Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Bill 202: The Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Bill 202: The Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act

Article excerpt

This article looks at the Standing Orders and Practices used for dealing with Private Members' Bills in Alberta. It describes the obstacles that had to be overcome in order to deal with drug abuse among children.

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In 1993 under the leadership of Premier Ralph Klein and then House Leader, Ken Kowalski and with the co-operation of Opposition Leader Laurence Decore and Opposition House Leader Grant Mitchell, substantial changes were made to the way the Alberta Legislature deals with Private Members' Bills.

The most substantial change was a House Leader agreement to allow for free votes on Private Members days. The agreement reads "where the order of business of the Assembly consists of Private Members' Business, that business shall be conducted free of whips." Members would now have to come to the House with a position and be prepared to vote on the basis of what they believe is important and right. This seemingly small change had huge implications for Members. They were no longer able to tell their constituents that they voted a certain way because that is how the party voted. They are now accountable to the people they represent. Although in practice there is a tendency to vote along partisan lines, I have seen occasions time and again of Members voting against their party on Private Members' Business. In my experience, we have done well to preserve the spirit of free voting on Private Members' Business.

The next substantial amendment to the Standing Orders in 1993 is that all Private Members' Motions that are on the Order Paper are now to be dealt with within 60 minutes of their initiation for discussion. This eliminated the situations where Motions stayed on the Order Paper for an entire calendar or sessional year as an adjourned item of business with the lowest possible of priorities over remaining motions that faced the identical fate.

Third, a new timely process for Private Members' Bills was created. Private Members' Bills are now introduced one day and go to second reading on the next Private Members Day. Two hours is provided to deal with the Bill in second reading and at the end of that time, the Bill is voted on. If defeated, the Bill falls off the Order Paper. If passed, it goes to the next stage, the Committee of the Whole House and if it is passed in Committee, it goes to third reading. These rule changes meant that for the first time, Private Members could possibly see their Bill become law, because every Bill brought forward could face a vote.

Fourth, Members were allowed to make Members Statements every Tuesday and Thursday following Question Period. According to the Standing Orders, six Members Statements of two-minute durations would be made on those days on any topic of interest to the Private member and would be free from procedural interruptions, such as points of order. This is substantial because these Members Statements can be made about any subject the Member desires. These rules have since been amended and Members Statements are now made every day in proportion to the number of Members each party represents in the House, or by agreement of the House Leaders. In my experience, these Members Statements play a very important role in passing Private Members' Bills because they give Members the opportunity to bring issues related to the Bill to the forefront.

The final change in the Standing Orders that occurred in 1993 was a change in the hours of Session. The Legislature no longer sits on Fridays. The hours were extended from Monday to Thursday in the afternoons and the house would sit in the evenings. This allowed for Fridays to become constituency days.

The reason for this was best articulated by Premier Klein in 1993 when he said,

.....the more time we spend here, the more susceptible we become to that insidious disease called dome syndrome: we start to think that unless its happening here, its not happening at all. …

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