The People's House of Commons

The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention

DAVID E. SMITH
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442685635
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  • Book Info
    The People's House of Commons
    Book Description:

    The People's House of Commonsexplores the ramifications of many of the changes currently being proposed to Canada's political system, with particular reference to their affect on prerogative power, parliamentary privilege, party discipline, bicameralism, and the role of the opposition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8563-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 The State of the Commons
    (pp. 3-18)

    The House of Commons is Canada’s premier legislative institution, although legislation is produced only when the three parts of Parliament – crown, Senate, and Commons – work in concert. Of the three, however, the Commons chamber, despite the qualifier ‘lower,’ or the more antique ‘nether,’¹ is pre-eminent, and for the reason opponents of Confederation early recognized: ‘[T]he people’s house will be the all-important and all-powerful branch, for they will be able even to overturn the executive of the country.’² That was the opinion of Albert Smith, Liberal premier of New Brunswick and a founding father, speaking in 1866, but expressing...

  5. 2 Parliamentary Democracy
    (pp. 19-32)

    Parliament is composed of two chambers of the people, but only the Commons can be said to represent the people. However imperfectly the House embodies the principle of representation by population – and it is imperfect, as can be seen, for instance, when Saskatchewan with one-third of Alberta’s population in 2001 has one-half its number of seats in the Commons – the lower and not the upper chamber of Parliament springs directly from the choice of the people. Inadequately so, say a legion of critics, who blame the machinations of the disciplined parties that nominate most candidates and contest most...

  6. 3 Constitutional Democracy
    (pp. 33-50)

    There were rights and freedoms in Canada, just as there was constitutional government, before the advent of the charter. What was absent was supremacy of a higher, constitutional law. A discerning assessment of the implications for parliamentary government of the Constitution Act, 1982 (of which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part) is to be found in theReportof the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada.¹ Published in 1985, theReportprecedes later, enduring controversies that take as their focus the respective roles of Parliament and the courts in the era...

  7. 4 Electoral Democracy
    (pp. 51-71)

    Electoral democracy is the third way of conceiving the arrangement of political power. The phraseology is awkward but telling, for it reflects the central weakness of electoral democracy – it has no core. Rather, it is a utilitarian term intended to encompass instruments of direct democracy, such as initiative, referendum, and recall, as well as a philosophy of popular rule. By contrast, parliamentary democracy has the support of convention and tradition. It invokes great moments in British constitutional history – the Glorious Revolution, 1688, the Act of Settlement, 1701 – as well as Canadian – the Constitutional Act, 1791, the...

  8. 5 What Is the House?
    (pp. 72-95)

    When in the Confederation Debates Macdonald explained how representation by population was to be implemented for the new House of Commons, he jauntily stated that ‘the whole thing is worked by a simple rule of three.’¹ By that he meant the ratio of Quebec’s population per member determined the number of members each province would have in the new lower chamber. A consequence of this practice was a chamber with no fixed ceiling on its numbers (until a new redistribution formula, introduced in 1946, did just that, only to be abandoned three decades later for a series of agreements that...

  9. 6 Who Are the People?
    (pp. 96-114)

    The answer to the question ‘Who are the people?’ is more complex than might at first appear. Are the adjectival ‘people’ of the people’s house all, or only some, of Canada’s thirty-two million residents? Redistribution – that is, the drawing of constituency or electoral boundaries – uses for its calculation the total population number provided by the decennial census. Under the current formula, that figure is divided by the total number of House seats to determine a quotient, which is then divided into the population of each of the respective provinces. Guarantees under the same formula that no province lose...

  10. 7 The People’s House of Commons and Its Study
    (pp. 115-138)

    The three variants of democracy discussed in this book – parliamentary, constitutional, and electoral – are not antagonistic models, although much is said in and out of Parliament that would lend support to that description. As already noted in chapter 3, decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada inFigueroaandHarperhad the effect of broadening, even intensifying, political participation by individuals and, thereby, moderating the dominance of traditional political parties and the influence of large organized interest groups.¹ In that respect, constitutional democracy, which is identified (often negatively) with the charter and the work of the courts, enhances...

  11. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 139-144)

    Among famous literary first words, few can be more memorable than Steven Shapin’s introductory sentence toThe Scientific Revolution: ‘There is no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.’¹ A comparable epigrammatic remark could be made of the people’s house, in the sense that while the lower chamber has always provided a common place for common people, it has never been that alone. To think of it (or any legislative body in Canada) solely in representational terms, which is the tone proponents for PR communicate – ‘STV will lead to a government with a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 145-180)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-217)