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CPA and the Parliamentary Profession
Joan Sawicki

At the time this article was written Joan Sawicki was Speaker of the British Columbia Legislature.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association brings together legislators from around the world for discussion of matters of mutual interest. Recently a Working Paper was prepared by the CPA outlining future directions of the organization. The Working Paper was one of the topics discussed at the 1992 Canadian Regional Conference held in Newfoundland. The following article is based on remarks by the Speaker of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of the CPA, not as Speaker of the British Columbia Legislature nor as a member of the Canadian Regional Executive, but simply as a relatively new member of a Legislature who believes the CPA has something to offer each of us.

As we all know, politicians are not even close to the top of the list of professions held in high regard by the Canadian public. In fact, some would suggest there are few other competitors for the bottom of the list!

Like parenthood, there is not a lot of training involved in becoming a politician. With a few "pre-natal classes" in the form of candidate workshops and with a good campaign and a little bit of luck, almost anyone who wants to can become a politician.

The evolution from politician to parliamentarian takes a lot more hard work and that is why we need the CPA and why it is important to discuss where we, as parliamentarians and the CPA as an organization, go from here.

We need to regard the CPA as our professional organization, like similar bodies for teachers or engineers. As with other professional organizations, the CPA should be our vehicle to build on the common ground among parliamentarians and should grapple with tough issues facing us. To a great degree, the opinion of the public towards us will be a reflection of how we as members in this profession regard ourselves.

A number of recommendations of the Working Party deal with branch activities and branch functions as a means of strengthening the CPA. Quite rightly, the Working Party felt they should not direct any branch on how to conduct its affairs, but clearly, this has been one of our problems. If we as individual members are not taking our professional organization seriously, how can we expect heads of government and the public in general to recognize the Association as the parliamentary wing of the Commonwealth, which is put forward as one of our primary objectives?

The evolution from politician to parliamentarian takes a lot more hard work and that is why we need the CPA and why it is important to discuss where we, as parliamentarians and the CPA as an organization, go from here.

With more active branches, regular annual activities and programmes, above and beyond attendances at conferences and seminars, and with guest speakers and workshops, we will be better able to move beyond the partisanship that can so often dominate, in a very negative way, our parliamentary institutions.

Obviously, party labels are an integral part of our system of government. Contrary to what appears to be has become the view of the public, the media, and perhaps too many of us, however we have other obligations, above and beyond our role as members of a particular political party. The role the CPA can play, and the one I believe it should play, is to build on those aspects that bring us together as elected members of legislative assemblies representing and accountable to those who elect us. This is what we have in common with each other - and a to greater or lesser degrees, what we share with our counterparts throughout the Commonwealth.

If we are to fulfil the Association's objective to be respected as the parliamentary wing of the Commonwealth and recognized authority on parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions we have to be prepared to implement the recommendations of the Working Party in terms of:

establishing study groups;

producing authoritative study papers and reference documents;

developing our expertise and availability for more active parliamentary seminars;

being involved in election monitoring;

doing whatever is needed to be a positive force in strengthening and sustaining parliamentary democracy.

We need to quickly get our own house in order within the CPA. Both within the Commonwealth and outside the Commonwealth, particularly in South America and in emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, I believe we have an obligation to share our knowledge. And I use the word "share" in its true sense because it is by no means a one-way street. If we as freely-elected representatives really believe in democracy and parliamentary institutions, we need to be actively involved in the continuing evolution of both.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to one other recommendation by the Working Party that constitutes a small but significant step forward on an issue that is a priority to me and I hope to all other parliamentarians. I am referring to the under-representation of women in the parliaments not only in Canada, but all over the Commonwealth. With 50% of the population, women still represent, at best, 10-20% of those elected to office.

One mandate of the working party was to look at the increasing requests to accommodate "special interest groups" at CPA annual conferences. While I reject the idea that 50% of the population can be regarded as a special interest group, I was gratified to receive the support of colleagues on the executive to adopt an amendment to recognize the Commonwealth Women`s Parliamentary Group and to provide time at annual conferences for CWPG business meetings. This will provide an important communication network for women parliamentarians on an issue common to us all.

I am also pleased that one of the five panel topics to be discussed at the 1992 annual conference is the financial, cultural, and institutional barriers to increased participation of women in the political process throughout the Commonwealth. This is the kind of issue to which I believe the CPA can and should take a leadership role, within the context of promoting parliamentary democracy - provincially, nationally, throughout the Commonwealth and indeed, the world.

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 15 no 3

Last Updated: 2018-07-31