Procedural Resources at the National Assembly of Quebec

Article excerpt

Over the past several years the National Assembly of Quebec has produced a wide range of documentary tools and resources in the field of parliamentary procedure. This work of compilation, analysis and publication in a variety of formats is, by its rigour and variety, a highly original initiative in the world of parliamentary institutions. It attests to the vitality of parliamentary life in Quebec and to the sophistication of its parliamentary law. It also demonstrates a real pedagogical preoccupation on the part of the Assembly's political and administrative authorities, whose concern is not only to make information more accessible to the "parliamentary community"--Members of the National Assembly (MNAs), political staff, public servants and parliamentary journalists--but also to disseminate the Assembly's work more widely and, indeed, to explain the workings of parliamentary institutions to the general public in everyday terms.

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Like other parliaments based on the British model, the National Assembly depends heavily on parliamentary procedure in its day-to-day operations and proceedings. British-style parliamentary systems are characterized in general by a "soft" separation between the legislative and executive powers, a large degree of government control over legislative work in the House, and the existence of "windows of opportunity" for opposition voices to be heard, particularly that of the Official Opposition. The mastery of parliamentary procedure is therefore an important factor in the governance of Parliament, and one that nobody involved in the work of the House, on either the Government or the Opposition side, can afford to ignore. Most immediately concerned, of course, are the leaders and deputy leaders of the Government and the Official Opposition, who largely orchestrate the work of the House each day.

The heavy emphasis placed on documentation at the Assembly may be partly explained by the phenomenon of parliamentary privilege. Subject to a complex set of rules, the Speaker, known as the President of the National Assembly, is the guardian of these privileges, which constitute an essential aspect of parliamentary law and have given rise to a large body of jurisprudence and legal doctrine. By right of its parliamentary privilege, the Assembly has the exclusive power to manage its internal affairs free from outside influence or intervention. More specifically, this means that the Assembly's right to formulate, apply and interpret the rules of parliamentary law is unquestioned, and that the Speaker's rulings apply to all and may not be contested. In this context, the publication of precedents in a standardized form, and their a posteriori analysis, become at once the sin qua non for the smooth operation of the Assembly and a task for which it bears sole responsibility.

The diverse origins of Quebec's parliamentary law are also a factor in the emphasis on documentation. In order of precedence, the current body of procedural rules is derived from the Canadian Constitution (Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982); the statutes, of which the most important is the Act respecting the National Assembly, adopted in 1982; the Standing Orders and Other Rules of Procedure; the special orders of the Assembly; precedent, custom, tradition and practice, including those of other British-style parliaments; and, lastly, doctrine. Given this diversity of normative instruments, the Assembly's efforts to facilitate access to information by making it available to all potential users are certainly justifiable, if not indispensable. (1)

Another factor to be considered is Quebec's cultural and political specificity. Since political stakes are high, and a long and vital parliamentary tradition forms the background for their discussion, exchanges in the House are frequently pointed. A thorough knowledge and mastery of the rules of parliamentary jousting is therefore a matter of no small importance. …