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