and affirmed by the House the week after, for the first time in Canadian history, a government and a cabinet minister will be guilty of contempt of Parliament.

An election was already looking increasingly likely, with all opposition parties inclined to defeat the Conservatives on the budget that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will unveil on March 22. Mr. Milliken’s decision adds a second lane on the road to that election.

Until now, the Conservatives have shrugged off these and other controversies, saying that most Canadians are more worried about the economy, taxes and controlling government spending. And polls have backed them up.

Mr. Milliken’s rulings, however, give the political equivalent of a judicial decision affirming that, at least in two cases, the Conservatives may have flouted the rights and will of Parliament. They would hand a weapon to the opposition parties to use in a campaign against the Tories, who came to office in 2006 promising to clean up government after the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal.

. March 10, 2011 at 11:58 pm

With his two historic rulings, Peter Milliken caps a decade-long career as one of the most powerful and influential Speakers in Canada’s House Commons.

The decisions delivered on Wednesday could trigger a federal election, at which time Mr. Milliken has said he plans to retire to his home in Eastern Ontario – ending a career as the defender of Parliament’s rules and tradition that began in early 2001. Being Speaker is never easy. You are part judge, part referee and part diplomat, and it’s never more difficult than when a minority government is sitting and could be defeated at any time.

But Mr. Milliken, a Liberal, has outlasted his predecessors, all the while managing to keep the respect of his fellow MPs.

Re-elected to the post in 2006 after the Harper government took office, he became only the second MP chosen as Speaker from an opposition party in the history of the Commons.

Speakers refrain from voting in the Commons except in the case of a tie, and here Mr. Milliken has made history too. On May 19, 2005, for instance, he broke a tie vote on a confidence motion – a first time for a Speaker and one that helped forestall a federal election.

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