Ian Imrie was Executive Secretary of the
Canadian Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association until his
retirement in December 1995.
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (founded in 1911) is an international
association of parliamentarians in the national, state, provincial and
territorial legislatures of Commonwealth countries. The CPA organises
conferences, seminars, exchanges and other projects designed to assist members
in their work as parliamentarians. The Association, which has its
own Secretariat in London, is made up of eight geographic regions including
Canada, the only country that constitutes a CPA Region. This article outlines
the development and activities of the Canadian Region.
My involvement with the
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association goes back to the 1960s. The
minority Liberal Government of Lester Pearson was in office and Alan
Macnaughton was Speaker of the House of Commons. He came from a business
background and was shocked when he discovered the rather amateur way the House
of Commons was organised. He ordered a complete study by a special branch
of the Public Service Commission. They made a number of recommendations
including creation of three new House of Commons positions – a Director of
Finance, a Director of Legislative Services, and a Co-ordinator of
I was working in the historical
sites and monuments division of the Department of Northern Affairs when Speaker
Macnaughton interviewed me for the position of Co-ordinator. Shortly
thereafter I was offered the job. In those days Canada belonged to only
four parliamentary associations – the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association,
the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the NATO Parliamentary Association and the
Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group. One of the first things Speaker
Macnaughton told me was that two separate Canadian parliamentary delegations
had just informed him that they had committed Canada to host major conferences
in 1965 and 1966.
The task of co-ordinating
Canada’s inter-parliamentary relations had fallen to various table officers on
a part time basis but with the House sitting almost non stop in those years
there was no way they could make the kind of commitment necessary to organise
these conferences. I quickly put together a team for this purpose. It included
Monty Montgomery a veritable mine of information about CPA. When he
retired in 1967 I replaced him as Secretary of the federal Branch.
Macnaughton’s successors, Lucien
Lamoureux (1966 - 1974) and James Jerome (1974 - 1980) both made it clear to me
that they saw great value in Canadian legislators, getting together more
frequently. They saw CPA both as an entrée to the international community
and an institution devoted to improving the parliamentary profession within
Canada. Subsequent Speakers also supported this view but the creation of new
parliamentary links with many other legislatures and the increasing demands of
the Speakership gave them less time to devote to CPA. Eventually federal
Speakers ceased to be Co-Chairmen of the federal branch. This position is
filled by election.
In most provinces the Speaker is
still the head of the CPA Branch although I believe the Quebec branch now also
elects a Chairman. These individuals – Speakers or Chairmen as the case
may be – make up the Canadian Regional Council, the Executive of the Canadian
Region of CPA.
In 1982 the Council appointed a
Task Force to study the organisation and activities of the Canadian Region.
It was originally chaired by Speaker Claude Vaillancourt of Quebec but
following his appointment to the bench he was replaced by Speaker Richard Guay.
Other members of the Task Force were Keith Penner of the Federal Branch,
Speaker Arthur Donahoe of Nova Scotia, Speaker John M. Turner of Ontario and
Speaker Harvey Schroeder of British Columbia who was replaced by Speaker Walter
Davidson after Mr. Schroeder was named to cabinet.
The Task Force made a number of recommendations
which, with minor adjustments, form the basis for the organisation of the
Canadian Region. It recommended establishment of an executive Committee
composed of a President who comes from the Branch hosting the annual
conference, two Vice-Chairman from the jurisdictions that will be hosting the
next two conferences, a Past President and two (later expanded to three)
Regional Representatives. One Regional Representative is drawn from the
federal branch and two from provincial and territorial branches. The
positions are filled by election for a three-year term. There is an
understanding that the position should rotate among the provinces and
territories in an equitable manner. The Regional Representatives serve as
Canadian delegates to CPA’s international Executive Committee.
The Task Force also considered a
number of financial and administrative matters including the question of
whether the Region should have its own independent secretariat. It concluded
that such a step was “premature” and would pose a number of practical and
financial problems. The facilities of the federal Parliamentary Relations
Secretariat, continued to provide support services for the Region. This
arrangement continued until my retirement in 1995. When Paul Bélisle,
Clerk of the Senate, was named Executive Secretary Treasurer, some of this
administrative support was transferred to the Senate but the House and Senate
continue to co-operate in providing administrative support to the Region.
Activities in the Canadian
Region of CPA
Over the years I worked with a
number of individuals who contributed to the development of both the Canadian
Region of CPA and the international association. In addition to the
Speakers and members of the Task Force who I have already mentioned I remember
the outstanding contribution of the late Senator Allister Grosart. Even
though he was an opposition Senator for many years he still was chosen to lead
a number of Canadian delegations to international conferences. His financial
expertise helped the international CPA to put its affairs in order. He
also served on the Constitutional Committee of CPA and was instrumental in
obtaining a long-standing Canadian goal of getting all branches placed on an
equal footing in the constitution. Previously national branches had a
higher status than provincial or state branches which in turn were treated
differently than colonial branches. As a result of the changes Canadian
provincial and territorial legislators were given more opportunities to
participate in activities of the organisation.
I always worked closely with the
Chairman of the Federal Branch, particularly after this became an elected
office. Aside from Senator Grosart and Keith Penner whom I have mentioned other
Chairmen were James Walker, Maurice Dupras, Maurice Foster, Lloyd Crouse,
Senator William Doody and the current Chairman, Bob Speller.
Some milestones in the
development of the Canadian Region of CPA are listed in the table on the following
page. The Conferences, hosted by one of the Canadian branches, have been held
annually since 1958 except in those years when the international CPA Conference
met in Canada. Regional Conferences bring together about 100
parliamentarians, including up to ten from the federal branch and up to six
from each province or territory. The United Kingdom and one or more
Caribbean branches are usually invited to send observers. The business
session of these conferences tend to reflect the location with fisheries on the
agenda when the conference meets on the East or West Coast and agriculture or
other resources when it meets in the prairies. Conferences rotate among the
jurisdictions in a more or less fixed order although sometimes an election will
cause a host to reschedule. As shown in the Table Quebec has, on several
occasions proposed an expanded format for a conference or seminar and the other
Branches have gone along with the initiative.
The success of the annual
conference was the main reason for adding another activity. Since 1973 the
annual parliamentary seminar brings together a smaller number of members, 40 or
so. It is designed to deal more with procedural or other issues directly
related to work of legislators and thus to help new members adjust to their
parliamentary responsibilities. Originally held only in Ottawa these
seminars now rotate among the provinces and territories.
Since 1984 the Presiding
Officers have also organised a separate meeting at which they discuss issues of
interest mainly to Speakers, Deputy Speakers or Chairmen of Committees of the
Whole. The Atlantic provinces have been holding their own regular meetings
since 1978. I was invited as an observer to several of these and they
appear very useful for the members involved. From time to time there is
discussion of a similar meeting among legislators from the four western
provinces but so far nothing of a permanent nature has materialised.
Ontario and Quebec have a programme of legislative exchanges but not
under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
Since 1985 the Canadian Region
of CPA has contributed toward a programme, organised by the Centre for
Legislative Exchange, whereby a group of Canadian legislators (maximum of two
from each jurisdiction) spend a few days in Washington where they meet
congressmen and officials from the administration. These exchanges have
dealt with such things as Bilateral and Global Environmental Issues, Education
Policy, Trade Policy, Bilateral Agriculture and Fisheries Issues.
Milestones in the Development of the Canadian Region of the
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
Nova Scotia hosts first
meeting of Canadian legislators. Decision taken to hold annual conferences
Canada hosts CPA International
Federal Branch of CPA, hosts
first Canadian Regional Seminar
Canada hosts CPA International
Newfoundland hosts first
Atlantic Parliamentary Conference
Establishment of Canadian
Quebec, with support from
Canadian Region of CPA, hosts seminar on “British Parliamentary System: An
Anachronism or a Modern Reality”.
Ontario hosts first Canadian Regional
Seminar outside of Ottawa
Northwest Territories becomes
first northern territory to host a CPA Regional Conference
Alberta hosts first Canadian
Presiding Officers’ Conference
First Washington Seminar for
Canadian Region of CPA organised by the Centre for Legislative
Saskatchewan becomes first
provincial branch to host a CPA International Conference
Quebec, with support from Canadian
Region of CPA, hosts Conference on the Parliamentary Tradition
Yukon hosts CPA Regional
Seminar which has now been held at least once every province and territory.
Quebec, with support from
Canadian Region of CPA, hosts International Symposium on Democracy
Canada hosts CPA International
Quebec, with support from
Canadian Region of CPA, hosts Parliamentary Conference on the Americas
Prince Edward Island becomes first
provincial jurisdiction to host CPA international seminar
Establishment of the Canadian
I was an original member of the
Editorial Board for the Canadian Parliamentary Review when it was
established. The idea for some sort of newsletter originated in the early
1970s. I had been to a CPA conference in Australia and they produced a
newsletter which summarised developments in various Australian legislatures.
Several Canadians thought it would be a good idea to have something
similar for Canada.
The other original Board
members, all of whom volunteered for the job, were: Henry Muggah, Clerk of the
Nova Scotia House of Assembly, John Holtby, Clerk Assistant in Ontario,
Christian Comeau, a Research Officer with the Quebec National Assembly, Gordon
Barnhart, Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly and Philip Laundy,
Director of the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament. We chose
Dr. Muggah as Chairman. He brought to the meetings a wealth of
parliamentary experience, typical Maritime civility, a dry wit and the
occasional bottle of excellent brandy (purchased at his own expense) to help us
pull together an issue of the Review. Jacqueline Luskey who was a member of my
staff acted as Secretary to the Board and as the first Editor.
This group met 2 or 3 times a
year. The first issue of the Review was published in June 1978 and a second
issue followed in October. The next year three issues were published. In
1980 the Board decided to accept an offer from the Parliamentary Librarian,
Erik Spicer, to allow one of its researchers, Gary Levy to act as General
Editor. He proposed to make the Review a quarterly with a new format and a
number of new features. Among other things he suggested, and the Board agreed,
to feature historical or parliamentary scenes on the front cover. They are
usually by Canadian artists and generally attract favourable comment both in
Canada and abroad. A new working relationship was established whereby the Board
continued to establish overall direction but the day to day operation,
including the selection of articles, design, and production was left to the
Editor who is now retained on contract by the Canadian Region.
The Board met once a year until
the 1990s when it began to conduct its business by quarterly telephone
conference calls. Face-to-face meetings are held when necessary, usually every
two or three years. There are now ten members on the Board divided as
follows: Ontario (1), Quebec (1), British Columbia (1), the Atlantic provinces
(1), the prairie provinces (1) and the two northern territories (1) plus 3
members come from the federal parliament — one each from the Senate, the House
of Commons and the Library of Parliament. The Secretary-Treasurer of the
CPA Region is an ex officio member of the Editorial Board. The present
Chair is Claude DesRosiers, Clerk of the Ontario Legislative Assembly.
Conferences and other
inter-parliamentary activities are sometimes criticised as junkets and a waste
of public money. I never shared this view for a number of reasons.
If we are going to have a
parliamentary form of government it is important that legislators have
opportunities to develop an understanding of the parliamentary process and
their role in it. Conferences, seminars and other activities provide such
If we are to have a united
country it is important that elected members from one part of the country visit
other areas and gain an appreciation of the problems and challenges of their
fellow citizens. I do not think I ever attended a conference, including
those in Ottawa, where there were not a number of legislators visiting that
part of the country for the first time. One should not underestimate the
value of such experiences.
If Canada is to play a role in
the international community it is important that our legislators have
opportunities to meet and establish relations with their counterparts in other
countries. Contacts should not be limited to just the government and the
department of Foreign Affairs.
If we are to help emerging
democracies it is important we have institutions that can provide them with
both human and material support. The CPA has been doing more in this area
Retirement changes one’s
perspective on some issues but I am still as much a defender of Canadian
participation in parliamentary associations, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary
Association, in particular, as I ever was. I look forward to the continued
development of the Canadian Region into the next millenium.
A Selection of Related Articles from Previous Issues of the Canadian
Bob Andrew. The Fifth Canadian Regional Seminar , vol. 3
(1): 12-16, 1980.
Gordon Barnhart. Interprovincial Exchange Visit to Saskatchewan, vol.1
Guy Beaudet. Interparliamentary Co-operation in Quebec, vol. 12 (2):
Jean-Pierre Charbonneau. The Parliamentary Conference of the Americas: An
Unprecedented Event, vol. 20 (2): 4-6, 1997.
Christian Comeau. The Quebec City Conference on the Parliamentary System,
vol. 2 (2):17-19, 1979.
Christian Comeau. Plea for Interparliamentary Relations, vol. 3 (1):
44-46 and vol. 3 (2):23-25, 1980.
Bettie Duff. First Atlantic Parliamentary Conference, vol. 1 (2):7,
Ian Imrie. Parliamentary Relations Secretariat, vol. 2 (2):20-21,
Marc Leman. Always an Evolving Mission, vol 14 (2) 28-33, 1991
Gary Levy. The Origin of Parliamentary Conferences, vol. 8 (2): 2-5,
Gary Levy. Beauchesne, d’Egville and the Empire Parliamentary Association,
vol. 9 (4) 24-27.
Gary Levy. Canada Hosts 40th CPA Conference, vol. 17 (3): 5-11, 1994.
Jean-Pierre Saintonge. Quebec’s Involvement in Two American Parliamentary
Associations, vol. 14 (3): 6-7, 1991.
Jean-Pierre Saintonge. Bicentennial of Representative Government in
Quebec, vol 15 (2): 26-28, 1992.
Joan Sawicki. CPA and the Parliamentary Profession, vol. 15 (3):
Lorraine Williams. East Meets West at the 75th, vol. 4 (3) 13-17,