Wednesday, June 08, 2011

History of Parliament: Bill C-1

Apparently the first order of business in the Commons after the Speech from the Throne the other day was a little bit of parliamentary defiance.  The first bill introduced for first reading was Bill C-1, An Act Concerning Railways.

Actually, there is no initiative concerning railways on the horizon.  But there is a parliamentary tradition that after the executive presents its plans in a Speech from the Throne, the legislators immediately introduce a bill on something completely outside the executive's plan -- just to show that they can, just to demonstrate that the legislature is independent of the executive and in control of its own agenda.

Bill C-1, the Railway Bill (text of the 2009 version of the bill is here and full text of the House's work with the bill is here), got first reading on June 3.  It then vanished, never to be heard from again.  It's a pro forma bill.  It signifies the House's independence, without actually proposing anything.

Now if only there were a little more to Canadian legislators' assertion of independence from the executive than an occasional Railways Bill, we'd be getting somewhere.

If you don't believe me, Wikipedia has a pretty good summary here (for who could doubt Wikipedia?).  It is said to be a custom that predates confederation and draws on an English practice that started in 1571.  Thanks also the the legal website Slaw -- which draws attention to the practice while missing the point entirely.  Lawyers!
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