In this issue David Mitchell offers a
glimpse of British Columbia's Legislative Assembly during the days of the late
Premier W.A.C. Bennett. Mr. Bennett had little use for techniques like question
period or special committees which are held in such high esteem by modern
students of Parliament. Bennett did not even believe in Hansard! It is tempting
to dismiss his views as quaint or dépassé but Bennett makes such an eloquent
defense of the old ways that it gives pause to present day reformers.
Notwithstanding Mr. Bennett's opinion about
Hansard, most parliamentary assemblies (even British Columbia) now find a
verbatim record of the debates essential to their day-to-day operation. The
question then arises as to how to produce it most efficiently. In this issue
the Chief of Hansard in Ontario, Peter Brannan, looks at the application of
word processing and computer technology to the production of Hansard. It is
safe to predict that more and more sophisticated hardware is going to be
available to legislatures for their various information requirements. The
problem for members and staff will be to purchase the appropriate level of
technology for a particular job. This requires a solid understanding of what
Parliament is supposed to accomplish as well as some resistance to "pie in
the sky" promises of computer salesman.
The articles by George Moody and Stan
Hovdebo, show that even elected members do not agree about the role of the
backbencher. Some believe that members are elected to Ottawa or the provincial
legislature to participate side-by-side with the government in the lawmaking
process. Others argue that parliamentary institutions, unlike Congressional
ones, are not designed to give the private member much input into lawmaking. As
a result the backbencher is most effective when acting as an
"ombudsman" for his constituents or a spokesman for his electors.
These articles will not resolve the debate, but they do present the two sides
of the argument.
For several years now some interesting
comparative studies on Canadian legislatures have been produced from a most
unlikely source the Office of the Administrator of the Ontario Legislative
Assembly. What began as a modest attempt to provide comparative data about salaries
has grown into an annual compendium of useful data about various aspects of
legislative proceedings. The 1982 study included a chapter of the role of the
Speaker which we are reprinting in this issue.
Legislative drafting is not a very glamorous
activity yet poorly drafted laws can cause all kinds of problems and expense to
the unsuspecting citizen or corporation. Poor translations of federal statutes
add to the confusion since English and French versions are accorded equal
status under the Official Languages Act. The article by Alexandre Covacs
examines the task of putting documents and statutes into proper (as opposed to
technically correct) French. To many it sounds even more tedious and thankless
than legislative drafting. But there are probably few public servants who
attack their work with more gusto and dedication than the linguists and lawyers
of le groupe de jurilinguistique française.
Finally, for those who have been working so
close to Parliament that they have become discouraged, frustrated or cynical,
we are publishing an article by Ruth Wilson on the Canadian Youth Parliament.
It seems that parliamentary government, despite its problems, it still worthy
of emulation, at least to a small, but enthusiastic group of young Canadians.