|An Advocacy Guide for Psychologists||
PSYCHOLOGY AND PUBLIC POLICY
|How Parliament WorksUnderstanding the Legislative Process1
To be an important part of the advocacy effort on behalf of psychology does not require an extensive knowledge of the parliamentary process. However, the following is provided as background information. It is a description of the federal system. The provincial legislatures are quite similar.
The Parliament of Canada consists of the Queen, represented by the Governor General, the appointed Senate, and the elected House of Commons.
The major focus of Parliament is the development, passage and execution of pieces of legislation. Lobbying is effective at any of these stages.
Laws begin as policy debates and take official form as bills to be debated and voted on by the politicians. Once law, Governments then execute the laws through government departments, regulations, colleges, mandated services (police), etc.
The House of Commons is the major law-making body. Bills from the House of Commons are numbered from C-1 to C-XXX. Any Member of Parliament (MP) can introduce a bill.
Politicians need information in order to make good decisions. They are influenced by information that comes from committees, constituents, experts, political staff, polls, the political party platforms and the bureaucracy. Psychologists fill many of these roles and each of us is a constituent.
Stages of a Bill
Most bills are first considered by the House of Commons and normally pass through the following steps:
Provincial legislatures operate similarly. Although there are differences such as the absence of a Senate, the process is generally the same.
Parliamentary Committees That Affect Psychological Research, Educations, and Practice
The Standing and Legislative Committees of interest to psychology include the Standing Committee on Health; the Standing Committee on Finance; the Standing Committee on Industry; the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights; the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade; and the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access. These Committees make recommendations to Parliament and to the Government (the party that is in power) about how to share funds amongst diverse programmes (health, education, social welfare, criminal justice, research, etc.).
To find out about provincial standing committees, call your provincial elected official.
Activities and Responsibilities of Parlementarians
Here is how one former MP and Minister of Justice and former member of the Federal Court of Appeal, the late Mark MacGuigan, as a freshman backbencher described his responsibilities (extracted from Politics in Canada: Culture, Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy (3rd ed.) (1995) by Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson, pp. 350-353):
Former MP Sean OSullivan, the youngest Canadian ever elected to the House of Commons, discusses his activities as follows (extracted from Exercising Power, Government of Canada: The Backbencher - A Case Study (1966) by Donald A. Hurst, pp. 70-71):
Recent changes have permitted MPs to work more effectively. Standing Committees allow them to have more say in policy formulation. Some say MPs could take more advantage of the opportunities to introduce legislation and initiate criticism of the government. There is more and more pressure for MPs to act as intermediaries and their role is more rewarding than policy-making with its commitment to pursue a long-term goal.
It is important to remember that opposition critics and each partys caucus play very important roles in Parliament. Keep them informed. Request that your MP supply his or her party with psychologys position on issues. Remember, the caucus is an important decision making body and todays opposition party might be tomorrows Government.
1 This section used as its main source Précis on Procedure (5th ed.) published by the Table Research Branch of the House of Commons in 1996. The document can be found on the Internet at: http://www.parl.gc.ca.
|How to Communicate Effectively with Members of Parliament
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