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G.A. (Sandy) Birch

Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, by E. George MacMinn, Victoria, Queen's Printer for British Columbia, 1981, 254 p.

The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has now joined the ranks of the few legislative bodies in Canada which have compiled detailed commentaries of speakers' rulings and procedural practices and have not left their procedure simply to "contemporary work and corporate memory".

This attractive book, with a sturdy cover in navy blue and red with gold printing, is the result of much detailed study, not only of the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, but also of the practices of the Parliament and state legislatures of Australia, the eminent British authority on Parliamentary practice – Sir Erskine May – and of the principal text used by the Canadian House of Commons, Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms.

The format employed by the author of this commentary, Mr. George MacMinn, the Deputy Clerk, British Columbia Legislature, is somewhat different from that generally applied in books on this subject-matter. The book focuses on each standing order of the House, which is listed in bold print, followed by an exhaustive commentary. The author then asks questions which might arise with regard to the interpretation of this standing order. After fisting his queries, Mr. MacMinn proceeds to find adequate responses to each situation posed. The standard method of presentation is simply to list the situations which have occurred in the application of a standing order without attempting to analyse or editorialize the effect on future disputes. Each standing order is analysed in relation to similar references in other legislative bodies which employ the same standing order. Under each standing order, there are extensive quotations from texts of various Debates and Journals which cover each topic very fully and succinctly. The author even goes so far as to suggest that certain standing orders should be changed in view of present practices. However, as Mr. MacMinn stated in his preface. after careful scrutiny and comparison with other jurisdictions, I have concluded that our standing orders could be usefully amended in many areas . .. Until such changes take place, this book will assist the House in finding and applying the appropriate parliamentary law".

At the end of this text are several appendices listing the standing orders not referred to earlier, various amendments to standing orders since 1930, acts affecting the legislature and its members, matters that were ruled breaches of privilege, closure of debate citations from New Zealand and forms that are used in the House for various items of business.

This publication is well organized and, because of varying type set and adequate spacing, Is easily readable. Although the standing orders of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia are somewhat similar to those of the Canadian House of Commons, there are several interesting differences between the two.

One striking variance concerns the procedure for closing off debate. When closure of debate is moved, the Speaker of the British Columbia Legislature. under the terms of standing order 46. does not put the motion "that the question be now put" if he believes such a question is an abuse of the rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority. The standing order places the responsibility for weighing the propriety of a closure mot I on squarely on the Chair. In the Canadian House of Commons, standing order 33 allows only for any minister of the Crown to move that the question be now put. The Speaker does not intervene or become involved in the propriety of this motion; responsibility is clearly that of' the government.

Another interesting difference between the two jurisdictions lies in the seconding of motions. Motions, except for those pertaining to the Address in Reply to the Speech for the Throne and that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, do not require a seconder in the British Columbia Legislature. However, the opposite is true in Ottawa; all motions require seconders in the House of Commons. However, I n committees, this requirement has been eliminated.

The publication of Mr. MacMinn's book Is no doubt a long awaited and welcome event not only for the British Columbia Legislature, but also for serious students of parliamentary procedure. He has advanced an interesting approach to this important subject matter by the use of extensive responses to pertinent queries concerning each standing order. Instead of listing summaries of speaker's rulings, lie has inserted elaborate extracts of the parliamentary proceedings from which the precedents were established, thereby relieving the reader from the burden of determining what the exact situation was at that earlier time. In general, this is an interesting, easily disgestible reference book for parliamentarians and for those who practice this fascinating art.

G.A. (Sandy) Birch, Clerk of Committees, House of Commons


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Last Updated: 2020-09-14