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Gaston Deschênes

Maureen McTeer, Parliament: Canada's Democracy and How it Works, Random House, Toronto, 1987, 104 pages.

In October 1987 a committee on compensation and expense allowances for members of the Quebec National Assembly expressed the hope that "genuine, serious efforts would be made as soon as possible to inform people about the work actually done each day by the 122 members from Quebec in the service of the entire country."

Anyone who wants to help make this wish come true should turn to Maureen McTeer's Parliament: Canada's Democracy and How It Works. The book goes beyond similar documents published in the past resembling, in some ways the interesting BBC Guide to Parliament produced in London in 1979. It is certainly very different from the old citizenship education brochures published by in the 1950s.

At first glance, the table of contents resembles that of Russell Hopkins' How Parliament Works, with the inevitable sections on the Constitution, the Governor General, the House of Commons, the Senate, the legislative process and elections. Her book does not dwell too long on procedure, however, and covers the parliamentary buildings, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a glossary of parliamentary terms.

The format is quite distinctive and includes photographs as well as explanatory diagrams and drawings. The guide is peppered with side notes explaining customs and supplying biographica and historical data. Finally, the author gives practical suggestions on how to obtain more information on the topics discussed.

Very little fault can be found with the book's overall content. A few paragraphs should perhaps be added about the MP's role as a "watchdog" of government activity, and the role of Speaker of the House probably deserves a bit more attention.

The author adopts the neutral tone suited to this type of work, allowing her feelings to show through only once when expressing her personal opinion of the Meech Lake accord. The information given to students is generally useful, but should Ms. McTeer have gone as far as to volunteer the services of MPs to help with homework or collect stamps from the parliamentary postmaster?

Finally, there are some errors and " overtranslations " in the French version. For example, it would have been better to speak of hustings rather than tréteaux (p. 89) and to keep backbenchers instead of députés d'arrière-plan (p.112) and filibuster for obstruction  (p. 85). Elsewhere, anglicisms like office, prendre le vote, rapportés, division, redistribution and statut have crept in. We should add that strangers should be translated by étranger and not intrus, and a safe seat is a château fort or forteresse and not a compté sûr. As for that expert in parliamentary procedure, Sir John C. Bourinot, his name is not translated as "Boreno" (p.70).

These details do not detract from the book's merit but are numerous enough to attract attention.

Gaston Deschênes, Director of the Research Division, Legislative Library, Quebec National Assembly.


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 11 no 2
1988






Last Updated: 2018-07-31