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Home > The ABC of the National Assembly > The Foundations of Parliamentary Procedure

Skip Navigation LinksThe Foundations of Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary procedure is a set of rules applicable to the National Assembly and its members (the MNAs), as well as to the Government in its relations with the Assembly.

The sources of parliamentary procedure are diverse, consisting both of written documents and of unwritten rules.

Sources of Parliamentary Procedure in Québec

The Constitution

The Constitution is the first source of law in any legal system. Unlike most other countries, Canada’s Constitution is not found in a single document. The two most important sources of parliamentary law forming part of the Constitution are, by reason of their provisions, the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Constitution Act, 1982.

The Act respecting the National Assembly

Adopted in 1982, the Act respecting the National Assembly sets out the composition, term and powers of the Assembly. Some of its provisions deal with parliamentary procedure and legislation adopted by the Assembly; others, with the rights, privileges and immunities attached to Parliament and its Members.

The Act governs the whole of the Assembly’s administration and, to that end, it created the supervisory and regulatory body known as the Office of the National Assembly.

The Standing Orders of the National Assembly

Adopted in 1984, the Standing Orders of the National Assembly contain the rules the Assembly has adopted to govern its own business and that of its parliamentary committees. It is the largest body of written rules in Québec parliamentary law.

It sets out

The Standing Orders are complemented by the Rules for the Conduct of Proceedings; these contain practical provisions concerning parliamentary committees, private bills and the examination of the Government’s financial commitments by the Committee on Public Administration.

Special Orders

A special order establishes a procedure that differs from those provided for in the Standing Orders. Once adopted, it takes precedence over any Standing Order from which it may depart, even implicitly. For example, a motion to suspend the rules of procedure, once carried, becomes a special order of the Assembly.

Precedents

A precedent is created by a ruling of the President, or Speaker, of the Assembly or the chair of a committee. Successive Speakers and chairs refer to precedents in order to decide matters of a similar nature.

The principles arising out of precedent constitute the jurisprudence, an important source of law for parliamentary procedure.

Parliamentary Usage and Custom

Usages and customs are practices followed by the National Assembly and other British-type legislative assemblies over a long period of time. When the written sources of parliamentary law are silent on a given point, recourse may be had to the usages in force in our parliamentary system to put a disputed matter to rest. One of the well established customs in Québec is that ministers abstain from presenting petitions in the Assembly.

Doctrine

Doctrine is the body of legal works that collect and comment on the origins and procedures of parliamentary law, its traditions and its precedents. The authors are authorities in this highly specialized field. The main work of doctrine on current parliamentary law in Québec is the book Parliamentary Procedure in Québec. 

Parliamentary Privilege

Parliamentary privileges are the special rights enjoyed by the Members of the National Assembly, both collectively and individually. Without the protection of parliamentary privilege, MNAs would be unable to carry out their work with dignity and efficiency. There are two categories of parliamentary privilege.

Individual Privileges

Freedom of speech is the most fundamental of individual privileges. It means that an MNA cannot be sued, arrested or imprisoned for words spoken, documents tabled or actions carried out in the course of his or her duties during a sitting of the Assembly or a committee.

Other individual privileges include exemption from appearing as a witness, freedom from arrest for contempt of court, and exemption from jury duty.

Corporate Privileges

The Assembly has the power to regulate its own internal affairs without outside interference. This privilege is a broad one that encompasses almost all the other collective privileges, including the right of the Assembly to take disciplinary action against a Member and the right to determine its own code of procedure (the Standing Orders).

For more on parliamentary procedure in Québec, see