At the time this article was written Gary
Levy was Editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review.
The twenty-fifth federal and provincial
conference of federal and provincial parliamentarians under the auspices of.
the Canadian Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will be held
in Quebec from July 21 - 27, 1985.
Without attempting an authoritative history
of inter-parliamentary co-operation in Canada it is perhaps appropriate, in the
light of this milestone, to reflect briefly on the first and founding meeting
of the Canadian Region.
The First Meeting
In 1958 Nova Scotia was celebrating the
200th anniversary of representative government in that province. An invitation,
(in the name of Charles Beazley, Deputy Provincial Secretary and Secretary of
the Nova Scotia Branch, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association), was sent to
all other provinces inviting them to send delegates to a meeting in Halifax on
September 29, 1958.
The conference got off to a rather
inauspicious start when the official host, Speaker W.S.K. Jones of the Nova
Scotia Legislative Assembly came down with the flu and was unable to attend.
The arrival of several delegates including Daniel Johnson of Quebec was delayed
as a result of a severe storm which swept through the province the night before
the conference. Neither Manitoba nor British Columbia sent representatives to
Among the politicians present for the
opening were Roland Michener, Speaker of the House of Commons; Premier
Alexander Matheson of Prince Edward Island; Speakers James Darling of
Saskatchewan, Peter Dawson of Alberta, Alfred Downer of Ontario and John
Courage of Newfoundland. In the absence of Speaker Jones of the host
legislature, the Premier of Nova Scotia, Robert Stanfield, was elected chairman
of the meeting.
The draft agenda set forth a number of
possible subjects for discussion including consideration of:
- the desirability of setting up facilities for the exchange of
information and visits between the representatives of Branches of the
Association in the Canadian area, and to consider whether the
co-ordination of Branch activities would be assisted by the creation of an
- proposals for future meetings of representatives of Branches within
the Canadian Area.
- the desirability of the extension of the Area to a wider Atlantic
region and specifically to include the new West Indies Federation, for the
purpose of informal regional conferences,
The morning was devoted to discussion of an
idea, emanating from the Secretary General of the Association, that certain
branches of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association whose territories were
in proximity and who faced common problems should hold regular meetings of
parliamentarians. It was emphasized by the officials in London that these
meetings not conflict with the annual meetings of the CPA.
The idea was generally well received by the
Canadian parliamentarians, particularly the Speaker and members of the House of
Commons. In the course of the discussion it became clear that in many provinces
the local branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association existed in name
only and few activities took place aside from sending one member every two years
to the international conference. Eventually a resolution was moved by Speaker
Michener favouring participation in CPA regional conferences to be held in
alternate years in which no biennial meetings of the Association were being
In the afternoon the delegates turned their
attention toward a related but slightly different matter the establishment of
regular parliamentary conferences within Canada.
Once again the prime mover was Speaker
Michener. There were, he said many advantages having regular federal-provincial
We can, I think strengthen the
Canadian Federation by, these conferences. I am sure that this meeting,
though it brings all too few people from the western provinces to the
Maritimes, demonstrates the value of it. I am sure that the other
members from the West, who haven't visited Halifax, would say that today their
understanding of the Canadian Federation would 6e greatly helped by conferences
held first in the East, then in the West and the Centre.
Premier Stanfield agreed saying that Nova
Scotia would be very interested in knowing more about what is going on in other
We get Hansard from the House of Commons,
but as to what goes on in other legislatures, all we know is what we see in the
press. It might be that we could get the information by collecting newspapers,
and doing some sort of an editing job here. In that way we might get an
adequate idea of what is going on in other legislatures. It would be useful to
know about a discussion in Alberta about some particular problem. It may be the
same sort of problem that the legislature of Nova Scotia is confronted with,
and I think we'd be extremely interested in any sort of reporting
He called for creation of a Council to supervise
creation of an inter parliamentary organization. Other members were also very
favourable to the idea, however, a number of points were raised which
foreshadowed debates that have taken place periodically since the inception of
the Region. For example, the Speaker of Ontario pointed out the
parliamentarians "haven't any right to discuss policy. That is up to
governments concerned. If it was a question of dealing with procedure ... then
I think (our conferences) should be limited to the Speakers and the Clerks of
the House." Richard Donahoe of Nova Scotia disagreed arguing that even if
conferences were confined to procedural matters it was important for the
ordinary member to have an opportunity to improve his knowledge in this area.
The objective of conferences should be to help legislators to perform their
functions and duties both political and procedural. Other members felt it would
be more useful having Atlantic, or Western parliamentary conferences before
trying to hold national ones.
By the end of the afternoon however there
was a clear consensus in favour of a new organization of some kind. A federal
Member of Parliament from British Columbia, Harold Winch moved, seconded by G.
R. Renouf of the Newfoundland House of Assembly that:
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the
Speaker of the Senate, the Speakers of the several provincial legislatures and
one extra member from each legislature be constituted a Provisional Area
It was further moved and accepted that the
Speaker of the House of Commons be Chairman of this Council. By way of
direction to this Council the conference passed a resolution favouring annual
meetings to be "regulated and arranged by the Council".
From this modest beginning, the Canadian
Region of the CPA has developed into one of the most active and imaginative
organization devoted to helping parliamentarians understand their institution
and attempting to increase knowledge about our parliamentary institutions among
both members and the general public.
Some major steps in its evolution are listed
1958: First Regional Conference, Halifax
(Subsequent conferences have been held in every province and territory except
1960: Adoption of provisional rules for
1973: First Regional Seminar on Parliamentary
Practice and Procedure in Ottawa (Subsequent seminars have been held in Quebec
City, Halifax, Toronto, and Regina as well as Ottawa).
1975: Adoption of permanent constitution.
1976: Adoption of cost-sharing formula
providing sound financial base for the association.
1978: Establishment of Canadian
1978: First Atlantic Parliamentary
Conference, St. John's, Newfoundland (Subsequent conferences held annually, on
a rotation basis among the four Atlantic provinces).
1982: Establishment of Task Force on the
Future of the Canadian Region.
1983: Creation of Executive Committee and
other organizational changes pursuant to recommendations of the Task Force.
1983: Establishment of a program enrichment
1984: First Canadian Speakers' Conference,
Edmonton (Subsequent conference held in Vancouver in 1985).
The various conferences and seminars as well
as inter provincial exchanges and other activities continue to bring together
parliamentarians and staff from various provinces. If the Association has
developed and prospered it is due to the dedication and interest of numerous
Speakers and private members in the various legislatures of Canada. A
twenty-fifth anniversary is a time to look back, and reflect upon what has been
accomplished. It is also a time to look ahead and devise even better ways to
meet the informational and professional needs of Canadian legislators.