Gary Levy is Editor of the
Canadian Parliamentary Review
It is now some eighty-three
years since parliamentarians from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa decided to create an association to
facilitate closer understanding between those engaged in parliamentary
government in different parts of the Empire. The 1994 Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association Conference in Canada will be the fortieth since the
Association was re-organized in 1948. This article outlines the history of the
CPA with particular emphasis on conferences held in Canada.
The idea of an association for
legislators from Parliaments of the British Empire originated with Howard
d'Egville, a young lawyer and Secretary of the Imperial Co-operation League in
the early years of the twentieth century. A British Member of Parliament, L.S.
Amery picked up the idea and proposed that the Coronation of King George V in
1911 was an appropriate occasion for a first meeting. A committee was set up to
work out the details. Howard d'Egville wrote the constitution and it was
approved on July 18, 1911 at a meeting of thirty parliamentarians from six
The original constitution made no
provision for membership from component states of federal countries but this was
later changed as a result of pressure from Australia, Canada and South Africa.
The goal of having a conference every two years proved impossible following the
outbreak of hostilities but the war did result in a special five week visit to
Britain by selected members of Empire Parliaments. They were taken to munitions
factories, shipbuilding yards and even to the French and British fronts in
France. In London they were briefed by some of the leading political figures of
the day including Bonar Law, and Lloyd George. Discussions were held in private
and there is no record of the proceedings but as one of the Canadians Sir
George Foster noted in his diary, "the meetings were excellent and full of
After the war the first full
parliamentary conference outside the United Kingdom took place in Australia in
1926. A second conference was held in Canada two years later. In August 1928
some fifty-four delegates from nine branches arrived in Canada for a visit that
lasted two months and covered more than 15,000 miles. Formal meetings and
speeches were devoted mainly to commercial topics such as tariffs, marketing,
immigration and communication but informal meetings were held in Quebec City,
Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, Regina, Fredericton and
Halifax. At every stop the visiting delegates were given an enthusiastic
reception by host parliamentarians.
Interest created by the tour led to
the formation of provincial branches in Ontario and British Columbia. Howard
d'Egville tried to establish branches in the other provinces although he was
careful to point out that they should approach the UK through the federal
branch. It was not until 1932, when d'Egville again visited Canada, that two
more provincial branches were formed - one in New Brunswick in April 1933 and
one in Quebec a week later. A branch was also constituted in Nova Scotia in
1932 but it did not hold its first meeting until 1934.
The prairie provinces were slower
to join, particularly Alberta where Premier Aberhart was apparently opposed to
any affiliation. In Saskatchewan a committee for the association had been
formed in 1928 but on account of the 1929 election some of the most important
members lost their seats and it was not until 1937 that the Saskatchewan branch
was established. The Manitoba legislature formed a branch in 1938 and after the
war Alberta and Prince Edward Island joined. Newfoundland, of course, had
belonged to the Association since its foundation in 1911.
During the Second World War the
Association once again became a vehicle for information about the Allied war
effort. For example in 1941 the United Kingdom branch invited Canada to send an
all-party delegation to see war conditions and to meet Canadian troops. The
members attended a number of official functions including the Opening of
Parliament but most of their time was spent at Canadian army bases, hospitals
and cemeteries in various parts of England. They also toured London and noted
the destruction caused by the bombing. Canadian MPs took back with them a
picture of the grim determination of British people in the face of adversity
and promised to co-operate with them to the full extent of their power.
Post War Reorganization
The post-war world was a very
different place and the changes were not lost on those associated with the
Empire Parliamentary Association, particularly the Canadians. Senator Arthur
Roebuck was instrumental in arguing for a new administrative arrangement
whereby the Association would have an international executive supported by an independent
secretariat. He also called for a change in name for the Association to
recognize that the British Empire had been replaced by a group of nations
freely associated in a Commonwealth. Both these proposals were accepted and
Senator Roebuck was named Chairman of a committee charged with amending the
The Third CPA Conference
The countries represented included
many colonies in Africa (such as Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and the
Gold Coast) that have since become independent and changed their names. Two non
Commonwealth countries were also represented, the United States and Ireland.
The Conference took place in the
Senate and was opened by Harold Holt, Chairman of the CPA and a Minister in the
Australian Government. Delegates were welcomed by Elie Beauregard and Ross
MacDonald, Speakers of the Senate and House of Commons. The Secretary of State
for External Affairs, Lester Pearson also spoke.
As it was still the practice of the
Association to hold meetings in camera Speaker MacDonald concluded the opening
with what he called a rather unpleasant duty. He asked the general public and
the press to leave.
Only three topics were on the
Agenda and one of these, International Affairs and Defence, generated by far
the most interest. The discussion was opened by the Canadian minister of
Defence, Brooke Claxton. He focused on problems relating to the arms race, the
War in Korea and the need for solidarity among non Communist countries. Other
delegates agreed with him although some called for more United Nations control
over the American military action in Korea.
Most provinces took the opportunity
to send at least one delegate to the conference. The representative from Quebec
was Daniel Johnson who later become Prime Minister of that province.
The Twelfth Conference (Ottawa,
The 1966 the conference attracted
one hundred and thirty eight delegates from sixty-five branches. It was held in
the House of Commons and was presided over by CPA Chairman Senator John
Connolly who was also Minister without Portfolio and Leader of the Government
in the Senate. The federal delegation was led by another Minister, John Turner.
One of the provincial representatives was Gil Molgat of Manitoba presently
Deputy Government Leader in the Senate. The Conference was opened by Governor
General Georges Vanier. Lester Pearson once again spoke at the opening
ceremonies this time in his capacity as Prime Minister. The United States was
represented this time by two prominent Senators Edmund Muskie and William
Fulbright who clashed over American policy in Vietnam. Sessions were open to
the public and the press with a verbatim Hansard published daily during the
conference. A new format for the conference was introduced with the proceedings
split between plenary sessions and committee meetings. One of the plenaries was
devoted to the topic of relations between the CPA and the Commonwealth
Secretariat. The guest speaker was Arnold Smith, a Canadian diplomat and head
of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Other plenary sessions were on "The
Commonwealth and the World" and "Commonwealth Self-Help, Trade and
Aid". The two committee sessions dealt with "Parliamentary Government
in the Commonwealth" and "Education and Technical Assistance".
The Twenty-Third Conference
The official opening of the 1977
Conference took place in the Senate Chamber but because of the large number of
delegates the balance of the proceedings were held in the Government Conference
Centre. The Speaker of the House of Commons, James Jerome, invited the Governor
General to declare the conference open. This was followed by a speech of
welcome by Prime Minister Trudeau who noted the role of elected members in
maintaining an awareness and concern for the human condition in their respective
A total of 179 delegates from 89
branches attended the conference, including the Yukon and Northwest Territories
which in 1966 had been limited to observer status. Also absent from the list of
observers was the United States. The Canadian delegation was led by Maurice
Foster. No cabinet Ministers were included but two parliamentary secretaries
and two former Speakers were among the 14 man delegation. Several Speakers and
Ministers were among the provincial delegates including Gerald Ottenheimer of
Newfoundland who is now Deputy Speaker of the Senate.
Once again the conference was
divided between plenary session and panels but this time the focus was clearly
on the kind of less formal exchanges that can take place in panel discussions.
Among the panel topics were: Commodity Prices and Relations Between
Industrialized and Primary Producing Countries; Racial Conflicts within the
Commonwealth; Challenges to Parliament by External Groups; Assistance to
Developing Countries; Social Effects of Continuing Unemployment; Parliament's
Role in the Control of Government Expenditure; The Law of the Sea; The
Preservation of the Environment and Wildlife; The Relevance of Westminster-type
Parliamentary Systems in Developing Countries.
The plenary sessions included: The
Commonwealth and World Security; The Problems of Rhodesia, Namibia and South
Africa; The Preservation of Human Rights; and The World Energy Crisis.
The Thirty-First Conference
The Province of Saskatchewan became
the first non National legislature to host a CPA conference in 1985. This
conference attracted 154 elected members of Commonwealth parliaments
representing some 143 jurisdictions. The conference began in Regina with
meetings of the Executive Committee and Representatives of Small Countries on
October 1-2. The remaining delegates and observers arrived in Regina by October
2 and the conference was officially opened in the legislative chamber by Grant
Devine, Premier of Saskatchewan. The city of Regina and the Province of
Saskatchewan hosted gala dinners in honour of the conference. Following the
opening Speaker Herb Swan invited delegates to a reception on his farm.
Participants were divided into four
groups which toured the province. The conference then re-grouped in Saskatoon
for working sessions which were held in the convention facilities of the Ramada
Renaissance Hotel. There were five plenary sessions and six panel sessions. The
plenary sessions dealt with: The United Nations: How Can it be Strengthened to
Enable it to Preserve Peace and Promote Disarmament; Trade and Development
Assistance: What Special Obligation Does Membership of the Commonwealth Imply?;
Electoral Law and Practice; The Debt Crisis and International Currency
Fluctuations: What Can be Done to Stabilize the Global Economy; The Role of the
Member of Parliament - Legislator or Social Worker; and International Year of
Youth: What can Tomorrow's Commonwealth Offer Today's Youth?
Panel sessions included: The
Gleneagles Agreement on Sporting Contacts with South Africa; Agricultural
Prices, Production and Distribution: What Must be Done to Relieve and Prevent
Famine; Educational Mobility in the Commonwealth: What Can be Done to Enhance
Education Opportunities Throughout the Commonwealth; What Can the Commonwealth
do to Curb Drug Abuse; The Decade for Women: Past Achievements and Future
Challenges for Women in Public Life; The Image of the Parliamentarian: What can
be Done to Improve the Standing of the Politician in the Eyes of the Public?
The 40th Conference (Banff,
The 1994 Conference carries on the
Canadian tradition of hosting CPA approximately once a decade. Like the 1952,
1966 and 1977 conferences this one is officially hosted by the federal branch,
however financially and in every other way it is really a collective
undertaking of all legislatures in the Canadian Region of CPA. Because the
Conference is being held in Alberta the Speaker and Legislature of that
province have played a key role in the organization. Legislative staff from
many provinces have been loaned to the Secretariat to help.
The official opening of the
Conference takes place on Saturday October 8, 1994. The Governor General will
welcome the five hundred or more delegates, observers, and others expected to attend.
The Commonwealth Secretary General has also been invited to speak on opening
day and there will be remarks by the Speaker of the House of Commons and other
officials. The General Assembly of the Association will meet on the morning of
October 9. This will be followed by some Alberta hospitality including a tour
of Calgary and a special rodeo performance.
The business sessions begin on
Monday October 10. This year there will be two plenary sessions one at the
start and one at the end of the conference. The topic will be Parliament and
People and the focus will be on ways to make democratic institutions more
representative, responsible and relevant.
In addition there will be 6 panel
sessions during the week. These include:
Panel A: What Contribution Can
Parliamentarians Make to the Development of the United Nations, the
Commonwealth and Regional Organizations and the Prevention and Resolution of
Panel B: What Practical Steps Can
be Taken to Enhance Relations Between Commonwealth Countries with Regard to
Trade, Debt Repayment and Deficit Reduction Problems and Resist the Tendency
Towards a Widening of the Inequality Between Developed and Developing
Countries, and How Can Parliamentarians Assist These Efforts?
Panel C: How Can Commonwealth
Parliaments Develop Practical and Innovative Processes to Achieve Full Equality
Panel D: How Can Parliamentarians
Contribute to the Understanding of Environmental Protection Problems and Their
Implications for Development and the Need for Effective Legislation to Deal
Panel E: How Can Parliamentarians
Help in Achieving a Better Understanding of the Worldwide Problems of
Unemployment, Drug Abuse and AIDS and Encourage the Acceptance of Ideas for
Panel F: What Steps Can be Taken to
Enhance the Public Perception of Parliaments and the Legislative Process?