Maureen McTeer, Parliament: Canada's
Democracy and How it Works, Random House, Toronto, 1987, 104 pages.
In October 1987 a committee on
compensation and expense allowances for members of the Quebec National Assembly
expressed the hope that "genuine, serious efforts would be made as soon as
possible to inform people about the work actually done each day by the 122
members from Quebec in the service of the entire country."
Anyone who wants to help make this
wish come true should turn to Maureen McTeer's Parliament: Canada's Democracy
and How It Works. The book goes beyond similar documents published in the past
resembling, in some ways the interesting BBC Guide to Parliament produced in
London in 1979. It is certainly very different from the old citizenship
education brochures published by in the 1950s.
At first glance, the table of
contents resembles that of Russell Hopkins' How Parliament Works, with the
inevitable sections on the Constitution, the Governor General, the House of
Commons, the Senate, the legislative process and elections. Her book does not
dwell too long on procedure, however, and covers the parliamentary buildings,
the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a glossary of parliamentary terms.
The format is quite distinctive and
includes photographs as well as explanatory diagrams and drawings. The guide is
peppered with side notes explaining customs and supplying biographica and
historical data. Finally, the author gives practical suggestions on how to
obtain more information on the topics discussed.
Very little fault can be found with
the book's overall content. A few paragraphs should perhaps be added about the
MP's role as a "watchdog" of government activity, and the role of
Speaker of the House probably deserves a bit more attention.
The author adopts the neutral tone
suited to this type of work, allowing her feelings to show through only once
when expressing her personal opinion of the Meech Lake accord. The information
given to students is generally useful, but should Ms. McTeer have gone as far
as to volunteer the services of MPs to help with homework or collect stamps
from the parliamentary postmaster?
Finally, there are some errors and
" overtranslations " in the French version. For example, it would
have been better to speak of hustings rather than tréteaux (p. 89) and to keep
backbenchers instead of députés d'arrière-plan (p.112) and filibuster for
obstruction (p. 85). Elsewhere, anglicisms like office, prendre le vote,
rapportés, division, redistribution and statut have crept in. We should add
that strangers should be translated by étranger and not intrus, and a safe seat
is a château fort or forteresse and not a compté sûr. As for that expert in
parliamentary procedure, Sir John C. Bourinot, his name is not translated as
These details do not detract from
the book's merit but are numerous enough to attract attention.
Deschênes, Director of the Research Division,
Legislative Library, Quebec National Assembly.