HOW PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES CAN BE CONSTRAINED BY THE SIZE OF THE LEGISLATURE
HOW PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES CAN BE CONSTRAINED BY THE SIZE OF THE LEGISLATURE The Speaker of Yukon Legislative Assembly writes about the influence of the Assembly’s small size on the exercise of parliamentary democracy. Yukon is a Canadian territory which has almost twice the land mass of the United Kingdom, but a population of a mere 43,000 souls. While there are 650 seats in the UK House of Commons, and 338 in the Canadian House of Commons, the Yukon Legislative Assembly is comprised of just 19 Members. In the current (34th) Legislative Assembly, there are 11 government Members, 6 Members in the Official Opposition, and 2 Members in the Third Party. Though Canada’s ten provincial and three territorial Legislative Assemblies all share elements of the Westminster system, no one House exactly resembles another. For example, while Yukon’s Legislative Assembly, like those of all the provinces, features political parties, the other two territorial Assemblies operate according to a consensus model. Also, Canada’s sub-national Legislative Assemblies range substantially in size. Yukon and the Northwest Territories are tied for the distinction of being the smallest House, while the two largest Assemblies, Ontario and Quebec, have 124 and 125 seats respectively. For decades, observers of politics in Yukon have noted that the comparatively small number of MLAs elected to Yukon’s Legislative Assembly has necessarily and understandably affected the way in which the Assembly conducts its business. Yukon’s ‘small-but-mighty’ Legislative Assembly on the whole performs the same functions as a large Legislative Assembly. However, the limited number of MLAs does impact upon the operations of our Assembly and does influence the way that parliamentary democracy is expressed in the territory. Compared with most other Canadian Legislative Assemblies, Yukon achieved responsible government fairly recently in November 1979. Nevertheless, the principles of responsible government
underpin the Assembly’s operations. A hallmark of responsible government is that a government retains power only as long as it has the confidence of the House. This fundamental principle would be undermined if an Assembly were to be comprised of more Ministers than non-Ministers; that is, if most Members were in Cabinet, an Assembly would be unable to truly legitimize the government’s exercise of power. In recognition of this principle, limits have been established and are codified in subsection 2(3) of Yukon’s Government Organisation Act. On the size of Cabinet, it specifically states that: “At all times, there must be fewer Members of the Legislative Assembly appointed to the Executive Council than there are Members of the Legislative Assembly who are not appointed to the Executive Council.” However, while there is a hard cap on the size of Yukon’s Cabinet, there is no limit on the number of departments, agencies, and areas of responsibility that may exist. As a result, Yukon Ministers typically wear a number of hats. In larger Assemblies, that can accommodate a larger Cabinet, it is not uncommon to see a Minister tasked with a single area of responsibility, a Minister without portfolio, and sometimes even a greater specialisation in Ministerial portfolios. For instance, at the time of writing, in the National Assembly of Québec, there are three Ministers who are responsible for different elements of education in the province. By way of comparison, currently Yukon’s entire Cabinet, which was sworn-in in December 2016, is comprised of just seven MLAs. For the purpose of illustration, one individual in Yukon’s Executive Council presently serves as the Minister of Education, the Minister of Justice, and the Government House Leader, while another
Hon. Nils Clarke, MLA is the Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly in Canada. He was first elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly in the general election for the 34th Legislative Assembly in 2016 and was elected as the 25th Speaker in 2017. As Speaker, he is also Chair of the Members' Services Board. He is the CPA Canada Region’s representative on the CPA Small Branches Steering Committee. Prior to his election, he practiced law in the territory, serving from 2000 until 2016 as the Executive Director of the Yukon Legal Services Society.
The Parliamentarian | 2021: Issue One | 100 years of publishing | 33