Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Speech from the Throne (Part A): Canadian Parliamentary Cycle + Process leading up to the Throne Speech

Knock, knock, knock ....
Who goes there?
It's me, the Usher of the Black Rod!
OK, let him in, so instructed the Speaker.

Thus begins the Speech from the Throne SFT that will be delivered by the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, who is to open the second session of the 41st Parliament.

On the day of the Speech from the Throne (SFT), I have done some research and would like to describe briefly in layman language the process leading up to the SFT and what follow.

(Disclaimer: The info presented in this blog article are oversimplified, do not represent the official Government of Canada positions, and may contain omissions and errors.)

1. The Parliamentary Cycle

According to the Parliament of Canada website: "Opening of a Parliament or a Session: After a general election, Parliament is summoned in the Queen's name by the Governor General. .... He/she acknowledges the election and confirms the traditional rights and privileges of the House. This is followed immediately by the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber. Subsequent sessions of the same Parliament will open with a summons to the Senate Chamber followed immediately by the Speech from the Throne. ...."

Essentially, the Prime Minister wants to re-set and/or reaffirm the government agenda/priorities for the second half of its mandate and to set up the stage leading up to a general election to take place in abt two years.

2. Speech from the Throne

Again from the Parliament website: "The Speech from the Throne: At the opening of every new Parliament, and at the beginning of each session within a Parliament, the Governor General reads a speech, prepared by the Prime Minister in consultation with his or her cabinet. The speech is read in the Senate Chamber before the assembled Members of both the Senate and the House of Commons. Traditionally, the Speech from the Throne reveals the reasons for summoning Parliament. It begins with an assessment of social and economic conditions in the country. It then declares the Government's goals and intentions, and outlines its policies and legislative agenda ...."

What many Canadians don't know is that the SFT is not written secretly by the Prime Minister and the ruling Conservative Party. Many months before the Throne Speech, the policy shops of departments/agencies will have already prepared numerous Briefing Notes (Briefing Book in the case of a new Minister), Memoranda to Cabinet (MC), Aide Memories, and other types of classified documents for the Deputy Heads and the Ministers responsible.

Since the Federal Public Service (which is part of the Machinery of Government) is a non-partisan institution that serves the democratically elected government, bureaucrats are supposed to "speak truth to power" and to provide professional advice/recommendations to their political masters even if those are not what the latter like to hear. In reality, the Deputy Head is held responsible to manage the interface btwn the bureaucratic and political regimes, to work horizontally with his/her deputy colleagues, and to report to the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is the Prime Minister's Deputy Minister and the boss of all Deputy Heads (except those who report directly to Parliament, such as the Auditor General).

Once the signed-off recommendations are in the political regime, a Minister may choose to agree or disagree with his/her department's recommendations. (Previous CIDA President Bev Oda caused an uproar when she had allegedly changed the recommendation of the Agency to suit her own view. She could have just exercised her ministerial prerogative.) Armed with the knowledge provided by his/her department, a Minister then works with his/her cabinet colleagues to establish a coherent, strategic theme and agenda for the second half of the government's mandate. Thus, what goes into the Speech from the Throne is a cumulation of strategic policy advice/recommendations from federal public servants and well thought-out political calculations from politicians.

....... (to be continued) Speech from the Throne (Part B)

Related links:

* Wikipedia:Usher of the Black Rod
* Parliament of Canada: House Compendium/Parliamentary Cycle
* Parliament of Canada: House Compendium/Speech Throne

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