POLITICAL PARTIES AND
James R. Robertson
Law and Government Division
Revised August 1996
TABLE OF CONTENTS
OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN CANADA
THE PARLIAMENT OF CANADA ACT
A. Statements by Ministers
B. Question Period and Debate
C. Committee Membership
A. Research Budgets
B. Accommodation and Seating Arrangements
C. Other Services and Facilities
AND PARLIAMENTARY RECOGNITION
This paper reviews
the recognition of political parties in the Canadian House of Commons.
It begins with a brief historical overview of parties in the House, including
their role and significance. It then discusses official recognition of
parties, special allowances and benefits available to them and their leaders,
allocation of time among parties during Question Period and debate, location
of seats in the chamber and access to office space and parliamentary services.
These issues, among others, have arisen on a number of occasions in recent
years. A concluding section summarizes recent developments.
It must first be
noted that this is a rather obscure area of parliamentary law and practice
with few precise rules. Much depends upon parliamentary tradition and
practice, in which precedents are of some persuasive value, but are by
no means determinative. A quick review of parliamentary history makes
it apparent that there is a large element of pragmatism and political
expediency involved: much depends on the particular circumstances, the
relations between the parties, and so forth. Decisions to accord official
recognition are often made on an ad hoc basis. In addition, the
benefits flowing from recognition used to be relatively minor, and this
no doubt accounts in part for the lack of discussion of the issues until
A second point
to be borne in mind is that political parties can be recognized for certain
purposes, and not for others. In other words, recognition is not a single
act: different criteria and considerations will apply depending on the
particular issue involved or its implications. At the same time, recognition
for one purpose adds credibility and provides assistance in arguing for
recognition for others.
A related issue
is the importance of identifying the decision-making authority involved
for any particular issue, and the amount of its discretion. Statutory
provisions can be amended only by Parliament, while regulatory provisions
may be amended by the Governor in Council or other governmental authority.
There are, at the other extreme, administrative decisions that are much
more flexible and easy to change. With respect to the recognition of political
parties in the House of Commons, there are decisions of the Speaker and
of the Board of Internal Economy (the "Board"), and decisions
of the full House.
A further cautionary
note needs to be raised. It is only recently that political parties have
acquired legal status in Canada.(1)
With the enactment of a new Canada Elections Act in 1970, provision
was made for the first time for the registration of political parties.
Amendments in 1974 expanded on this to allow for the tax deductibility
of donations, the reimbursement of certain election expenses, and the
provision of broadcasting time. None of these arrangements is directly
relevant to the recognition of political parties in the House of Commons;
however, the failure to register as a party may provide arguments against
extending certain privileges or benefits.
There is no single
accepted definition of what constitutes a "political party,"
but the fact that a party has complied with the registration procedure,
has a constitution and duly-elected executive, and so forth, could add
weight to its claim to be recognized. While British parliamentary history
rests on loose political groupings, rather than modern political parties,
virtually all the recent Canadian cases have involved well-established
and formally-constituted parties. Indeed, the longevity and history of
parties has often been used to buttress their claims that they should
have certain rights and privileges, and that they should be recognized.
In 1963, the Speaker also suggested that a distinction might be drawn
between political parties that contest an election, and those that are
HISTORY OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN CANADA
It is beyond the
scope of this paper to engage in a detailed history of the development
of political parties in the Canadian House of Commons. It is sufficient
to note that the concept of a political party is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Parliamentary systems based on the British model have traditionally neither
acknowledged parties in their operations nor recognized them as entities
for legal purposes. This, of course, has not accorded with reality: since
the 1870s, at least, governments have been formed by, opposed by, and
defeated by political parties, most of which imposed a considerable amount
of discipline and loyalty on their members.
nineteenth century view of Parliament revolved around a two-party system.
To some extent, this reflected the pre-eminence of two major parties.
It also accorded with the parliamentary concept of a government and an
opposition, and with the physical layout of many legislative chambers.
Canada was the first Commonwealth jurisdiction officially to recognize
the position of Leader of the Opposition. Even then, it was not the Opposition
party, but the Leader, who was being recognized. As late as 1944, the
Prime Minister could argue that in consulting the opposition, he was obliged
only to deal with the Leader of the Opposition, not with the leaders of
the other parties: "If the opposition wish to be divided into groups,
that of course is their own affair."(2)
In Canada, it was
not until 1896 that Members were elected who were not Liberals or Conservatives.
Even then, such Members were considered something of an aberration until
the 1920s, when members of other parties, as opposed to independent Members,
started to be elected in sufficient numbers and with sufficient support
and credibility to affect the system. In the 1930s, the Social Credit
and Commonwealth Cooperative Federation (CCF), the predecessor of the
NDP, became established. By the early 1960s, it had become clear that
smaller parties were a fact of parliamentary life.
The 1963 federal
election marked the fourth election in six years, and in only one of these
elections had a majority government been elected. Minority governments
rely upon smaller parties for support, and it was in this context that
official recognition was first extended to smaller political parties.
The government proposed and won support for an amendment to the Senate
and House of Commons Act that granted, for the first time in Canadian
history, party leaders other than the Prime Minister and the Leader of
the Opposition an additional annual allowance. The definition of what
was to constitute a "political party" was the critical element:
according to the amendment, only those Members who led a party with a
"recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons"
would be entitled to receive the additional stipend of $4,000 per annum.
It appears that
the minority situation in which the new Liberal government of the day
found itself provided the major motivation for the proposal to grant allowances
to the leaders of smaller parties. Since either or both of the Social
Credit and the NDP could ensure the governments survival on crucial
votes, there was a clear incentive to keep them happy. It is also relevant
that the Social Credit and the CCF/NDP had 24 and 17 MPs, respectively,
and both parties had existed for over 30 years. It was generally accepted
that the leaders of these parties had responsibilities over and above
those of other Members, and there was, therefore, little difficulty in
justifying the new allowances.
that a party must have at least 12 members before being recognized appears
to have been chosen by the government without consultation with the opposition
parties.(3) None of the other parties objected to the
proposal when it was presented, but the idea did not originate with them.
Twelve members represented, more or less, the long-term average parliamentary
representation of the CCF/NDP and the Social Credit. Presumably, there
was a concern that too low a number would lead to a proliferation of parties,
such as was the case in several European countries. In 1944, Prime Minister
Mackenzie King had expressed reservations that "any number of hon.
gentlemen may suddenly become leaders of parties, whether small in number
or not and claim special rights and privileges in this house."(4)
In any event, within
a few weeks of the 12-member requirement being enshrined in legislation,
the Social Credit Party split into the Ralliement des Créditistes with
13 members and the western-based Social Credit Party with the remaining
11. Apparently, the Government House Leader later admitted that he should
have made sure that the requirement was for 10 members, so that allowances
could have continued to be paid to the Social Credit members.
The Canadian Parliament
had had smaller parties prior to 1963. Until this date, however, there
had been no magic number. Indeed, the recognition of political parties
was not a major or practical concern. Parliamentary procedure and tradition,
as noted above, had been based on the "non-existence" of political
parties, being premised on the notion of individual Members acting independently
and alone. In the absence of a prescribed minimum number of Members that
a party had to have, matters tended to be worked out behind the scenes,
and on an ad hoc basis. There appear to have been few, if any,
debates or Speakers rulings on the issue in the House of Commons.
It should be noted
that when the number 12 was chosen in 1963, there were 265 Members of
the House of Commons. Today, the election of 12 Members continues to be
the main criterion for party recognition, although the House of Commons
in 1996 has 295 Members, and will be expanded to 301 after the next federal
for 12 members was originally introduced solely in the context of allowances
for party leaders; it does not appear to have been intended for any other
purposes. According to John C. Courtney, technically the 12-member threshold
in the 1963 statute and parliamentary procedure had nothing to do with
one another "... yet the timing of the event was virtually certain
to produce a combination that would lead to the injection of the phrase
recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons
into future debates over regulations and statutes dealing with political
parties. The term, indeed more specifically the number, would gradually
assume an authenticity of its own."(5) In the years since 1963, the
perquisites available to opposition parties have increased and improved
as discussed below.
THE PARLIAMENT OF CANADA ACT
The Senate and
House of Commons Act is now embodied in the Parliament of Canada
Act. This is the main piece of legislation that deals with Parliament,
but it is far from complete. The Act is antiquated, and has been amended
sporadically over the years.
The main provision
relevant for the present purposes is that which prescribes that an additional
allowance will be paid to the leaders of certain political parties. Section
shall be paid, in addition to the sessional allowances that are payable,...
(b) to each
member of the House of Commons, other than the Prime Minister or
the member occupying the position of Leader of the Opposition in
the House of Commons, who is the leader of a party that has a recognized
membership of twelve or more persons in the House, an annual allowance
of eighteen thousand six hundred dollars.
The wording here
is awkward, as it refers to the "recognized membership" of a
party, rather than constituting a definition of a "recognized party."
Section 62(d) and
(f) provide for additional allowances for the Whip and House Leader, respectively,
of a party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the
House of Commons. Section 67 of the Act goes on to provide that these
allowances are indexed on the same basis as sessional allowances for Members.
The Parliament of Canada Act also provides in section 50(3) for
the establishment of a Board of Internal Economy for the House of Commons,
to be composed of representatives of the government and opposition parties;
again, however, these include only parties with a "recognized membership
of twelve or more persons in the House of Commons."
have borrowed the same definition of recognized political parties. For
example, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act provides
that the members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee shall be
appointed after consultation with "the Leader of the Opposition and
the leader in the House of Commons of each party having at least twelve
members in that House" (section 34(1)). On the other hand, the Canadian
Institute for International Peace and Security Act merely provides
that appointments be made after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition
and the "leader of every other recognized party in the House of Commons,"
thereby avoiding any reference to the 12-member requirement.
A. Statements by
Shortly after the
introduction of leaders allowances in 1963, the Standing Orders
of the House of Commons were changed so as to recognize the right of "a
spokesman for each of the parties in opposition to the government"
to comment briefly in reply to a Ministers statement on motions
to the House. Early in 1966, the argument was made by the Progressive
Conservative members of the opposition that the new Standing Order should
be interpreted in the light of the 1963 amendment to the Senate and
House of Commons Act. In other words, it was urged that only "recognized"
political parties -- those with 12 or more Members -- should be entitled
to avail themselves of the rule. This would have had the effect of barring
representatives of the Social Credit and Créditiste parties, since the
parliamentary membership of these parties had been reduced to five and
nine Members, respectively, after the 1965 general election.
The Speaker rejected
the Conservative argument, pointing out that at least as far back as 1951,
Speakers had accepted the principle that one spokesman for each opposition
party would be allowed to comment on Ministers statements. He noted
that the practice had been referred to in the fourth edition (1958) of
Beauchesnes Parliamentary Rules and Forms. The Speaker felt
that the House should, in general, be guided not so much by the literal
construction of the Standing Orders as by what had been its practice for
some years. Unless the House was prepared to define more precisely the
right to comment on ministerial statements, the Speaker ruled that such
a right should be accorded to the Leader of the Official Opposition and,
in his words, to "spokesmen for the New Democratic Party, the Ralliement
Créditistes and the Social Credit Party," but not to "independent
members."(6) The Speakers
ruling was accepted without challenge or argument by the House.
The relevant rule
is now contained in Standing Order 33(1). The House has never taken up
the Speakers suggestion that it define more precisely the right
to comment on ministerial statements. The practice of granting speaking
privileges to representatives of each of the smaller parties in the House
was codified in the Standing Orders after it had emerged as an acceptable
practice in the operations of the House. The fact that it developed prior
to the 1963 amendment was relevant, and the custom and practice that preceded
the enactment of the rule influenced its interpretation. The decision
of the Speaker distinguished the procedural rule from the statutory definition
pertaining to recognition, and thus illustrates that the definition in
what is now the Parliament of Canada Act is not determinative for
The practice in
more recent years, however, has been for the Speaker to recognize only
Members belonging to parties with 12 or more members as able to respond
to ministerial statements. There have been occasions, however, where representatives
of smaller parties have been allowed to comment.
B. Question Period and
The question of
recognition of political parties for purposes of debate and Question Period
does not have a simple answer. In 1979, during the Progressive Conservative
minority government, the Prime Minister introduced a motion to establish
a striking committee. The Créditiste Party, with six Members in the House,
was not represented on the committee, and proposed an amendment that one
of its members be included. After a brief debate, the amendment was defeated
by a recorded vote. The Speaker considered himself bound by this vote,
in light of debate that had preceded it. When the Créditistes complained
the next day that their leader had not been recognized appropriately in
the debate on the Throne Speech, the Speaker ruled that, notwithstanding
the precedents, the vote restricted his actions: "As far as the consensus
reached in this House yesterday is concerned, I could not reverse it and
give the Social Credit Party of Canada a status in the House which it
has been denied by a formal decision..."(7)
Upon later consideration, he affirmed that he "had to regard it as
binding upon me as a declaration of the House up to this point ... I do
not have the power, by any means, to change that decision or to reflect
in any way on the decision of the House."(8) Accordingly, the leader of the
Créditistes was to be treated no differently from any other private Member.
The Speaker has
considerable discretion in relation to the recognition of Members in the
House of Commons. He is, nonetheless, bound by past practice and tradition,
and previous rulings and precedents; moreover, as the 1979 case shows,
as the servant of the House, he is bound by express decisions of the House.
of questions in Question Period is made roughly on the basis of the proportion
of Members belonging to the opposition parties. There is a fair amount
of planning and consultation among the party leaders, although the Speaker
retains ultimate control and discretion. There is certainly nothing to
prevent the Speaker from permitting members of any party to ask questions
during Question Period, but there are few, if any, rules or policies governing
With respect to
participation in debate, all Members of the House of Commons are entitled
as of right to participate in debates, subject only to the general rules
of the House. The only issue that could arise involves the order of speaking,
as party leaders and representatives often speak in a particular order
and at specified times. The Standing Orders generally provide for only
the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition (and not the leaders of
other parties) to have unlimited speaking time.(9)
Again, a great
deal of negotiation and consultation takes place regarding debates, and
the number and order of speakers. Indeed, it would appear to be in the
governments interests to attempt to secure cooperation of all opposition
members in order to prevent undue delay or obstruction. There is considerable
scope for Members of the House to employ the rules and procedures to the
detriment of the business of the House; a great deal of the work and operation
of the House of Commons depends upon cooperation and negotiation.
C. Committee Membership
on committees is another relevant issue for political parties. Generally,
membership is in proportion with the representation of the parties in
the House of Commons. Problems can arise for smaller parties and independent
Members. Generally, in recent years, members of parties with fewer than
12 MPs have not been appointed to standing or legislative committees.
This is, no doubt, partly due to the large number of committees and committee
meetings, and the difficulties that smaller parties would have in providing
Members to attend them; in some cases, such appointments would also affect
the proportional membership of committees. Members of unrecognized parties,
and independents have more frequently been appointed to sit on sub-committees,
and, on occasion, on joint and special committees.
Amendments to the
Standing Orders in 1994 introduced the concept of "associate members"
for standing committees. Independent Members and members of small parties
appointed as associate members have been allowed to receive notices of
committee meetings, to serve on sub-committees, and to act as replacements
or substitutes for permanent members of committees (although this is very
A. Research Budgets
In 1968, the Liberal
government, after consultations with the leaders of the opposition parties
in the House of Commons, announced that funds would be made available
to the officially recognized opposition parties -- those with 12 or more
Members -- for research purposes. The purpose of these funds was to enable
the parties in opposition to criticize government legislative measures
more effectively. The funds were designed to enable the opposition parties
to hire staff, contract for services of individuals, and use the technical
facilities available to the House, such as printing services.
The first "research
budget" was approved for the fiscal year commencing 1 April
1969. The original idea seemed to be that these funds would be used to
assist the leaders of the opposition parties. It was subsequently determined
that research services would be made available to assist the party caucuses,
and individual party Members as well. It is clear that the original purpose
of opposition research budgets was to assist the opposition parties in
carrying out their roles more effectively. Given the resources and expertise
available to the government, it was believed that opposition parties should
have access to some research services of their own, albeit on a limited
scale.(11) Since 1979, the party forming the government
has been included in the allocation of research budgets.
The research budgets
and criteria for funding are determined by the Board of Internal Economy
and are included in the Estimates of the House of Commons. The funds assigned
to each party are related to the respective number of seats held by that
party following a general election, although recently the base or formula
for such calculation has been adjusted somewhat. The amount of the annual
budget is generally not adjusted during a Parliament to reflect changes
due to by-elections or other vacancies in the House, although budget levels
are adjusted annually to reflect increases to the cost of living.
The basic rules
for the allocation of research funds have changed over the years to reflect
political realities and considerations. The Board of Internal Economy
has the power to waive its requirements in particular cases, or to change
the criteria. In the 1974 general election, the Créditistes were reduced
to 11 Members, and, therefore, failed to qualify for a research bureau
allocation; nevertheless, they continued to receive research funds.
and Seating Arrangements
The office accommodation
of Members within the parliamentary buildings is largely a matter for
negotiation among the party Whips and the Sergeant-at-Arms. Seating in
the House of Commons has, traditionally, been a more contentious matter.
Following the split
of the Social Credit Party in 1963, the issue of the seating of the opposition
parties arose. The Créditistes had 13 Members, while the Social Credit
Party retained 11. With 17 MPs, the New Democratic Party made a claim
to be seated next to the official opposition and to be granted speaking
privileges in the House in keeping with its new-found status as the third
largest party in the House. The Social Credit Party, with fewer members
than the Créditistes and a parliamentary representation too small to entitle
its leader to the additional allowance, nonetheless claimed speaking and
seating priority over the Créditistes on the grounds of historical precedence.
The Speaker chose not to become involved: he made it clear that "recognition"
of a political party was the Members responsibility. "To my
mind," he stated, "this is a question for the House to decide."
I cannot conclude
this statement without some reference to the significance of these
events for the future of the definition and status of parties in this
house. It is not my place to evaluate the significance of these matters
for the future of the ever-changing structure and character of political
parties; yet it is my duty, I believe, to bring to the attention of
the house the novel character of the situation now before it, and
more particularly the payment of allowances and the effect on the
organization of Parliament and parties and of the work of this house
that naturally must be reflected by the emergence from time to time
of new groups that invite the house to accord them the status of parties.
Profound constitutional questions arise; for example, can a group
of members which did not exist as a party at the time of the election
of a parliament be recognized as a party before it has submitted itself
to the electorate?(12)
C. Other Services and Facilities
A multitude of
other services and facilities are available on Parliament Hill. Many of
these services are available to Members of Parliament generally; that
is, any Member, whether affiliated with a political party or not, or whether
affiliated with a party that is recognized or one that is not, can avail
him or herself of such services, merely by virtue of being an MP.
There are, however,
some facilities and services that are made available primarily to "recognized
political parties." Access to these appears to be primarily an administrative
matter, under the direction of the Speaker or the Board of Internal Economy.
Consultation with the House authorities and representatives of the other
political parties appears to be the appropriate route. Other than rulings
on party research budgets, there do not appear to have been any Speakers
rulings specifically dealing with such matters.
It is relevant
to review briefly the practice in various provincial jurisdictions. In
Manitoba, for example, special allowances are provided to a leader of
a "recognized opposition party," which is defined as "the
members of the assembly who belong to a political party that is represented
in the assembly by four or more members."(13) This provision of the Legislative Assembly
Act was added in 1970, a year following the Manitoba provincial election
in which the NDP had won 28 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 22, and
the Liberals 4.
In Quebec, the
laws governing leaders allowances were changed to include a provision
regarding the percentage of popular vote obtained by a party in an election,
as an alternative criterion to the number of seats won by a party. A minimum
of 20% was established. This was done to accommodate the Parti Québécois,
whose six seats in 1970 and seven in 1973 (out of more than 100 seats
in the National Assembly) scarcely reflected its 12% and 30% of the popular
vote in the elections of those two years. Following the 1976 Quebec election,
the law was again altered to accord certain privileges to the Union Nationale,
which had fallen short of the 12 seats and/or 20% vote needed to acquire
party status in the National Assembly; this rule change was specifically
stated to be in effect only until the next election.
In the 1989 Quebec
election, the Equality Party elected four members to the National Assembly.
The party, which was a registered political party, was not "recognized"
within the National Assembly as an opposition party as it did not have
the required 12 members, and nor had it received at least 20% of the popular
vote. Nevertheless, it was acknowledged as a "political formation"
within the Assembly and as such was given certain privileges, including
research funds, and the right to sit on commissions. A member of the party
was usually allowed one question at the end of Question Period every other
should also be made to the situation in New Brunswick, where the Liberals
won all 58 seats in the legislature in the 1987 provincial election. The
provinces Political Process Financing Act provides for the
public funding of parties with representation in the Legislative Assembly.
The government rejected the requests of the Conservatives and the NDP
for funds to be used at their discretion, and instead provided other facilities
and services, including office space, use of the Legislative Library,
the right to take notes of legislative proceedings from the public gallery,
representation on the Legislative Administration Committee, permission
to submit written questions to the Public Accounts Committee, and participation
in legislative committees.(14) Subsequently, additional rights and services
have been extended to the unrepresented opposition parties.
to party recognition have been much to the forefront of the Canadian House
of Commons in recent years. After the 1988 federal election, disaffected
members of the Progressive Conservative and Liberal Parties defected to
form the Bloc Québécois, which initially was a "movement" or
informal grouping rather than a political party per se. It was
later registered under the Canada Elections Act, and a representative
of the party was subsequently elected in a 1990 by-election. Until the
1993 general election, the party did not have more than eight members,
and it was argued that most of its members had been elected as representatives
of other parties. The fact that the party had been established for the
purpose of taking Quebec out of Confederation undoubtedly affected public
and political attitudes towards it.
The 1993 general
election saw the parliamentary representation of two traditional parties
reduced to below 12 Members: the Progressive Conservatives ended up with
two MPs, and the New Democratic Party with nine. These parties had been
long established and represented in the House of Commons, and had, especially
the Progressive Conservative Party, garnered substantial voter support
in the election.
led to a number of questions of privilege and debates in the House over
the recognition of political parties and the rights and privileges to
be accorded them.
In 1990, the Bloc
Québécois request for research funds and funds for its leader was rejected
by the Board of Internal Economy. One of its members made an impassioned
case in the House for additional funding, but the Speaker rejected this,
noting that the members of the Bloc Québécois were entitled to same resources
and support as all other Members of the House.(15)
At the same time,
a Member who had left the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit as an
independent wished to be known as and registered in the records as "Independent
Conservative." The Speaker ruled that he could find no legal impediment
to doing this, and directed that the Member be listed as an Independent
Conservative in the weekly Appendix to the Debates, in the Appendices
to the bound volumes of Debates and Journals, and in any
documents or circumstances consequential to those Appendices.(16) This ruling was also applied to members
of the Bloc Québécois and other parties with fewer than 12 MPs.
In 1994, the Member
for Winnipeg Transcona, Mr. Bill Blaikie, raised as a question of privilege
the recognition and status of the New Democratic Party. Arguing that he
was not questioning financial matters as set out in the Parliament
of Canada Act, Mr. Blaikie canvassed various precedents and arguments
regarding convention and practice as to why the Speaker should exercise
his discretion to recognize and give certain rights to the members of
In his ruling on
16 June 1994, the Speaker, Gilbert Parent, indicated that it was
up to the House to decide or to give him guidance with respect to the
recognition of smaller parties. While the Chair has a responsibility to
protect the rights of members of small parties, the status of minority
parties in the House has always been determined in general by the political
makeup of the House. In response to NDP claims to more opportunities to
ask questions in the House, the Speaker noted that in the latest two-month
period, Members not belonging to a recognized party had participated almost
every day during the period reserved for Members Statements and,
on average, every other day during Question Period. He pledged to continue
to facilitate fair and active participation of all Members in the work
of the House, but did not believe that he should act unilaterally or change
practices without direction from the House. The Speaker was, however,
prepared to make modifications to the seating arrangements in the House,
by directing that the members of the NDP and Progressive Conservative
Party be seated together, with the precedence of their respective leaders
determining their place in the sequence.(18)
As Mr. Blaikie
subsequently wrote, where the Speaker felt he had autonomy, on the seating
plan, he agreed to make changes. On other matters, however, where the
Speaker saw himself as the servant of the House, Mr. Blaikie felt that
Mr. Parent had not addressed some of the central issues that he had raised,
including the significance and interpretation of the 12-Member requirement
in the Parliament of Canada Act, the Speakers role in protecting
the rights of minorities, and the frequency with which minority parties
are recognized in Question Period. Mr. Blaikie believes that the effect
of the ruling will be that the treatment of the Bloc Québécois in the
34th Parliament will be used as the benchmark for Speakers future
treatment of small parties.(19)
As the above brief
discussion illustrates, there are few hard and fast rules about the recognition
of political parties by the Canadian House of Commons. The 1963 amendment
to what is now the Parliament of Canada Act introduced the notion
that only groups with 12 or more Members would be recognized. As it is
virtually the only "definition" of what constitutes a recognized
political party, this requirement for 12 Members has been used for other
purposes and imported into other situations. It should be remembered,
however, that the Act is concerned primarily with additional allowances
for party leaders.
At an early point,
the 1963 legislation regarding allowances became intermingled with procedural
claims pertaining to speaking privileges and seating order, though technically
the matters had nothing to do with one another. It was the timing of the
events that led to the injection of the phrase "recognized membership
of twelve or more persons in the House of Commons" into future debates
over regulations, statutes, and policies dealing with political parties.
The term or, more specifically, the number would gradually assume an authenticity
of its own.
parties and movements existed prior to 1963. As perquisites available
to opposition parties, such as additional allowances and research budgets,
however, have increased, so too have the disputes and controversies over
recognition. Non-monetary matters, such as seating arrangements in the
House of Commons and recognition of speakers in debate, are of more long-standing
interest, but it would appear that they have generally been resolved by
negotiation and consultation among the parties.
be accorded for certain purposes, and not for others. It is not an "all
or nothing" concept. There is a large element of pragmatism and common
sense involved in any successful resolution of these issues. The 1963
issue of seating arrangements, like many other less contentious issues
before and since, was resolved on a purely ad hoc basis through
the adoption of a parliamentary committees recommendations based
on a combination of the NDP and Social Credit claims. As one commentator
has observed: "The pressures of the moment were relieved, but beyond
acknowledging the pre-eminence of the House in such matters and tacitly
accepting the challenge to resolve each issue of recognition
on its own merits, no long-term solution was given to the matter by Members
As the 1963 Speakers
ruling regarding seating demonstrated, the "recognition" of
a political party is a matter for the House to decide. The Speaker and
the Board of Internal Economy have a certain amount of discretion, and
many things can be worked out administratively and informally among Members.
The most recent Speakers ruling on the issue, in June 1994, confirmed
that the Speaker will look for guidance and direction from the House,
and will be reluctant to act unilaterally.
(1) See John C. Courtney, "Recognition of
Canadian Political Parties in Parliament and in Law," Canadian
Journal of Political Science, XI:1, March 1978.
(2) House of Commons, Debates, 16 February
1944, p. 554. Mr. Mackenzie King had also argued forcefully against
according any recognition to third parties in 1940: see Debates,
15 November 1940, p. 132-135.
(3) Courtney (1978), at p. 39.
(4) House of Commons, Debates, 16 February
1944, p. 554.
(5) Courtney (1978), p. 38.
(6) House of Commons, Debates, 18 February
1996, p. 1434-1435; see also Selected Decisions of Speaker Lucien
Lamoureux, 1966-1974, Ottawa, 1985, p. 156.
(7) House of Commons, Debates, 10 October
1979, p. 49.
(8) House of Commons, Debates, 11 October
1979, p. 69.
(9) See House of Commons Standing Orders 50(2),
84(7), 101(3), and 43.
(10) Standing Order 104(4).
(11) See Edwin R. Black, "Opposition Research:
Some Theories and Practice," Canadian Public Administration,
15 (1972), 26.
(12) House of Commons, Debates, 30 September
1963, p. 3008-3009.
(13) Manitoba, Legislative Assembly Act,
R.S.M. 1970, c. L-110, s. 61(1), (2), (6).
(14) See Stewart Hyson, "Wheres Her
Majestys Loyal Opposition in the Loyalist Province?"
Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 1988, p. 22-25.
(15) House of Commons, Debates, 13 December
1990, p. 16703-4.
(16) Ibid., p. 16705-6.
(17) House of Commons, Debates, 1 June
1994, p. 4703-9.
(18) House of Commons, Debates, 16 June
1994, p. 5437-40.
(19) Bill Blaikie, "Reflections of the Speakers
Ruling," Canadian Parliamentary Review, Autumn 1994, p. 36.
(20) Courtney (1978), p. 38.