National Assembly of Quebec: New Rules for a More Effective Parliament

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On April 21, 2009, the National Assembly of Quebec completed an important exercise in parliamentary reform by adopting a series of amendments to its Standing Orders. While not a thoroughgoing overhaul of the Standing Orders and Rules for the Conduct of Proceedings, the reform does include major changes which are outlined in the following article.

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Three sets of proposals for parliamentary reform have been tabled in recent years. In 2004, the President of the Assembly and the Government House Leader each put forward a set of proposals. In 2007, the new Government House Leader also proposed changes. All of these proposals contributed to the parliamentary reform process that led to the presentation of the new rules of procedure, regarding which there is now a consensus.

The Confidence Convention

A major change brought about by the parliamentary reform concerns the confidence of the Assembly in the Government. The reform has further defined the legislature's control over the executive by clearly stating in a comprehensive manner the circumstances in which the confidence of the Assembly in the Government may be called into question.

The principle of confidence arises from a constitutional convention whereby the Government must ensure that it enjoys the support of the Assembly at all times to continue to govern. Should this support cease to be maintained, the Government must resign or dissolve the Assembly. But if the Government is defeated on a particular motion, this does not necessarily mean that it has lost the confidence of the House, since not all votes call into question the confidence of the Assembly. Furthermore, the government has the privilege of interpreting the result of a division. However, there does exist situations in which confidence in the Government must be considered as being called into question. All these situations are now clearly listed in the Standing Orders.

At the conclusion of the opening speech of the session the Premier will in future move that the Assembly approves in general the policies of his Government, the first opportunity to ensure that he enjoys the confidence of the House. In order to promote greater freedom of expression for the Members, the other circumstances in which the Assembly's confidence in the Government can be called into question are now expressly set forth in the Standing Orders.

Besides the vote on the Premier's motion to approve the policies of the Government, questions of confidence may arise only on the following:

* want of confidence motions;

* a motion by the Minister of Finance to approve the budgetary policy of the Government;

* a motion for the passage of an appropriation bill;

* on any motion that the Government may have expressly designated as a matter of confidence.

These constitute the only cases in which the confidence of the Assembly in the Government may arise. In all other situations, Members are therefore free to vote without the risk of bringing down the Government.

As well, every want of confidence motion must clearly state that the Assembly withdraws its confidence in the Government. Furthermore, the number of want of confidence motions that may be moved will be limited to seven in each session, including those moved during the debates on the opening speech and on the budget. Previously, the number of want of confidence motions was limited to six per session, but this number excluded motions moved during the debates on the opening speech and on the budget. Members will in future be able during these debates to move a motion stating a grievance. Such motions will permit Members to express their displeasure with the Government and its policies without calling into question the Assembly's confidence in the Government.

In addition to these changes regarding the confidence convention, the parliamentary reform turns on four main themes: furthering the Members' autonomy and initiative; increasing the efficacy of the Members' work; reaffirming the democratic equilibrium within the parliamentary deliberations; and bringing the Assembly closer to the citizenry. …