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The Heart of Parliament




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The Canadian House of Commons was deliberately modeled on the British, and even now, in any matter of procedure not provided for by its own rules and practices, the rules and practices of the British House of Commons are followed.

The British House of commons originated simply as a body of petitioners summoned by the early Kings of England for no other reason than that they needed money. The Commons, as these representatives of the shires and boroughs became known, soon began to insist that the grant of money depended on redress of grievances. Although the powers of the Crown have long been taken over by a government elected by the people, this principle - the right to discuss grievances and to insist on remedies before granting supply - is still at the heart of the parliamentary system. In the Canadian House of Commons, nowadays, it takes more particularly the form of what are called "allotted days'> Every session, twenty-five days are reserved for the opposition, to move whatever motions it thinks fit; and on six of the twenty-five it can move motions of want of confidence in the Government. Opportunities for expressing want of confidence in the government also occurs during the debates on the Throne Speech and the Budget and on other occasions.

Today the House of Commons is unquestionably the effective source of power in the parliamentary system. Originally, it had 181 members, each province being represented in proportion to its population. This is still the basis for the much larger House which now exists, but it is modified by a provision in the constitutional provision that no province can have fewer members in the Commons than in the Senate, and several other provisions designed to prevent any province from losing more than a certain proportion of its seats in the redistribution which must follow each decennial census. the present House has 306 members, elected by single-member constituencies. the distribution of seats at the election which will be taking place on January 23, 2006 are

Ontario 106
Quebec 75
British Columbia 36
Alberta 28
Manitoba 14
Saskatchewan 14
Nova Scotia 11
New Brunswick 10
Prince Edward Island 4
Newfoundland 7
Yukon 1
Northwest Territories 1
Nunavut 1

All Canadian citizens of 18 and over are qualified to vote.

The House of Commons is the focal point of parliamentary activity and public attention, the grand forum of the nation, where major national and international issues are debated; where the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition may be seen in regular confrontation; where Cabinet Ministers daily defend the policies and conduct of their departments; where the nation's business is freely and openly transacted, all that is said is freely and openly transacted, all that is said and done being faithfully recorded.

Parliament makes the laws, and the House of Commons plays the predominant part in making them. Any member can introduce bills, except bills involving expenditure or taxation, which can only be introduced by the government. Since the responsibilities of government now extend into almost every sphere of activity, and since most government action involves spending money (and raising it by taxes, fees, loans, and so forth), most of the time of the Hose is reserved for Government bills. Only a limited number of hours can therefore be allotted to the consideration of Private Members' bills during a session and they  seldom come to a vote.

Every bill must pass both Houses and receive Royal Assent before it becomes law. Assent is signified by the Governor General or his Deputy (a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada). It is inconceivable in these days that it would ever be refused.

By law a general election must be held at least once every five years. However, Parliament may be dissolved and an election called before the statutory period has elapsed, and this is what normally happens. The power to dissolve Parliament s a royal prerogative exercised by the Governor-General, normally on the advice of the Prime Minister.

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