Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Office of the Clerk

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Office of the Clerk

Article excerpt

George MacMinn is Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Robert Vaive is Clerk Assistant of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly and President of the Association of Clerks-at-the Table in Canada.

The Clerks of Canada's Parliament and legislative assemblies are committed to serve parliamentary institutions with political impartiality, dedication and sincere respect. In fulfilling this role during often passionate parliamentary debate, the Clerk sits alone at the Table, never uttering a word, never speaking unless called upon to do so by the Speaker. Clerks are not players in the political arena and their names are seldom engraved for posterity. They are the ever-present, ever-watchful managers of the interaction evolving before them on the floor of the House, sometimes rowdy activity, sometimes dull and passive, sometimes abusive of parliamentary procedure - and sometimes dramatic and touching. Clerks are the silent facilitators of these political exchanges which they attempt to shape into proper parliamentary form, thus discreetly helping to preserve parliamentary democracy. This is the Clerk's single-minded resolve-respect for Parliament. This article looks at the origins of the office in the Great Britain and at some of the individuals who have held the office in Canadian legislatures, and how the office has evolved in recent years.

Parliament is not about the power of government; nor is it about the pursuit of special interests and single-issue politics. It is not about using parliamentary procedure to impede and interfere with the government's legislative programme; nor is it about silencing the opposition and other minority parties. Rather it is about ensuring that through their elected representatives the people's opinions and ideas and concerns are heard. Parliament is not a threat to government, on the contrary it helps make legitimate the exercise of executive power. It provides detailed examination of legislation, approves government expenditures and ensures government's accountability in its use of power and in its spending.

The Clerk is responsible for the procedural services to the House and, as such, is the principal adviser to the House on the privileges, procedures and practices of Parliament. Procedurally, the Clerk also advises any Member who may seek assistance on questions of order or about the proceedings of the House, and on any other matter relating to the duties and responsibilities of a Member. The Clerk is also responsible for the preparation and printing of the daily Order Paper and the Votes and Proceedings of the House, as well as being the custodian of records and other documents of the House, including legislation throughout its stages and proceedings related thereto.

The Clerk is heavily involved in matters relating to the administration of the services of the House, including direction of legislative staff, payment of allowances and salaries, provision of financial, logistical and protective services, as well as library, Hansard and committee services.

Neither the Clerk of the House nor Clerks Assistant are public servants. The Clerk is appointed by order of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council in most provincial jurisdictions, or as in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island by resolution of the Legislative Assembly. The Clerk of the Senate and Clerk of Parliaments, as well as the Clerk of the House of Commons, are appointed by Order-in-Council.

Origins of the Office

The profession of Clerk has its origins in the thirteenth century and has had an unbroken existence ever since. The first appointment of an official to attend on Parliament was in a secretarial or recording capacity in 1363, and while it would be inappropriate and somewhat hazardous to comment on incumbent or recently retired Table Officers a brief comment on two British Clerks may assist in "fleshing out" this relatively elusive profession. …

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