Media Releases

Asper Centre report calls for authoritative, written guidelines for Canada’s unwritten parliamentary conventions

April 12, 2011

Unlike other countries, Canada has not adjusted at federal level to reality of minority government

TORONTO, ON — A report recent­ly released by the Fac­ul­ty of Law’s David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights calls for an author­i­ta­tive set of guide­lines on Canada’s impor­tant but unwrit­ten par­lia­men­tary con­ven­tions.

“Adjust­ing to a New Era of Par­lia­men­tary Gov­ern­ment” is a report pro­duced from the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tions work­shop host­ed ear­li­er this year by the David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights, fea­tur­ing the lead­ing minds in con­sti­tu­tion­al law and polit­i­cal sci­ence.

Over the last sev­er­al decades, a polit­i­cal muta­tion has tak­en place through­out the par­lia­men­tary world where­by elec­tions have fre­quent­ly pro­duced par­lia­ments in which no sin­gle par­ty has a major­i­ty. This has been the most recent expe­ri­ence in Cana­da and, if the polls are any indi­ca­tion, may con­tin­ue to be the way in which fed­er­al gov­ern­ments are formed. While oth­er par­lia­men­tary coun­tries have been adjust­ing to this new polit­i­cal era, Cana­da has not at the fed­er­al lev­el.

The report calls for:
•    An author­i­ta­tive set of guide­lines on Canada’s impor­tant but unwrit­ten par­lia­men­tary con­ven­tions, much like what New Zealand and the UK have in their Cab­i­net Man­u­als.
•    Exist­ing guide­lines on care­tak­er gov­ern­ments to be made pub­lic imme­di­ate­ly.
•    A review of House of Com­mons Stand­ing Orders with respect to votes of non-con­fi­dence.
•    This review would give the House more inde­pen­dence of gov­ern­ment in decid­ing when such votes may take place, and to lim­it­ing their fre­quen­cy.

Says Cheryl Milne, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Asper Cen­tre: “Polit­i­cal debate about these unwrit­ten prin­ci­ples and prac­tices of our con­sti­tu­tion has the poten­tial to plunge the coun­try into a seri­ous con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis. With the pos­si­bil­i­ty of yet anoth­er minor­i­ty gov­ern­ment and the cur­rent elec­tion talk about poten­tial coali­tions, the report of the work­shop is a time­ly reflec­tion upon how we can ensure account­abil­i­ty and prop­er func­tion­ing of our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment in today’s polit­i­cal cli­mate.”

Cana­di­ans need more pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion and engage­ment with com­mu­ni­ty and pub­lic pol­i­cy-ori­ent­ed orga­ni­za­tions to begin to move for­ward in a sub­stan­tive way on this ini­tia­tive.  Broad dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion through web­sites and pub­lic events will assist in inform­ing politi­cians, aca­d­e­mics and vot­ers about the role of such con­ven­tions in our par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy.
View the “Adjust­ing to a New Era of Par­lia­men­tary Gov­ern­ment” report here:


For fur­ther infor­ma­tion and to book inter­views, con­tact:


Cheryl Milne, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor
David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law

Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Peter Rus­sell
Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Pro­fes­sor Lor­raine Wein­rib
Fac­ul­ty of Law, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Office 416–978-5075 or Home 416–921-8471

Pro­fes­sor David Cameron, Chair
Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to