Comparing four parliaments' approaches to emergency lawmaking and scrutiny... and more!

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Happening Now Tuesday, April 21, 2020 View Count = 1092

Comparing four parliaments' approaches to emergency lawmaking and scrutiny... and more!

It feels like we have entered a new phase of this shared experience—one where life doesn’t look like it will be going back to "normal" anytime soon.

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed some of our country’s weak spots: whether it’s precarious work, safety in long-term care homes, or a democratic system that struggles with innovation.

The Samara Centre has always championed a thoughtful, representative, and independent-minded Parliament. Recognizing that crises often produce lasting change, we are ramping up our efforts to monitor the state of democracy under the banner of the Democracy Monitor.

Democracy Monitor

We are in a period of rapid change. Just yesterday, a new plan emerged from the House of Commons to launch a special pandemic accountability committee that would make some parliamentary activity virtual. Our team is working hard to keep up with and get ahead of these changes—to make sure that core democratic values stay front-of-mind.

Earlier this month, you may have read our evaluation of Parliament’s initial rounds of emergency lawmaking in response to COVID-19, written by Dr. Paul EJ Thomas, our Senior Research Associate. While concluding that Canada’s democratic institutions did not buckle under pressure, we flagged several concerns:

  • scrutiny and transparency of the emergency measures were very limited;
  • power was concentrated among senior MPs;
  • national representation was weak, with 79% of MPs coming from near Ottawa; and
  • ongoing oversight of the emergency powers was incomplete.

This is not the way that we want Parliament to function throughout what appears to be a prolonged crisis, which could prevent many MPs from sitting in the Commons for some time.

blue-10.png  Comparing four parliaments' approaches

All around the world, democratic legislatures are struggling to adapt to the pandemic—striking a difficult balance between passing bold emergency measures quickly, and upholding the essential responsibility to scrutinize the actions of Government.


Today, we bring you a comparison of how the national parliaments of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada were convened to pass emergency legislation, which parliamentarians got to participate, and what measures have been put in place to keep tabs on government as the crisis marches on.

In our assessment, we find that:

  1. The four Westminster parliaments are finding different ways to balance expediency and accountability in their pandemic responses.
  2. The New Zealand model of an opposition-chaired special committee specifically focused on reviewing the government’s pandemic response is a promising way to ensure close parliamentary scrutiny of the extraordinary powers bestowed on governments by emergency legislation.
  3. Given that the pandemic may continue for many months, parliaments must ensure that all MPs have a voice and resume as many functions as possible using either a virtual or a hybrid model.


blue-10.png  Contribute to the Democracy Monitor

Help us track the ways in which democratic leaders and institutions are adapting to the pandemic by identifying, documenting, and sharing:

  • Institutional adaptations that you think are either beneficial or detrimental to democracy (at the federal, provincial/territorial, municipal level, or in other countries); and/or
  • Communications you have received or engagement efforts you have seen from elected representatives at any level (like newsletters, online town halls, AMAs, etc.)

To report an adaptation, simply fill out this short form:

If you have any questions about how to complete the form, please email Adelina at [email protected].

blue-10.png  Tune into the conversation

The Samara Centre is hosting two interactive webinars over the next week.

On Thursday, April 23rd, Paul EJ Thomas will be joined by Dr. Cristina Leston-Bandeira from the University of Leeds to explore recent moves toward a virtual Parliament in both Canada and the UK. The discussion will begin at 12:30 pm EST, and end with questions from viewers. Click here for more details and a link to the webinar.

Then, on Tuesday, April 28th, our Research Director, Dr. Michael Morden, will speak with interns from the Parliamentary Internship Programme about the major ideas and insights from our latest book, Real House Lives: Former Members of Parliament on How to Reclaim Democratic Leadership. Click here for more details and a link to the webinar.

We invite you to tune in and ask questions!

blue-10.png  Catch up on what we're reading

Want to read more about democracy in a state of emergency? Here are some of our recent favourites:

Finally, for more from the Samara Centre, check out our op-ed in today's CBC Opinion section calling on elected leaders to experiment with technology that enables constructive, two-way conversations with their constituents: "Leaders and citizens have been drifting apart for some time. Let’s stay home and get to know each other."

Stay safe,

Kendall Anderson
Executive Director

P.S. If you haven't already, I encourage you to follow us on TwitterFacebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and tell us what you think!

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