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Role of Opposition Parties in Canada

Public debate on proposed legislation, on public policy and on the conduct of the executive is essential to the work of Parliament. Our parliamentary system remains democratic in part because the representatives are elected by the people and because opposition Members are free to express their views on the programs, policies and conduct of the Government.

Opposition parties lead and focus on the representative and watchdog functions performed by Members of Parliament. They work to ensure that legislation is carefully considered, and that differing views on important initiatives are publicly expressed and defended.

The leader of the party gaining the second-largest number of seats in the House of Commons in an election generally becomes the Leader of the Official Opposition as long as he or she is an elected Member of the House. If this is not the case, a Member of the Official Opposition is designated as Leader of the party’s caucus in the House. In the event that in second place there are two parties holding the same number of seats, the Speaker of the House of Commons may be asked to designate one of the two as the Official Opposition. The Leader of the Official Opposition enjoys a number of privileges in recognition of the important role he or she plays in our parliamentary system. By law, he or she must be consulted before certain important decisions are made by the Government and before certain important appointments are made.

When government bills or motions are introduced, the Leader of the Official Opposition or another Member of the Official Opposition is usually recognized in debate immediately after the Minister who speaks first on behalf of the Government. Time to debate bills and motions is distributed in proportion to the number of Members each party has in the House of Commons.

Reports from parliamentary committees may include supplementary or “dissenting” opinions or recommendations from committee members. A Member of the Official Opposition may provide a brief overview of these supplementary comments, following the presentation of the committee’s report in the House of Commons.

The role of the Opposition in our parliamentary system reflects the premise that a delicate balance must be maintained between permitting elected governments to govern and legislate effectively, and ensuring that power is exercised with care and with respect for minorities and for dissenting views.

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