Ep. 09: Keeping Parliament Running




October 28, 2021 14 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, I’m Erin and I’m here with Stephanie for another great episode of your favourite parliamentary podcast!



Stephanie: We’ve come a long way from our first episode.



Erin: We really have.



Stephanie: But there’s still so much more to learn together! In an earlier episode, we broke down the legislative process and talked all about how laws are made in Ontario.



Erin: But what we want to focus on now isn’t so much of a what but a who.



Stephanie: This is getting to be a little too “Who’s on First?” for me…



Erin: What, or should I say “who” do you mean?



Stephanie: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s just stick to who we’re going to be talking about today.



Erin: Oh, all right. I honestly don’t think I could have kept that joke going anymore. It’s quite exhausting.



Stephanie: Alright, today we’re going to explore some of the key players that keep Parliament running. But first we’re going to start with a little game.



Erin: This is always my favourite part of every episode.



Stephanie: Well today, we’re going to play a version of “This or That”. I’m going to give you a set of 2 words that describe Parliament and you’re going to have to pick the one you think describes it best from each set.



Erin: Only 1? That’s going to be really hard.



Stephanie: That’s kind of the point. Ready?



Erin: I guess so. Hit me with the first pair.



Stephanie: Alright, Democracy and Representative.



Erin: Wait… That’s kind of a trick question, isn’t it? Since don’t we have a representative democracy here in Ontario?



Stephanie: Alright. Way to be a show-off. I’ll let you have both on that one. Next, we have Chamber and Dynamic.



Erin: Hmm well the dynamics in the Chamber can certainly get loud sometimes…



Stephanie: … not what I meant and you know it…



Erin: Fine, fine. Then I’d have to go with… Chamber because that’s really at the heart of our Parliament for me. Both literally in the building and figuratively.



Stephanie: Good point. Okay the last one is Power and Adversnoto sans.



Erin: Ooh you really came up with some tricky ones today. But I think I’m going to have to go with adversnoto sans because the structure of the Chamber and the way that Parliament functions is so fundamentally based on an adversnoto sans model. But not in a bad way. More in a let’s-debate-and-discuss-the-issues-and-maybe-not-always-agree-but-that’s-okay kind of way.



Stephanie: Well what if I told you that all of the words that you just heard in our “This or That” game were provided by our two special “who’s” that we’re going to be discussing today.



Erin: Really? That’s too cool…



Stephanie: I’m done even acknowledging your puns anymore.



Erin: And yet, you just did. Winning!



Stephanie: Anyway, today we are going to be exploring two very important parliamentary roles: the Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms.



Erin: Just like the Speaker, who we met in our last episode, both of these roles are not only crucial to making sure Parliament can function properly everyday, but they’re also heavily steeped in tradition.



Stephanie: The Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms assist the Speaker and ensure that the Legislative Assembly is able to operate effectively without interruption.



Erin: Let’s start by learning a little bit more about the Clerk.



Stephanie: The Clerk’s role can really be divided into two main categories. First as the chief advisor to the Speaker and Members of Provincial Parliament, and second as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Assembly as a whole.



Erin: In broad strokes, you can really break down their role into what they do in the Chamber to make sure democracy is upheld and what they do outside of the Chamber in ensuring that the building and staff are all taken care of and working to support the House.



Stephanie: It probably makes sense to clear up their specific role inside the Chamber first. As you can imagine, we have a lot of rules and procedures in the House. These rules and procedures are all outlined in the Standing Orders – basically the official rule book for Parliament.



Erin: Not only are the official rules recorded in the Standing Orders, but similar to a courtroom, many decisions that need to be made are based on precedent. That’s why it’s so important to have a procedural expert present in the Chamber at all times. When MPPs are first elected they often have very little experience or understanding of how Parliament truly works.



Stephanie: And that’s okay!



Erin: Absolutely! Parliament should be a reflection of the province; we want the Members to come from all walks of life so that they can make informed decisions for the citizens of Ontario. But it does mean that at first not many of them know the minutiae of the law-making process.



Stephanie: And that’s where the Clerk comes in. The Clerk represents all of the institutional knowledge of Parliament.



Erin: Fun fact: since the time of Confederation in 1867, there have only been 9 people who have served as Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario!



Stephanie: That’s crazy! That’s over 150 years!



Erin: It is pretty wild that we can count on two hands how many people have ever served as Clerk.



Stephanie: And that longevity in the position is super important. Remember, we have elections roughly every four years, which means that the Government can change, the Members can change, and even the Speaker can change after an election. But the one constant is the Clerk.



Erin: That’s so true. But I want to take a minute and have us think back to the very first Parliament of Ontario, over 150 years ago!



Stephanie: Alright… I’m visualizing!



Erin: Perfect! So, it’s 1867; we’re in Ontario. The Clerk’s primary responsibilities remain the same – working in the Chamber and assisting the Members and the Speaker. But Parliament was a little different back then.



Stephanie: It sure was! First off, Parliament sat much less frequently. Remember we’re dealing with a primarily agrarian society so Parliament was at the mercy of the harvest.



Erin: Also being an MPP wasn’t a full-time job back then either. Members often had other careers and came to the Legislature infrequently to debate and pass legislation only as needed.



Stephanie: Society was also much less complicated and interconnected which generally meant less work for the Legislature.



Erin: Fun fact: when the new Legislative Building opened in 1893 it was expected to hold the entire Ontario Public Service; essentially all of Government including all of the Ministers and their staff too.



Stephanie: Joke’s on the architect - the building can barely hold all the staff of the Legislature let alone the larger Public Service employees! Just goes to show how much society has changed.



Erin: Which is exactly why I wanted us to travel back to 1867! While the primary aspect of the Clerk’s role remains the same, they are now also responsible for overseeing the administrative structure of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario



Stephanie: Sounds like a big job!



Erin: It really is! The Office of the Legislative Assembly was established in the mid 20th century and since then the Clerk has had to handle an ever-increasing amount of administrative duties. Especially as the Legislative Assembly has asserted its independence from the Government.



Stephanie: So on top of being a procedural savant the Clerk is also basically now the CEO of a relatively large corporate organization?



Erin: Yup!



Stephanie: Alright I don’t think I ever want this job; it sounds like a ton of work.



Erin: Actually, it used to be even more work! Fun fact: up until 1986, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly was also Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer.



Stephanie: Thank goodness our current Clerk doesn’t have to also run elections! He has enough work to do once the Members get elected!



Erin: That’s true, actually that might be a good case study for some of what we mean by “administrative responsibilities”.



Stephanie: Yeah, those sound kind of vague…



Erin: Well, with the inevitable changeover of Members with every new election, there needs to be someone who knows a lot who can teach the new MPPs all about Parliament.



Stephanie: Enter the Clerk!



Erin: Well he does have some support from the other branches within the Assembly too. Fun fact: did you know that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario employs over 400 people! Each one has a critical role to play in ensuring that Ontario’s Parliament runs smoothly.



Stephanie: I know I know! Everybody pitches in, but it is THE Clerk that swears in the new Members!



Erin: That is very true.



Stephanie: The Clerk also runs seminars for new Members, and is responsible for the onboarding of the new MPPs. Members need to be assigned offices, and staff, and they need to fill out payroll slips, and insurance forms, they might even need parking passes and it goes on and on and on. All of these administrative tasks are handled by the Office of the Assembly.



Erin: Which in turn is headed up by the Clerk. But the work doesn’t stop once the Members are up to speed. No… Then there’s reviewing and possibly revising the Standing Orders as needed and as directed by the House, ensuring the continuity of the institutional memory by maintaining the procedures and traditions of Parliament and all of the other day-to-day tasks that are involved in running a large organization.



Stephanie: Speaking of traditions, do you know what other person’s role is two-fold and heavily influenced by traditions?



Erin: The Sergeant-at-Arms?



Stephanie: The Sergeant… oh… you just said it…



Erin: I thought you were asking me who I thought it was!



Stephanie: It was a rhetorical question! Aright, it’s fine.



Erin: Haha. Sorry. Well just like the current Clerk is only the 9th person we’ve had in the role since the time of Confederation, our current Sergeant-at-Arms is only the 10th person to be Sergeant-at-Arms since the same time.



Stephanie: Wow. Talk about some long-standing traditions.



Erin: I know, right? Well, the Sergeant-at-Arms performs ceremonial and House protocol duties within the Chamber. This includes maintaining order and decorum in the House.



Stephanie: Fun fact: the Standing Orders state that cellphones can only be used by MPPs in the Chamber if they are on silent and “do not impair decorum”.



Erin: Basically, that means that the Sergeant-at-Arms is allowed to confiscate a Member’s phone if it interrupts the business of the House. Say by ringing very loudly during a debate.



Stephanie: There are many ways that the Sergeant-at-Arms maintains the safety and decorum in the Chamber. But that’s only one small part of the role.



Erin: They are also the custodian of the Legislative Mace - perhaps the object the most steeped in tradition in the whole entire building.



Stephanie: The Mace is a symbol of the transfer of power from the Monarch to our Parliament. Without it, Parliament cannot meet. And it’s the Sergeant-at-Arms who is responsible for making sure that the Mace is present and safe during each session of Parliament.



Erin: Fun fact: each morning, the Sergeant-at-Arms carries the Mace into the Chamber in another longstanding tradition called the procession. You can even see a portion of it on our TV channel before each live session of Parliament.



Stephanie: Just like the Clerk and the Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms has specific duties while inside the Chamber, but they have another part of their role that takes place fully outside of the Chamber too.



Erin: The Sergeant-at-Arms is also an Executive Director, responsible for the strategic operations of both our Precinct Properties Branch as well as our Legislative Protective Service. In this director role, the Sergeant-at-Arms oversees the day-to-day security of the building as well as its daily maintenance and any and all new construction.



Stephanie: Recently, both of these branches have been working together to complete a project that the Speaker talked about during his interview: the completion of the new Visitors’ Screening Centre.



Erin: It just goes to show, how closely the many people and roles at the Assembly work together on projects both inside of the Chamber and out.



Stephanie: Speaking of which, the Sergeant-at-Arms does work very closely with the Speaker in the Chamber as well. If the Speaker has named a Member for not following the rules of decorum in the Chamber, they may ask the Sergeant-at-Arms to forcibly remove the Member if they are refusing to leave.



Erin: Fun fact: our current Sergeant-at-Arms has come close to having to do this on two separate occasions, but luckily it hasn’t been necessary in recent times.



Stephanie: I think perhaps one of my favourite facts about our current Sergeant-at-Arms is that she is the first woman to occupy the role in Ontario.



Erin: Me too. I know in talking to her, that she has said that the transition into the role has been seamless because of the inclusivity of the staff and the adaptability of the Legislative Assembly as a whole.



Stephanie: Adaptable was one of the other words that was given to us by both the Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms in our “This and That” game.



Erin: I love when we manage to bring an episode full circle like that. It’s so satisfying.



Stephanie: But not as satisfying as counting all of our fun facts at the end of every episode!



Erin: Ooh yeah. That is a close one for me. I love that one too. Speaking of which, our fun fact count for the day is 7.



Stephanie: But before we go, I have some news. This will actually be my last episode of the podcast.



Erin: I hate goodbyes. But never fear, the ON Parliament Podcast will definitely be back!



Stephanie: I can’t wait to listen in to future episodes and see what you get up to.



Erin: They’re gonna be great! Join me next time to continue to learn more fun facts about parliament!



Stephanie: Thanks for listening to ON Parliament. Where we help spread the word on Parliament.



Erin: Gotta go, I think I hear the bells.



Stephanie: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.



Erin: Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.



Stephanie: Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.



Erin: Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing.



Stephanie: For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter (external link) and Instagram (external link): @onparleducation. Et en français sur Twitter (external link): @parloneducation.



Erin: Thanks again, and see you next ti