On January 1, 1993 Arthur
Donahoe became Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association,
the first Canadian to hold this position. Mr. Donahoe was first elected to the
Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1978. He served as Deputy Speaker for three
years before becoming Speaker in 1981, a position he held for more than ten
years. Arthur Donahoe is a former Canadian Regional Representative of CPA and a
participant in many Canadian and international activities of the Association.
He replaces David Tonkin, former Premier of South Australia as
Secretary-General. He was interviewed in Quebec City in September 1992 during
the Symposium on Parliamentary Democracy organized by the Quebec National
Assembly to mark the Bicentennial of Representative Government in that
How would you describe the value
of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to a newly elected member?
Mr. Donahoe: The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
is the parliamentary wing of the Commonwealth with members in some 120 national
and state legislatures. Its conferences and seminars provide an excellent
vehicle for the professional development of new members. It provides a way for
new, and indeed, veteran members to familiarize themselves with the issues and
individuals in various legislatures in the Commonwealth.
How do you respond to criticism
that CPA is essentially a vehicle to allow parliamentarians to travel to exotic
Mr. Donahoe: I have heard this argument but I do not
accept it. Most activities are centered around a serious agenda and members
generally participate in the discussions. I think it is just as important for
the professional development of public officials as it is for similar
associations in the private sector.
We should not discount the
important opportunity CPA provides to meet individuals from other cultures and
races. Participation in CPA can be a very educational experience.
What are some of the things that
you personally have learned?
Mr. Donahoe: At the most fundamental level, I learned
that every parliament and legislature is different. Yet there are common
threads throughout the Commonwealth.
I was also impressed by the way the
parliamentary system can flourish in all types of societies regardless of the
background of individuals. This is important when so many countries are
emerging from other forms of government and looking around for new models.
How is one chosen
Mr. Donahoe: It was an extensive process. When the
former Secretary-General, David Tonkin, announced he was retiring, notice was
given to all branches. An advertisement was placed in most of the national
newspapers in countries throughout the Commonwealth.
The CPA is organized into eight
geographic Regions and preliminary interviews were held in each Region. One
person per Region was selected to be interviewed in London in April 1992. The
final Selection Committee had representatives from each of the Regions.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen
and my appointment was put before the General Assembly at its annual meeting in
October for final approval.
Is there any way to prepare for
an interview like this?
Mr. Donahoe: Not really. I thought about my experiences
with CPA in the more than 10 years in which I was Speaker of the Nova Scotia
House of Assembly. I knew the organization was looking to improve certain
things and I tried to familiarize myself with the thinking of the current
executive. Otherwise I just tried to be myself and answer the questions as best
Did you have any qualms about
accepting the position?
Mr. Donahoe: No. But the decision to apply was not
taken lightly. I gave it a lot of thought because I knew that if successful it
would change my life completely.
It would mean moving from a
relatively small city in Eastern Canada to one of the largest metropolitan
areas in the world. It would mean a change in focus from being a lawyer and a
member of a fairly small legislature to looking at questions of international
So, I did not make the choice
lightly but having made it I am excited and look forward to my term in office.
I hope to make the CPA an even better organization and look forward to the help
and cooperation from many people in CPA both in Canada and around the world.
What do you see as some of the
potential areas of action during your term?
Mr. Donahoe: In addition to continuing our education
role by means of conferences, seminars, exchanges and publications, I think the
Association wants to play a role in election monitoring.
We have in our membership a body
uniquely qualified to play a role in this area. We could establish an inventory
of members and former members willing to advise or assist countries in
organizing or monitoring elections.
Would you describe the
administrative structure of CPA?
Mr. Donahoe: Overall policy rests with the Executive
Committee and General Assembly. My job is to see that policy is implemented
The Secretariat in London consists
of thirteen people from different parts of the Commonwealth. A recent study of
the organization has led to a number of changes including the establishment of
a position of Head of Administration. This position was filled by Radjah Gomez
of Sri Lanka who was recruited at the same time as me.
So, I will be entering a new
administrative structure and will be watching carefully and analyzing it to see
if it obtains the objectives envisaged.
What is the relationship between
the Commonwealth Secretariat and the CPA?
Mr. Donahoe: The Commonwealth Secretariat is a
governmental body. The CPA is a parliamentary organization.
I understand that relations have
been strained in the past but have improved recently. At the last Heads of
Government meeting a declaration was adopted recognizing the CPA as the
parliamentary wing of the Commonwealth.
My objective is to build on this
recognition and to develop a good working relationship in the area of election
monitoring for example. I think we have to make the Heads of Government more
aware of the work of CPA.
Does this mean CPA might be
Mr. Donahoe: This is a longstanding debate in the
Association at the policy level. The present practice is to have wide-ranging
discussions rather than try to make people accept or reject a given point of
view or resolution. We meet as a parliamentary organization and not as
representatives of governments or countries.
This does not mean we cannot
improve how we deal with topics at our conferences or seminars. For example,
instead of having only parliamentary participants, I think there is something
to be said for having experts to outline the nature and background of certain
issues. There is some resistance to the involvement of outside
"experts" but sometimes you can have a more informed discussion than might
be possible otherwise.
As for the use of resolutions I
think it is up to the Executive Committee to decide. I think we have functioned
fairly well without resolutions and any move in that direction would probably
have fairly profound consequences for the Association.