A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Friday, May 8, 2009

How Parliament Works…..

…is a mystery to many of us, but as I said in my reply to Senators McCoy’s post we must understand it to debate what is wrong with it and where the democratic processes are being eroded. The information is all there on the Parliament of Canada web site but some of the information is buried deep and hard to find particularly information on the Senate. This then is my effort to summarize the important stuff and provide direct links to some of the information that we may debate the faults and problems with our system from a position of knowledge.

The Legislative Process

All bills normally go through a similar series of steps in both the Senate and the Commons.
1) Introduction: The process begins when a bill is introduced.

2) First reading: (the bill proposing a law is received, printed and circulated)

3) Second Reading: The principle of the bill is debated. It is then voted on and the bill is sent to a parliamentary committee.

4) Committee Stage: A committee hears witnesses, (which may include Ministers, department officials, experts and members of the public) examines the bill clause by clause and submits a report recommending the bill be accepted as is or with amendments, or that it not proceed any further.

5) Report Stage: Additional amendments to the bill may be moved, debated and voted on.

6) Third Reading: The bill is debated a final time and voted on.

7) Message: Once passed, the bill is sent to the Senate, where the process starts again from first reading.

Passing bills in the Senate
Passing bills in the Senate is similar to that in the House of Commons. There are five steps:

1) First reading: The bill is received, printed and circulated. This is an introductory proceeding without debate or vote.

2) Second reading: The principle of the bill is debated: Is the bill good policy?

3) Committee stage: Ministers, department officials, experts and members of the public who have an interest in the bill appear as witnesses before a committee. Committee members then study the bill clause by clause. Amendments or changes to the bill may be proposed. In the final stage, the committee adopts a report on the bill, recommending to the Senate that it be accepted as is; that it be accepted with amendments; or that it be rejected.

4) Report stage: If the committee report recommends adopting the bill as is (or with no amendments), there is no report stage in the Senate and the bill goes directly to third reading.If, however, the report recommends amendments, the Senate must debate the report and either accept, amend or reject the amendments, in whole or in part.

5) Third reading: Final approval of the bill. Further amendments can be considered at this stage.
If the bill originated in the Senate, the bill is sent to the House of Commons, which will examine it through a similar three-reading process. If the bill originated in the House of Commons and was not amended in the Senate, it is now ready for Royal Assent.

If the bill originated in the Commons and was amended in the Senate, a message about the amendments is sent to the Commons to ask for their agreement. Bills are usually proposed by the government and introduced in the House of Commons. The Senate also initiates legislation, but any bills to collect or spend public funds must originate in the Commons.

The Commons and the Senate must agree on the exact contents of a bill before Royal Assent can be granted, making it law. Both Houses must approve bills in identical form before they can become law. Bills become law when they receive Royal Assent, on a date specified in the bill or on a date set by Order-in-Council.

Royal Assent: The Governor General or a deputy gives the bill Royal Assent, this is largely a symbolic stage representing the Monarchy’s former influence on parliament (the same is true of the British parliamentary system upon which ours is based)

Probably the most important part of this process is the committee stage (in both the House and the Senate) but seems to be the one which receives the least public attention perhaps because unless there is some contentious and partisan issue we simply do not hear about it. I will focus upon the Senate in this post as the HoC Committee process, and the problems therein caused by overly partisan nonsense, is fodder for a whole other article. Of particular interest in debating how to change or improve the rules under which our parliamentarians operate may be this senate committee .

The following is extracted from How Does a Bill Become a Law where you will also find similar material about the House of Commons.

An essential element of parliamentarians’ work is the study and examination of issues, policies and programs. Much of this investigative work is done in committee, a forum which allows Senators and Members of the House of Commons to study issues in considerably more depth than is possible in either Chamber.

In the Senate: In addition to their work on legislation in committees, Senators undertake a broad range of investigative work. Senators possess diverse backgrounds and interests — scan the ranks of the Senate and you will see business people, lawyers, teachers, surgeons, Aboriginal leaders and journalists, as well as experts in a range of areas, such as the environment, manufacturing, economics and, of course, politics. The longer tenure of Senators (up to age 75) allows them to build up significant expertise in their areas of investigative interest.

Individual Senators can raise an issue in the Senate for debate — a process that sometimes leads to an “Order of Reference” or even establishment of a Senate committee. In this way, Senators can undertake studies of major social and economic issues that may not be a part of the Government’s legislative agenda. Overall, Senate committees tend to be less partisan than Commons committees and allow more time for exhaustive analysis of important issues.

In the Senate: As the House of “sober, second thought”, the Senate fulfills an important “watchdog” role in Parliament, carefully scrutinizing the Government’s policy and legislation. In some cases, the existence of the Senate may act as a check on the Government initiatives which may not withstand close Senate examination. During Question Period, Senators seek information from the Leader of the Government in the Senate about government actions and policies.

I do hope this has helped to make the process clearer, it is not perhaps a post that will generated much debate but without this knowledge of the system how can we understand when it is being abused or manipulated. I have put a permanent link on our side bar to this as the understanding of process is so important to protecting our democracy. Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Jennifer Smith said...

I find it terribly sad that my earliest education in the legislative process was in the form of the very American 'Schoolhouse Rock' ("I am a bill, I am only a bill, and I'm sittin' here on Capitol Hill").

Television is culture. Culture is education. We need to fix this.

Rural said...

Even in the British Isles, the home of the “Westminster Parliamentary system” I do not recall much being taught about this (mind you that was MANY years ago!), but then neither do I recall my kids learning much about the Canadian system. Too many are totally ignorant of the process, witness the “coalitions are illegal” uproar, education is indeed a big part of protecting our fragile democracy.