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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - Preliminary Pages - Preface




vertical-duo364-k-copy.jpgAlmost 10 years have passed since the publication of the first edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice. At the time of its release early in 2000, it was the latest and the most comprehensive of a series of reference works on the procedure and practice of the House of Commons written since Confederation.

As predicted in the Preface of the first edition, it has proven to be an essential guide to understanding the House of Commons and the work of its Members. The thorough research and careful interpretations contained in it have made the book a recognized authority, often quoted in the House.

Yet in an institution as dynamic as the House of Commons, parliamentary practice is constantly evolving to meet changing needs and circumstances. It is no surprise then that in the years since 2000, the House has amended its rules to a considerable extent, and many new practices and precedents have been established in a significant number of areas. Because there have been important changes and innovations in that time, it has become necessary to produce a new, updated and substantially revised edition.

Perhaps the most significant change to our practice came with the amendment of the Standing Orders concerning the report stage of bills. To address the procedural controversies dating back to the late 1990s, in 2001, the House appended a note to the appropriate Standing Orders instructing the Speaker not to select for debate at report stage motions that were repetitive, vexatious, or frivolous, or that served only to prolong proceedings unnecessarily. In the years immediately following this change, Speaker Milliken delivered a series of important rulings interpreting the new rule and clarifying the conduct of report stage.

In 2003, as a result of the work of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, major amendments to the Standing Orders concerning Private Members’ Business were adopted. Most significantly, the Standing Orders now make most items of Private Members’ Business votable, reversing previous practice. All of these changes are described in the chapter on Private Members’ Business. Among numerous other amendments to the Standing Orders recommended by the Committee and subsequently adopted by the House were alterations in the lengths of speeches, and provisions for the consideration of certain main estimates in Committee of the Whole. The Special Committee also examined electronic services offered to Members and recommended a system of electronic filing of notices of motions and written questions, which led to the introduction of the procedures now in place.

The range of other changes to the rules and practices is wide. Since 2000, the House has adopted new rules relating to the election of the Deputy Speaker and the other Chair Occupants, and to the appointment of various Officers of Parliament. Prior to 2005, if debate on a motion to concur in a committee report was adjourned, there was no guarantee that debate would be resumed and that the House would have the opportunity to take a decision on the motion. Since then, Standing Orders were adopted providing for a maximum length for the debate, the resumption of the debate if adjourned, and the putting of all questions on the motion at the conclusion of the debate.

Because House of Commons Procedure and Practice touches on constitutional, political and historical matters, this new edition has also incorporated recent statutory changes. For example, in 2000, the Canada Elections Act was repealed and replaced with a new Act which modernized the organization and terminology of electoral legislation. In 2007, this Act was amended to provide for fixed general elections every four years. Equally noteworthy has been the impact of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. In 2004, amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act created an Ethics Commissioner for the House of Commons and a Conflict of Interest Code which is now appended to the Standing Orders. In 2006, the Federal Accountability Act created a new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to administer a new Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. The impact of the Act is described in a number of chapters. The adoption of legislation has also codified the manner in which the House deals with delegated legislation.

The fundamental privileges of the House and its Members have been objects of interest since the publication of the first edition in 2000. The courts have dealt with challenges to the House’s control of its Precinct, the right of Members to refuse attendance in court as witnesses, and the scope of parliamentary privilege where the privilege had an impact upon the legal rights of non-Members. In 2005, the Supreme Court established the legal and constitutional framework for considering matters of privilege. These crucial issues are examined in the chapter on the privileges and immunities of Members.

While the information in this edition extends to the end of the First Session of the Fortieth Parliament (December 2008), a copy of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, as amended in June 2009, has been appended as a reference for readers. As in the first edition, all of the material in this edition is presented with full commentary on the historical circumstances which have shaped the current approach to parliamentary business. Key Speakers’ rulings and statements are also documented and the considerable body of practice, interpretation and precedents is amply illustrated. Extensive footnote references support the text and offer additional insights into the development of the current rules and practices.

As this second edition is more than a mere update of the original, readers will notice a number of changes in this new version, including several new graphics, revised and reorganized appendices, a number of significantly revised and reorganized chapters, a more complete bibliography that lists reference works by chapter, and an improved index. While an electronic version of the first edition was eventually made accessible on the Internet, making the work available to a much wider audience, this edition is being presented in electronic and printed formats at the same time.

The second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice is part of a continuum of works documenting Canadian parliamentary procedure from the early years of the House to the present. Like the first edition, it is a shared endeavour in that one talented team of proceduralists was responsible for the original research and drafting, another for the arduous task of vetting and revising, and yet another for the complex project management of this bilingual work. Together they have made my role as Senior Editor immeasurably easier and I am grateful for their painstaking work and the wise counsel of Deputy Clerk Marc Bosc who led them. My personal objective as Senior Editor has been to honour the tradition begun with the first edition by providing in this new edition, in a revised and enhanced form, as complete and up-to-date a description as possible of the current procedure and practice of the House. If the experience of the past decade is any indication, this book will continue to be the key reference tool for parliamentarians, and all others here, across Canada and around the world, who share an interest in the work of the House of Commons.


Audrey O’Brien

Clerk of the House of Commons
June 2009


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