John Ivison has a provocative piece today in the National Post on the irrelevance of Parliament. It echoes and expands on the concerns many journalists, politicians and academics have expressed about the legislature in recent years.

Reading his piece prompted me to watch Professor Meg Russell’s presentation on the influence of Parliament in the United Kingdom, a video that was recommended to me by @procedurepols .

I much enjoyed Russell’s lecture, which isn’t surprising since it fits with my embryonic thinking about the subject

I especially appreciated her suggestion that we need to look at the indirect influence Parliament wields, particularly within government, both in Cabinet discussions and among civil servants.

My personal experience, albeit it quite limited, suggests that Canada’s Parliament is influential in that regard.

When I served as an independent reviewer of Canada’s fighter aircraft options analysis, the question of whether the RCAF’s methodology and reports would meet the expectations of parliamentarians came up often. I kept detailed notes, in case I was ever called to answer about the process before a parliamentary committee. Parliament’s right to know more about the fighter replacement played no small part in driving the transparency around the effort. I was struck by how often Parliament came up. 

Now, this was one small part of government on one particular file that happened to attract a good deal of media attention. But I suspect that ministers, civil servants, and security forces worry about how Parliament will react to them and their work a fair bit.

If we take this aspect of Parliament’s indirect influence into account, we might find that the legislature isn’t as irrelevant as we fear. One academic who has made an important contribution to these questions is Kelly Blidook. But much more work remains to be done, particularly if we want to know how best to augment Parliament’s influence, as has happened in the UK in recent decades. 

Philippe Lagassé
Philippe Lagassé is associate professor and Barton Chair, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa. He has served as a third-party reviewer of major defence acquisitions for the government of Canada since 2012. He is co-editor, with Thomas Juneau and Srdjan Vucetic, of the recently published Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice (Palgrave 2020). He tweets @LagassePhilippe

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