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Christian Comeau

Conference of American and Canadian Legislative Clerks And Secretaries, the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1980, 150p.

It is becoming a common occurrence these days for Canadian legislators to be invited to American parliamentary conferences and vice versa. The same trend is developing among legislative clerks and secretaries in the two countries. The idea for this joint seminar was the result of a number of courtesy visits between officials in both countries. The organization of the conference and the editing of its proceedings were due in large part to the efforts of the Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislature, Gordon Barnhart. The conference was held in Regina from August 7-11, 1980.

Four working sessions, each devoted to one aspect of parliamentary government, were attended by forty-four parliamentary officials including twenty-one Canadians, twenty-two Americans and one British. Topics were introduced by one or more experts after which the floor was opened to general discussion. The following subjects were on the agenda: The role and duties of the Clerk in American and Canadian Legislatures; Committee Systems in Canada, the United States and Britain; the role and importance of the individual legislators and finally the role of the executive in the Canadian and American forms of government.

Veterans of this type of parliamentary conference will hardly be surprised by the choice of topics. The same subjects, except perhaps for the one on the Clerk, are usually found on agendas of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences or meetings of the National Conference of State Legislatures to mention only two parliamentary associations. However reform of the committee system, the revitalization of the role of members and relations between the executive and the legislative branches represent ongoing problems and no conference is likely to find all the answers.

What make this publication interesting, is the quality of presentations and discussion. Readers will quickly realize that the participants are all specialists who are discussing common problems in a frank and unrestrained manner. No state secrets or scandals emerge from the proceedings but it is interesting to hear the usually discreet voices of parliamentary servants. when they consider critically some problems involved in their day to day work.

The delegates are also continually making comparisons between Canadian and American practice which seem to show that despite customary and constitutional differences nothing resembles so much the problems of one parliament as those of another! It is unfortunate, however, that a comparison of the two systems was not pursued more systematically. In spite of certain similarities, either real or apparent, the differences relating to procedures and even to the spirit of the two systems. were not considered sufficiently. The discussions could also have benefited from a short comparative glossary defining terms used in the American and Canadian legislatures. The inclusion of such a list would have been a useful addition to the verbatim reports.

Finally as this type of publication will be read primarily by persons working in legislatures there is no doubt it contains information that will be useful to them. The remarks of the discussion leaders were, on the whole, interesting and well written. A few of them deserve to be singled out for special mention. For example, Pierre Duchesne presented an excellent synthesis of a little known subject, the evolution of the office of Clerk. Messrs. Koester, Bradshaw and Ridgely made a useful comparison of the parliamentary committee systems in their respective legislatures. Indeed this discussion, more than any other, seemed to meet the objective of the conference in summarizing similarities and differences in British, American and Canadian approaches to parliamentary democracy.

Christian A. Comeau, Interparliamentary Relations Bureau, Quebec National Assembly


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 4 no 2
1981






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