Inside Politics

UPDATED - Orders of the Day - Happy SO51(1) Day, everyone!

Get ready to get your parliamentary meta fix, Commons law-talkers and general enthusiasts, because today is like Christmas, New Years and Canada/Dominion Day rolled into one: an entire day dedicated to debating the state of the Grand Inquest of the Nation from a procedural perspective, courtesy of Standing Order 51(1): 

51. (1)  Between the sixtieth and ninetieth sitting days of the first
session of a Parliament on a day designated by a Minister of the Crown
or on the ninetieth sitting day if no day has been designated, an Order
of the Day for the consideration of a motion "That this House take note
of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its Committees"
shall be deemed to be proposed and have precedence over all other
business.



Although this is a take-note debate, which means no vote will be taken, today's proceedings -- and the issues raised therein -- will serve as the official kickoff to a more thorough study by the procedure and house affairs committee, which will report its findings and recommendations back to the House later this spring. 

And yes, of course I'll be liveblogging it, so check back at 10am for full coverage.

UPDATE: The latest from the liveblog, which you can read in full right here

To mark this festive occasion,  the New Democratic Party will put forward a private members' motion to "modernize the House of Commons' petition process" and "allow Canadians to force their issues onto the floor of Parliament" through the power of the internet -- specifically, an e-petitions submission process -- that would certify any such pleading that can muster more than 50,000 supporters will be the subject of an hours' debate in the Chamber.

A similar process is currently in place in the United Kingdom, albeit with a far higher threshold for official recognition -- 100,000 names -- and no absolute guarantee that a subsequent debate will be held. Instead, those petitions that meet the minimum requirement are sent to an all-party committee to be considered for submission to the House. If imported to Canada, a similar safety/sanity check would almost certainly be necessary, lest MPs find themselves - and the Commons - held hostage to meme-sparked mischief andviral marketing campaigns. 

UPDATE - Courtesy of Commenter Lastrealist, more on the UK e-petition system

FYI, in the UK, there is no restriction on the number of signatures required for the Backbench Business Committee to consider scheduling a debate based on petition (e-petition or regular paper petition). The only thing reaching 100,000 signatures does is guarantee the petition's referral to the Backbench Business Committee, but the Committee is free to consider a debate on any petition, regardless of the number of signatures received. Most of these debates do not take place in the main chamber, but in the much smaller Westminster Hall (looks like a large committee room).

Meanwhile, the Liberals will attempt to put a stop to the creeping culture of secrecy at committee by proposing a standing order that wouldensure all future meetings are held in public except under very limited and specific circumstances -- discussion of wages, salaries or benefits; contract negotiations; legal or other advice provided in confidence; consideration of draft reports; and matters that "would demonstrably put national security at risk."

Interestingly, when the text of the proposed amendment was made public earlier this week, government procedural wonks pounced on the fact that,as drafted, it would not cover the selection of witnesses -- which, as noted, and reiterated in every post I've written on the subject, has, infact, traditionally been discussed behind closed doors, including underLiberal majorities of the past -- and attempted to make the case that its omission laid bare the rank hypocrisy behind that party's ostensible new-found passion for parliamentary transparency.

This is, of course, fundamentally the same argument has been deployed in an effort to dismiss all concerns over the recent trend of government members forcing committees to go in camerafor any discussion of committee business. As such, it's worth noting that it's a curiously internally contradictory position for a party that once argued, with just as much passion, that parliamentary secretaries shouldn't be allowed to sit on committee, as their very presence could fetter the freedom of rank-and-file government members, yet now ensures that there is at least one such cabinet-linked emissary at the table at all times.

It does, however, raise a good question: Should witness selection be automatically done in private? Honestly, I'm having trouble coming up with a good reason as to why it should be necessary, particularly considering how informative those normally off-the-record negotiations have been on the rare occasion that the public has been permitted to observe the process.

After all, how else would we have found out about the aforementioned Dean Del Mastro's campaign to call a sitting judge to discuss a ruling still before the courts?

In any case, this is exactly the sort of discussion that today's  take-note debate is designed to engender. Let the wonkery roll! 
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