Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Fusion of Powers? Building Connections between the Public Service and the Legislative Branch

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

Fusion of Powers? Building Connections between the Public Service and the Legislative Branch

Article excerpt

As a former legislative intern, the author has had the opportunity to employ the knowledge of the legislative process he gained through his internship to great effect in his current role as a policy analyst with the federal public service. In this article he suggests this type of experience, if more widely available to public servants, could reinforce a sense of appreciation for the principle of parliamentary review, provide insight into how the legislative process can impact policy development, and allow them to develop their political acuity.

From January to June of 2014, I had the unique opportunity to be part of the British Columbia Legislative Internship Program (BCLIP). This six-month program included five weeks working in a Ministry in the British Columbia (BC) Public Service, one week working in the constituency office of a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), and over four months working within the Legislative Assembly performing research and analysis for MLAs during the spring legislative session. As a result, I was able to observe the inner workings of the legislature, including Question Period, legislative committee hearings, and debates on legislation.

The stated objectives of the BCLIP are to provide recent university graduates with real-world exposure to the legislative process with the long-term goal that participants will be able to contribute to a greater public understanding and appreciation for the parliamentary system of government. While former interns have gone on to pursue a wide variety of different career paths, many continue to work in public policy in the non-partisan, professional public service. (1) In my experience, the knowledge of the legislative process that I gained as a legislative intern has provided significant value in my career as a policy analyst in the public service. The purpose of this article is to identify why and how knowledge of the legislative branch can be beneficial to public servants, and to identify opportunities in which current and aspiring public servants can increase their understanding of it.

First, I outline the institutional relationship that the legislative and executive branches of government have in Westminster systems of government. Given this background, the next section describes the benefits that a more robust understanding of the legislative process can have for public servants. In a final section, I identify ways in which Canada's various legislatures and public services can help increase that knowledge and build connections between the two.

Responsible Government in Canada

The fusion of the executive and legislative branches of government is perhaps the defining component of the Westminster parliamentary system--it is the basis for representative government in which members of cabinet are drawn from the democratically elected legislature or parliament and are collectively dependent on that body's support. Thus, ministers of the Crown are constantly subjected to scrutiny at the hands of their fellow parliamentarians or legislators.

Despite being such an integral component of our parliamentary system, the rules and principles of responsible government cannot be found in our written constitution. Instead, responsible government has developed slowly through time as a series of unwritten constitutional conventions.

Like most aspects of our parliamentary system, responsible government was originally developed in Britain. (2) Beginning in the 13th century, power slowly began to shift from the Crown to Parliament. The Crown still formally wields the executive powers of government, but Parliament gained responsibility for making laws and raising taxes. By the 19th century, the Crown began appointing ministers drawn from Parliament to the Privy Council, led by a prime minster, to assist in securing funds for initiatives and coordinating the administration of government. As party politics emerged in the House of Commons, it became increasingly complicated for the Crown to simply appoint Members of Parliament that agreed with its proposals to the Privy Council. …

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