The Fiftieth Conference of the Canadian Region, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association takes place in Quebec City July 15-21, 2012. This article traces the evolution of the Canadian Region with particular emphasis on previous conferences organized by the Quebec Branch.
According to Ian Imrie, former Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Region, the rationale for a meeting of Canadian representatives within the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was partly to help legislators develop an understanding of the parliamentary process. Also,
If we are to have a united country it is important that elected members from one part of the country visit other areas and gain an appreciation of the problems and challenges of their fellow citizens. I do not think I ever attended a conference, including those in Ottawa, where there were not a number of legislators visiting that part of the country for the first time. One should not underestimate the value of such experiences. (1) The First Quarter Century
The impetus for creating the association occurred in 1958 when Nova Scotia celebrated its 200th anniversary of representative government. To mark the occasion an invitation was sent to all Canadian legislatures inviting there to meet in Halifax on September 29, 1958.
When the Nova Scotia Speaker came down with the flu, Premier Robert Stanfield took over as host. Neither Manitoba nor British Columbia took up the invitation. Quebec accepted but its delegates were prevented from attending by a severe storm which swept through the province shortly before the opening. A total of 45 delegates are listed as attending but 25 of there were from Nova Scotia.
Among the delegates were Premier Alexander Matheson of Prince Edward Island and four Speakers: Roland Michener (House of Commons), James Darling (Saskatchewan), Peter Dawson (Alberta) and Alfred Downer (Ontario). From Westminster Ronald Russell and Henry Drummond-Wolff attended as did the Secretary General of the CPA, Howard d'Egville.
Many provincial branches of CPA existed in name only but the idea of a permanent Canadian association appealed to Speaker Michener.
We can, I think, strengthen the Canadian Federation by these conferences. I am sure that this meeting, though it brings all too few people from the western provinces to the Maritimes, demonstrates the value of it. I am sure that the other members from the West, who have not visited Halifax would say that today their understanding of the Canadian Federation would be greatly helped by conferences held first in the East, then in the West and the Centre. (2) Premier Stanfield wanted to know more about what was going on in other legislatures.
We get Hansard from the House of Commons, but as to what goes on in other legislatures, all we know is what we see in the press..... It would be useful to know about a discussion in Alberta about some particular problem. It may be the same sort of problem that the legislature of Nova Scotia is confronted with. (3) Others were favourable to the idea, however, a number of questions were raised.
* How often should conferences he held?
* Should they discuss policy issues or be limited to procedure?
* Should there be an Executive Council and how should it be composed?
* Would it be better to start with subnational activities rather than a national conference?
* Should conferences be open to all members or aimed mostly at speakers and clerks?
* What would be the language of conferences?
By the end of the afternoon a clear consensus existed in favour of creating a new organization. Henry Reardon seconded by Richard Donahoe, both from Nova Scotia moved that, "This Area Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association recommends (1) The holding of regular Area meetings and (2) That an Area Council be established to regulate and arrange such meetings in this area."
Harold Winch from the House of Commons proposed that "The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Speaker of the Senate, the Speakers of the several provincial legislatures and one extra member from each legislature be constituted a Provisional Area Council."
The Council met for the first time in Ottawa on January 15-16, 1960. It was agreed that the new organization would not attempt to discuss matters which would divide delegates on party lines. Conferences would be held every year rather than every two years and they would rotate among the various jurisdictions. The number of delegates to a conference was set at four for each provincial delegation and ten from the federal parliament. There was no provision for representation from the northern territories.
On the question of language both French and English would be recognized as equal languages but there was no provision for simultaneous interpretation.
The most difficult issue was the question of a permanent executive to replace the large provisional council. It was proposed in Ottawa that the executive be composed of Speaker Abram Harrison of Manitoba (host of the next meeting) plus Speakers Darling, Downer, Maurice Tellier of Quebec with Speaker Michener as Chair. T.R. Montgomery, a table officer in Ottawa, became Executive Treasurer in addition to his role as Secretary of the Federal Branch.
When the second conference convened in September 1960 half these individuals had left office. It was decided that henceforth the Council would consist of the twelve federal and provincial Speakers.
Most recommendations of the executive were adopted in Winnipeg but not before a lively discussion of a proposal for an independent secretariat. Daniel Johnson, who would later become Premier of Quebec, felt the Association needed its own staff or it would be dependent on the London secretariat, or perhaps more to the point, a secretariat in Ottawa. Neither, he thought, would provide him the kind of support he needed.
As a provincial member I would like to have a secretariat through which I would be supplied with--let us say a copy of the principle bills that are being presented, or have been adopted, in each of our respective legislatures. I would like to receive the Budget Speech of all the provincial Finance Ministers, and I would like to get a copy of the Estimates as they are brought down in the different parliaments of our provinces. I would like to get some of the material which would be of great use to me as a provincial member--especially a provincial member in Opposition. (4) Johnson's motion was seconded by Richard Donahoe but Sir Allister McMullin of Australia, Chairman of the General Council of CPA, thought it was unnecessary. The Association could now do exactly what Mr. Johnson was requesting without an independent secretariat. Others were content to let the new executive consider the matter. Johnson suspected that the objective of his motion may not have been well understood as he had to make the case in his second language. In any event his motion for an independent secretariat was defeated by a voice vote.
Money was also discussed. The provisional council had suggested a fee of $2.00 per member which would provide about $1600. The issue was not resolved but the practice developed whereby the host province would pay for meeting costs and hospitality but each delegation would pay the travel, accommodation and per diem expenses for its own delegates. Each branch would set its own membership fee.
Between 1958 and 1970 every province and the federal branch took a turn at hosting a Canadian Area (as it was then called) Conference. The 1961 conference in Quebec City was typical of the early conferences. Forty-five delegates attended from Parliament and eight provinces (British Columbia was in a provincial election and in Newfoundland, the province was in the midst of severe forest fires). There were three foreign legislators, all from the United Kingdom and two table officers, Montgomery and C.B. Koester, Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly.
Nova Scotia had set the pattern by establishing an ambitious schedule of travel and social events. The 1961 Conference combined business and pleasure with emphasis definitely on the latter. For example on arrival in Quebec the assembled delegates boarded the "S.S. Tadoussac" for two days of cruising along the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers with stops at La Malbaie, St-Simeon, Tadoussac and Bagotville. During the cruise the Speakers set the agenda for three business sessions. After returning to Quebec delegates spent one day touring the old city, with a luncheon hosted by Premier Jean Lesage, a meeting with Mayor Hamel and a reception at the residence of Lieutenant Governor Onesime Gagnon.
The final day delegates met in the legislature where they were welcomed by Premier Lesage who gave a brief outline of Quebec's unique history and its attachment to parliamentary institutions. The rest of the meeting was chaired by Speaker Lucien Cliche of Quebec who called upon the leader of each delegation to say a few words. Following these short thank you speeches the conference adjourned.
The sessions held on board ship dealt mainly with CPA business such as reports from provincial delegations on activities, programs, membership and so on. The substantive topics proposed for discussion included the reporting of debates, the role of the Opposition, the value of committees, delegated legislation, indemnities, retirement provisions, and procedure. In fact only two of the topics provoked any significant discussion--reporting of debates and indemnity issues. There were no interventions whatsoever on committees, delegated legislation or procedure. The entire session on the role of opposition consisted of a single short statement by Judy Lamarsh who suggested newly elected members needed some kind of help in learning how Parliament works.
The problem with this and other early CPA conferences was that topics for discussion were not known in advance. There was no fixed time period for each topic and no designated person or province to lead...