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Speaker's Ruling
Arnold Tulsa

The Right of Legislative Secretaries to ask questions during Question Period, Speaker Arnold Tusa, Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, August 6, 1987.

Background: On July 30 the Member for Saskatoon Riversdale (Roy Romanow) raised a point of order concerning the admissibility of questions from legislative secretaries. The right of such members to ask questions has been an issue in Ottawa and in other legislatures. The Speaker outlined some reasons why House of Commons precedent does not necessarily apply to a provincial legislature.

The Ruling (Speaker Arnold Tusa): Oral questions are a relatively new element in the parliamentary process, particularly so in Saskatchewan where we have had our current form of time-limited Question Period only since 1975. It is not surprising then that this House has no specific rules or precedents to guide the Chair in this matter. With this in mind, I listened with interest to the comments made by various members on the point of order.

Before dealing with the specific issue respecting legislative secretaries I want to clarify the broader issue respecting the rights of government private members in Question Period. In raising the point of order the Member for Saskatoon Riversdale indicated that Question Period was not the appropriate forum for "government Members who have easy access to members of the cabinet, both in caucus meetings and in other forums." I want to make it very clear that government backbenchers have the same rights as backbenchers of other parties to ask questions. This is based on the fundamental right of every Member to be heard and is supported by precedents in this House. I refer Honourable Members to a ruling of the Chair dated December 9, 1975, which states that "It is the right of any Private Member to ask oral questions." While in practice the number of questions is always firmly weighted to the opposition side of the House, it is important to remember that the rules of parliamentary procedure do not require or assume hat all Members of one party speak with the same voice. Moreover, it is important to give Private Members the opportunity to raise in the House issues which concern their constituents.

Now I want to turn to the question of whether it is appropriate for legislative secretaries to ask questions in Question Period. In this Assembly, since May of 1983, at least eight questions have been asked by legislative secretaries in Question Period. In all cases, except for the one last week, the questions were allowed and no points of order were raised. None of them were put to the legislative secretary's own minister, except for the last one asked on July 30, 1987 by the member for Kelvington Wadena, and in this case it should be noted that the member is the Legislative Secretary for the Premier, as the President of the Executive Council, while another member is Legislative Secretary for the Premier, as Minister of Agriculture.

The practice of the Canadian House of Commons was referred to in the point of order and in the ensuing discussion, and therefore, it may be useful to trace how the House of Commons practice in this area has evolved.

Initially, parliamentary secretaries were allowed to ask questions as well as to answer them. On March 6, 1973, Speaker Lamoureux ruled that parliamentary secretaries had the same right as other Members to ask questions, although he expressed some reservations about the propriety of this in certain situations. Despite this ruling, it appears that it was not considered appropriate for a parliamentary secretary to ask a question of his own minister.

On November 5, 1974, Speaker Jerome ruled that "those who are clothed with the responsibility of answering for the government ought not to use the time of the Question Period for the privilege of asking questions of the government." Since that time it has become the accepted practice that parliamentary secretaries are not permitted to ask questions in Question Period.

In Saskatchewan the role of legislative secretaries, while still evolving, does not and has not, in practice, included the role of answering for, or acting for the minister in the House in the minister's absence. Thus, the House of Commons situation where parliamentary secretaries were able both to ask and to answer questions does not arise here. A further distinction between legislative secretaries and ministers should also be made. A legislative secretary is responsible only to his or her minister for subjects within the minister's area of responsibility, unlike cabinet ministers who are collectively responsible for the operation and policies of government as a whole.

In view of these differences in practice, I find it would be inappropriate to apply the current House of Commons practice rigidly to this Assembly. Based on our more restricted role for legislative secretaries, based on our past practice, and based on the realization that Question Period is more than just a forum for seeking information, it is my view that, on rare occasions, legislative secretaries could be recognised to ask questions in Question Period. However, such questions should only be directed at ministers other than the one for which the Member serves as legislative secretary. The duties of a legislative secretary, and the special relationship that exists between a legislative secretary and his or her minister and department make it highly inappropriate for the time of Question Period to be used by a legislative secretary asking questions of his or her own minister.

While this ruling may be appropriate under current circumstances, this practice may need to be further restricted as the role of legislative secretaries evolves.



Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 10 no 3

Last Updated: 2020-09-14