Over the past several years the National Assembly of Québec has produced
a wide range of documentary tools and resources in the field of parliamentary
procedure. This work of compilation, analysis and publication in a variety
of formats is, by its rigour and variety, a highly original initiative
in the world of parliamentary institutions. It attests to the vitality
of parliamentary life in Québec and to the sophistication of its parliamentary
law. It also demonstrates a real pedagogical preoccupation on the part
of the Assemblys political and administrative authorities, whose concern
is not only to make information more accessible to the parliamentary communityMembers
of the National Assembly (MNAs), political staff, public servants and parliamentary
journalistsbut also to disseminate the Assemblys work more widely and,
indeed, to explain the workings of parliamentary institutions to the general
public in everyday terms.
Like other parliaments based on the British model, the National Assembly
depends heavily on parliamentary procedure in its day-to-day operations
and proceedings. British-style parliamentary systems are characterized
in general by a soft separation between the legislative and executive
powers, a large degree of government control over legislative work in the
House, and the existence of windows of opportunity for opposition voices
to be heard, particularly that of the Official Opposition. The mastery
of parliamentary procedure is therefore an important factor in the governance
of Parliament, and one that nobody involved in the work of the House, on
either the Government or the Opposition side, can afford to ignore. Most
immediately concerned, of course, are the leaders and deputy leaders of
the Government and the Official Opposition, who largely orchestrate the
work of the House each day.
The heavy emphasis placed on documentation at the Assembly may be partly
explained by the phenomenon of parliamentary privilege. Subject to a complex
set of rules, the Speaker, known as the President of the National Assembly,
is the guardian of these privileges, which constitute an essential aspect
of parliamentary law and have given rise to a large body of jurisprudence
and legal doctrine. By right of its parliamentary privilege, the Assembly
has the exclusive power to manage its internal affairs free from outside
influence or intervention. More specifically, this means that the Assemblys
right to formulate, apply and interpret the rules of parliamentary law
is unquestioned, and that the Speakers rulings apply to all and may not
be contested. In this context, the publication of precedents in a standardized
form, and their a posteriori analysis, become at once the sin qua non for
the smooth operation of the Assembly and a task for which it bears sole
The diverse origins of Québecs parliamentary law are also a factor in
the emphasis on documentation. In order of precedence, the current body
of procedural rules is derived from the Canadian Constitution (Constitution
Acts, 1867 to 1982); the statutes, of which the most important is the Act
respecting the National Assembly, adopted in 1982; the Standing Orders
and Other Rules of Procedure; the special orders of the Assembly; precedent,
custom, tradition and practice, including those of other British-style
parliaments; and, lastly, doctrine. Given this diversity of normative instruments,
the Assemblys efforts to facilitate access to information by making it
available to all potential users are certainly justifiable, if not indispensable.1
Another factor to be considered is Québecs cultural and political specificity.
Since political stakes are high, and a long and vital parliamentary tradition
forms the background for their discussion, exchanges in the House are frequently
pointed. A thorough knowledge and mastery of the rules of parliamentary
jousting is therefore a matter of no small importance.
Québecs judicial tradition also plays a role in the importance allocated
to documentary resources at the National Assembly. In particular, the application
in a French cultural environment of parliamentary law that is essentially
Anglo-Saxon has resulted in a fair number of virtually unprecedented solutions.
Finally, we must consider the role the Assemblys administration has played
in regard to documentary resources. As a result to some extent of the factors
mentioned above, the Assembly has recruited a body of qualified employees
capable of dealing with all aspects of parliamentary procedure, from proposal
to formulation to implementation. It is significant in this regard that
the Assemblys organizational chart includes a Parliamentary Procedure
Research Directorate which answers to the Associate Secretary General for
Parliamentary Affairs and is staffed by jurists, most of whom are lawyers,
whose main task is to assist the Secretary General in his or her role as
procedural advisor to the Speaker, the Assembly, and the standing committees.
The Standing Orders and the Annotated Standing Orders
The standing orders are indisputably the Assemblys basic set of rules
in the field of parliamentary procedure. The full title of the publication,
Standing Orders and Other Rules of Procedure, reflects the fact that the
volume contains, in addition to the standing orders proper, the body of
fundamental rules that directly govern the proceedings of the Assembly.
The latest edition of the Standing Orders and Other Rules of Procedure
rules for the conduct of committee proceedings and proceedings respecting
the Constitution Acts (1867 and 1982) (extracts);
the Act respecting the National Assembly;
the Election Act (extracts);
the Interpretation Act.
The current standing orders took effect in March 1984. Each subsequent
modification has resulted in a new publication, the latest in January 2005.2
Reprints of the entire document are favoured over partial updates, whether
the changes are to a standing order or an appended document. This solution
is less a matter of choice than of practical necessity, the Assembly having
opted for a spiral-bound, user-friendly document that does not readily
lend itself to partial updates.
Published in English and French, the Standing Orders and Other Rules of
Procedure is a compact document measuring 20 cm x 15 cm, with the thickness
of the average book (2 cm). An electronic version is available on the Assemblys
Intranet and Internet sites.
Since procedural rules must be interpreted on the basis of individual circumstances
rather than on a strict, literal reading of the text, a need arose for
a practical version of the standing orders that would clarify, explain
and comment on procedural rules in light of the interpretive toolsin particular
the Speakers rulingsused at the Assembly.
Today, there are two annotated versions of the standing orders in French.
The first, entitled Règlement annoté de lAssemblée nationale, is compiled
by the Parliamentary Procedure Research Directorate for internal use only
and distributed to the various departments of the Associate General Secretariat
for Parliamentary Affairs, including the House Secretariat Directorate
and the Committee Secretariat Directorate. This version is also one of
the reference documents used by the officers at the Table.
Procedural advisors thus have an efficient tool with which to interpret
rules of procedure in light of the questions that have arisen in the past.
Under each standing order, the Règlement annoté provides interpretations,
grouped by subject, for the application of that standing order. These interpretations
are derived not only from the Speakers rulings, but also from draft decisions
that were never used in the House, as well as from legal doctrine, decisions
made during meetings of the Tablethat is, the periodic meetings that
take place between the Secretary General, the Assistant Secretary General,
the senior staff of the Associate General Secretariat, and the procedural
advisorsand the analyses, opinions and comments prepared by the advisors
The document is an 8½ x 11 ringed binder containing an alphabetical index
that sends users directly to the annotated procedural rule or rules on
any given subject. Annotations may be brief or they may take up several
pages. Updating, done by a procedural advisor, is quick and easy because
of the binder format. A new version of the Règlement annoté is currently
being prepared for publication on a much broader scale.
The second Réglement annoté differs greatly from the first in both form
and content. It is the work of one man, Pierre Duchesne, Secretary General
of the Assembly from 1984 to 2001, who wished to make the current standing
orders generally accessible by means of short notes at the bottom of each
page to explain their impact. Published in 2003 and annotated largely on
the basis of the Speakers rulings, this compact, hardcover book of 400
pages is similar in format to the Règlement published by the Assembly,
and similarly organized. Mr. Duchesnes book has become an essential desk-top
reference for public servants and politicians alike. Although not available
on the National Assembly website, it is sold in the Assemblys gift shop.
Parliamentary Procedure in Québec
The most comprehensive document on parliamentary procedure to be produced
by the Assembly, and probably the most original, is a book entitled La
procédure parlementaire du Québec.3 In 2000, when the first edition was
being prepared, the goal was to provide a work on parliamentary procedure
in Québec that would meet pedagogical needs yet still cover all areas of
the subject. The books 14 chapters do indeed address most procedural questions.
The principles of procedure are described and analyzed through a running
commentary on the standing orders and other legal and regulatory provisions,
based on parliamentary jurisprudence and, where applicable, doctrine, practice
and tradition. Ample use of footnotes makes the book an easy-to-read reference
The appendix of the La procédure parlementaire du Québec contains the Act
Respecting the National Assembly and the Standing Orders and Other Rules
of Procedure, as well as a table of statutes, a table of standing orders
and rules for the conduct of proceedings, a table of judgments and a table
of rulings. Each item in the tables is cross-referenced to the page on
which the item may be found. A subject index is also provided.
In concept and layout, La procédure parlementaire du Québec may be seen
as a handbook that gives readers a solid overview of all aspects of parliamentary
procedure in a single volume. Although it is used first and foremost by
the parliamentary communitythe Speaker, the parliamentary group leaders,
committee chairpersons, MNAs, and clerksthe books design and editorial
approach make it a work of much broader interest and appeal. The Book,
as it is commonly called, has become the textbook of choice not only for
new Assembly employees and newly elected MNAs, but for teachers, students
of law and political science, and anyone wishing to learn more about parliamentary
life in Québec. Published by the National Assembly, La Procédure parlementaire
du Québec can be consulted as a PDF document on the National Assembly website,
a fact which attests to its vocation as a work meant for a wide audience.4
Compilation of Rulings
The rulings of the Speaker in the National Assembly, as in other British-style
parliaments, are of fundamental importance in the interpretation and application
of procedural rules. Such rulings are the expression of an essential parliamentary
privilege, since they are the exclusive province of the Speaker and may
not be contested. They also ensure that procedure retains the flexibility,
inherent in the British parliamentary tradition, needed for Parliament
to run smoothly.
First published in 1986, the Recueil de decisions concernant la procédure
parlementaire comprises two volumes. The first gives rulings made by Speakers
and Deputy Speakers of the Assembly since 1972 and the second, those made
in standing committees since 1984, when the current standing orders took
effect. Not all rulings are recorded in the Recueil.5 Whether it involves
the interpretation of a standing order or the formal consecration of a
long-standing practice, a ruling must be seen as jurisprudentially significant
for Parliament6 in order to be included in the Recueil. A ruling that is
similar to a jurisprudentially significant ruling already recorded will
not generally be given detailed treatment in the Recueil, but recorded
under the reference similar decision.
The job of compiling and updating the Recueil is nonetheless considerable.
The latest edition gives some 610 rulings in the Assembly volume and
more than 210 in the Committee volume. Some aspects of parliamentary
procedure are rarely if ever the subject of a ruling, while others have
given rise to an abundant jurisprudence. Certain standing orders are actually
the object of several dozen rulings sufficiently significant to be included
in the Recueil.7
A ruling is not reproduced verbatim in the Recueil but presented in accordance
with an editorial chart that includes, in most cases, the references to
the ruling in the Journal des débats (Hansard), a series of standardized
key words, a brief account of the context, the question of procedure at
issue and a summary of the ruling. If doctrine, other rulings, or sections
of a statute or regulation are cited in the ruling, these references are
Each ruling in the Recueil is given a sequential number based on the standing
order involved and the chronological number of the ruling. An index sends
the reader directly to the relevant ruling or rulings on a given subject.
The Recueil also contains a list of the words and expressions that, since
1984, have been ruled by the Speaker of the Assembly or a standing committee
to constitute unparliamentary language. Reference to the relevant ruling
or rulings is provided in each case.
The Recueil comprises two spiral-bound documents of letter-sized (8½ x
11) sheets; the Assembly volume is approximately 450 pages, the Committee
volume, 170 pages. Both are re-edited from time to time, with a preliminary
version always preceding the final one. New rulings are included in each
new edition, but it is also possible that previously included rulings will
be removed. The latest edition (distributed in October 2005) gives rulings
made up to June 30, 2005, and has already been updated by inserting loose
sheets to accommodate six selected additional rulings. The Recueil is published
on the Assemblys Intranet and Internet sites.
The Samuel Phillips Data Base
Faced with the diversity of sources of Québecs parliamentary law and the
large volume of procedural documents to be maintained, the Assembly administration,
and in particular the Parliamentary Procedure Research Directorate, were
led to consider ways of providing rapid access to a wealth of widely dispersed
documentary resources. It was eventually decided that a centralized in-house
data base would be the best means of bringing together all the information
needed to deal quickly and efficiently with the questions of the Speaker,
the officers at the Table, and the standing committees.
Named in honour of the first clerk of the House, appointed in 1792, the
Samuel Phillips data base became operational in 1994.8 Although the design
stages of the project required the participation of a number of administrative
units, the data base is now under the sole responsibility of the Parliamentary
Procedure Research Directorate.
Information in the data base is divided into 12 groups, by type of document:
Procedure and related statutes (French): Various versions of the standing
orders and rules for the conduct of proceedings in the National Assembly,
particularly the current (1984) and previous (1972) versions, Geoffrions
annotated standing orders (1941), and various statutes;
Procedure (English): English versions of the standing orders and rules
for the conduct of proceedings in the National Assembly, as well as the
English version of various statutes;
Work of procedural advisors: Notes, memorandums and draft decisions of
procedural advisors since 1984.
Doctrine: References to journal articles, tables of contents of works on
parliamentary procedure, bibliographical references;
Rulings (House): Rulings in the House since 1984 and selected rulings
prior to that time;
Rulings (committees): Rulings in committee since 1984 and selected rulings
prior to that time;
House of Commons: Standing orders of the House of Commons (French and English),
Procedural Review, related documents;
Other legislative assemblies: Documents on parliamentary procedure in other
Canadian legislative assemblies;
Other parliaments: Selected documents on parliamentary procedure in foreign
Judgments: Judgments relevant to parliamentary procedure;
Québec Legislature (miscellaneous): Political and historical documents;
Documentary tools: Tables of contents of standing orders, concordances,
lists, thesauruses, and other research documents.
Additions to the data base are made by the procedural advisors. Their work,
including the summaries they prepare of rulings made in the House or in
committee, is submitted on standardized forms that allow the new information
to be entered directly into the data base. It should be noted that the
Recueil is compiled and updated on the basis of these summaries, excluding
the advisors comments, which are, however, entered in the data base. The
advisors also select any additional documents to be entered in the data
base. The hands-on task of adding the information is carried out by a legal
technician, who is the data base manager in this regard.
Users may search the data base by the full text method, which produces
all the relevant documents contained in the data base, or by narrowing
down the search using any of eight query fields: Type of document; Date;
Expanded title; Text; Author; Key words; Key articles; References. Hyperlinks
allow the user to move directly from one document to anotherfrom a French
text to its English version, for example. The standing orders cited in
summaries of rulings can also be accessed by hyperlinks.
The Samuel Phillips data base has proven an effective, user-friendly tool
that has amply met the expectations of its designers. It now forms an essential
part of the information resources used every day by the Assemblys procedural
These numerous but complementary tools constitute a veritable document-management
strategy in the field of parliamentary procedure, a strategy characterized
by its consistency, reliability and adaptability.
The purpose of such tools is, first of all, to help the Assembly meet its
internal objectives, such as improving the quality of services provided
to the Speaker and to parliamentarians, increasing administrative efficiency
and, more generally, ensuring that the Assembly performs well in all its
essential roles. Yet these same tools also further some of the broader
goals the Assembly has set for itself over the past several years: to raise
public awareness of its functions and characteristics; to communicate its
parliamentary know-how to emerging democracies; and to counter the political
disenchantment that has been shown to result when citizens possess insufficient
knowledge of their democratic institutions.
From either perspective, the Assemblys approach to documentary resources
constitutes, in a number of ways, an original initiative in the field of
parliamentary law, a field that remains largely unfamiliar to all but a
1. As used in this article, documentary tools means any document made
available in any form to parliamentarians, public servants or the public,
in which rules of procedure are presented or examined. However, it does
not include documents that may be considered part and parcel of parliamentary
proceedings, such as the Order Paper and Notices, the Votes and Proceedings,
and the Journal des débats (Hansard).
2. The Committee Secretariat Directorate is responsible for the publication
of the standing orders.
3. Though unique in a number of ways, La procedure parlementaire du Québec
is by no means the only work of its kind. Other jurisdictions with British-style
parliaments have produced similar works, and such an exercise seems justified
given the jurisprudential nature of parliamentary law. The authority in
the field is indisputably Erskine Mays
Parliamentary Practice. First published
in 1844, this bible of British parliamentarians is now in its 23rd
(2004). The House of Commons in Ottawa published its work on procedure
in 2000, entitled House of Commons Procedure and Practice. This book follows
in the tradition of George Bourinots Parliamentary Procedure and Practice
in the Dominion of Canada (four editions between 1884 and 1916), and Arthur
Beauchesnes Beauchesnes Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada
(four editions between 1925 and 1949). Both these men were parliamentary
clerks. In a similar vein, Australia published the fourth edition of its
House of Representatives Practices in 2001.
4. An English version of La procédure parlémentaire du Québec, entitled
Parliamentary Procedure in Québec, is being translated for the next edition.
5. A ruling handed down in private may appear in the Recueil with the reference
6. This judgment is made by the Parliamentary Procedure Research Directorate,
under the authority of the Secretary General and the Associate General
Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs.
7. Standing Order 67 on recognized rights and privileges, Standing Order
88 on requests for an urgent debate and Standing Order 197 on the admissibility
of amendments as regards content have been the object, respectively, of
53, 52 and 41 rulings.
8. See Mathieu Proulx, The Samuel Phillips Data Bank in Parliamentary Procedure,
Canadian Parliamentary Review, vol. 17, No. 4, Winter 1994-95.