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From April 30 to May 2, 1984 the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, in co-operation with the Canadian Study of Parliament Group, sponsored a conference on "Parliament and Foreign Affairs". The meeting brought together parliamentarians. government officials, journalists and scholars from many parts of Canada for an in-depth examination of the relationship between Parliament and Canadian foreign policy. Sessions were devoted to discussion of parliamentary committees on foreign affairs. the relationship between the Department of External Affairs and Parliament, the role of parliamentary associations, political parties and foreign affairs and a number of issues related to foreign policy. One topic that did not come in for discussion was the role of provincial governments, and presumably legislators, in international affairs. (This subject is, however, on the agenda of the forthcoming Canadian Regional Conference of the CPA to be held in Halifax in August.)

It would be difficult to find any overall consensus except perhaps that international affairs are too important to be left solely in the hands of a few Ministers and officials. Indeed the Secretary of State for External Affairs told the meeting that "Parliament and parliamentarians should play an enlarged role; and the Government should encourage this for the benefit of all concerned." Mr. MacEachen pledged to continue efforts to improve the provision of information and services to parliamentarians interested in foreign affairs. While he did not rule out additional Opportunities for the discussion of foreign affairs in the House he pointed out that such requests faced stiff competition from other items of government business.

During the course of the three day conference several interesting exchanges took place which, on first glance, do not appear directly related to the overall theme of the conference For example the usefulness of survey research based on questionnaires to Members of Parliament was attacked and defended. Arguments for and against a civilian intelligence security agency were examined by both experts and parliamentarians.

The Canadian Study of Parliament Group is producing a summary report of the conference for its members. it is to be hoped that, in addition, the Institute for International Affairs will find the means to put out a full transcript of the conference. Such a document would be valuable to those interested in both Parliament and foreign affairs.


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 7 no 2

Last Updated: 2020-03-03