Evidence of meeting #27 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was events.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Nicole Bourget  Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Joel Girouard  Acting Director, State Ceremonial and Protocol Directorate, Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Denis Racine  Executive Director, Major Events and Celebrations, Department of Canadian Heritage
  • Audrey O'Brien  Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons
  • Elizabeth Rody  Chief of Protocol and Director of Events, IIA, Parliament of Canada
  • Eric Janse  Clerk Assistant and Director General, International and Interparliamentary Affairs, Parliament of Canada

11:45 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Nicole Bourget

In the specific case you're referring to, I'm somewhat surprised, because my understanding of police forces is that they have traditions within their own forces of how they conduct such ceremonies.

In terms of flag folding and how the ceremony is conducted using the flag, I'm surprised, because our website details even how to fold the Canadian flag, the techniques to it. It's there and it's illustrated—I'm sorry, it isn't on our website yet—but if somebody were to call the department, we have a video that was produced by one of our protocol officers, Paul “Smokie” LeBlanc, a former military gentleman. We do have that knowledge.

Our work in the department is to preserve and promote all Canadian symbols that matter. We try to do it through educational material. We do it through our website. The section of our website that pertains to state ceremonies is the most frequently visited one in the department. Teachers use it a lot. We have guides on national symbols. We have books on symbols. We have A Crown of Maples. We just issued another version recently. We have a tremendous amount of information designed to preserve, promote, and create awareness of historical milestones. There are special days.

In the case of the fallen police officer, I'm very surprised that by either looking on the website or calling the department, they were not able to get assistance and answers to their questions.

11:50 a.m.


Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

It may stray into policy, and I understand if you can't answer, but should the federal government be more aggressive in working with our partners at the municipal and provincial levels in creating a national protocol presence? In an instance like this, if something happened, the person would phone somebody at the department and they could get answers almost immediately, as opposed to trying to figure it out, or having to watch a video. In the instance of a fallen officer or a firefighter, usually the last thing people worry about is watching a video or scouring your Internet site. They don't have a lot of time to do that. York Region is a large force, but there are many much smaller forces that wouldn't have the expertise. Is it something that we should consider?

I'm not saying you're not doing a good job of it. It sounds like I'm being critical, but I'm not. Should we pay more attention to making sure our traditions are maintained and that you have the support that you need to make sure across this country that we are....

11:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Nicole Bourget

Denis will answer, and it's not....

Your question is a valid one. As I mentioned, we do work closely with the provinces. Every province has a chief of protocol, and they're usually very experienced people, because they're there to advise the government—the provincial government—on all those matters. Major cities, as I was saying, have chiefs of protocols to deal with those matters.

That network communicates regularly amongst itself in those matters.


11:50 a.m.

Executive Director, Major Events and Celebrations, Department of Canadian Heritage

Denis Racine

I was going to mention that on many occasions, people seek advice before they have an event, and I think that's the most important rule. It's kind of an informal network of individuals at the federal, provincial, and municipal level that work together. They know each other, and if someone doesn't have an answer, there's kind of a chain of consultations that takes place.

In an instance like that, I think to seek advice or to provide advice is the best solution, to our knowledge, unfortunately.

11:50 a.m.


Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

I think this is where the idea of a manual.... I know you probably cringe, you don't want to hear about a manual, but I think that's kind of sometimes where a manual would help. There are a lot of different protocols for the military as Mr. Simms and everybody was saying, even with Mr. Layton's funeral.

We have changed it, but the basic tenets remain the same. Somehow, I could be wrong but I just feel that somehow that message is not getting back down to other people, be it the provincial or municipal level, and even sometimes ourselves in our own functions in our communities.

Should we not be a bit more arrogant with our traditions, frankly? Should we not at some point in time say that Canada was founded on the basis of two founding peoples, these are the traditions, and if you are going to go down the road of requiring something, think about it now, and when you do make a mistake should we not be in there and say, “Yes, you did something good, but here's how you could have improved on that”?

It might be a policy question; you can answer that.

11:50 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Nicole Bourget

On your question, I would say that members of this committee are best placed to judge the level of involvement the government wants to have in matters of protocol and how aggressive...or how much promotion occurs.

We do take our mandate seriously, and with the tools we have, as I said, we do disseminate a lot of information.

I think there's a distinction to be made, and I'm not against a manual of sorts. We do have our various manuals, as I say, because we wouldn't be able to accomplish our work. I think it's important to understand that we are responsible for national protocol of national events.

If you're talking about a state funeral, nobody is going to be doing that except us. A royal visit? Nobody will be doing that except the department.

Those are clearly national protocol elements. When you get into the flag or local ceremonies then it's a different story. That's where the provincial, municipal, or an organization's internal protocol—such as the RCMP, or police forces—each has their own traditions. We cannot impose that on people.

11:55 a.m.


The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Calandra.

Now we'll move to Ms. Mathyssen.

May 1st, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.


Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much. I didn't expect a question. I truly appreciate it.

I've been thinking about this, and certainly it seems to me that it's very clear, as you've stated, that every province has its protocol. I can recall as an MPP in Ontario talking to protocol on various occasions. You have gone to every effort to make protocol accessible to people and available so that we can indeed follow positive traditions.

One of the questions that Mr. Calandra asked and I wanted to follow up on, is that in terms of traditions of the founding peoples—the English founders, the French founders, first nations—those are, of course, very important and certainly we have to be respectful there.

In the case of newer traditions, those that have come to us from the many immigrants who have made Canada their home and brought a rich tradition with them, do we incorporate those in any way? I'm thinking back to Jack Layton's funeral and the very touching, and I think, appropriate participation of the Muslim community and various others.

11:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Sport, Major Events and Regions, Department of Canadian Heritage

Nicole Bourget

Thank you very much. Absolutely, it's weaving in new traditions. And I'm not sure, for example, that 50 years ago you would have seen multi-faith services at funerals. We saw with Mr. Layton it was multi-faith. They had representatives from various communities. We've seen aboriginal ceremonies integrated much more at events over the last few years. So they are woven in, I think, as society evolves, as it broadens.

We are representing that our citizens' makeups are from diverse backgrounds, so they are incorporated in a respectful way that doesn't take away from tradition, but in a way enriches it because it broadens its reach to citizens of those communities who would not normally maybe tune in and say, “That's a funeral. He's English-speaking”. By having a broader appeal and having a very varied service, he was responding to constituents, to the various communities that he had worked with.

In that way, that's when we say it's flexible, it's respectful. We always take into account the desires and wishes, and find a way to express that. So yes, absolutely, it's a very important point.

11:55 a.m.


The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Ms. Mathyssen. Thank you to our witnesses. We are going to suspend now for a minute to allow our witnesses to leave and bring in our next panel.

This was the first day of our study on protocol and your evidence was very helpful. Thank you.



The Chair Rob Moore

Okay, we'll get started. We'll continue our study on a review of national protocol procedures.

Welcome. This is a real treat for us to have the Clerk of the House of Commons here. Welcome to Audrey O'Brien and thank you for being here, Madam Clerk.

As well, Eric Janse and Elizabeth Rody are both here. As we know, Eric is the clerk assistant and director general, international and interparliamentary affairs; and Ms. Rody is chief of protocol and director of events. It's wonderful to have you here with us.

We'll begin with opening comments that you might have and then we'll go into our rounds of questioning.


Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to appear before you today as you embark upon this study.

As you've heard, the protocol requirements of the government for state visits, funerals, and other events are served by the protocol offices at the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The protocol requirements for the Parliament of Canada are the responsibility of the office of parliamentary protocol, headed by Elizabeth Rody, within the international and interparliamentary affairs directorate of the Parliament of Canada, and that's headed by Eric Janse.

I would like to take a few minutes to provide the committee with an overview of the role and mandate of the Protocol Office, our role in the events you're considering, and the differences between federal government protocol and parliamentary protocol.

The Office of Parliamentary Protocol is part of the International and Interparliamentary Affairs Directorate of the Parliament of Canada. IIA is the only joint service of Parliament reporting through both clerks to the internal economy committees of both the Senate and the House of Commons.

The chief of protocol reports to the director general of International and Interparliamentary Affairs, Clerk Assistant, Eric Janse, who is on my right. The protocol team is led by the Chief of Protocol for Parliament, Elizabeth Rody, who is on my left.

The office of parliamentary protocol assists the speakers of both Houses in their diplomatic and ceremonial roles, supports parliamentary exchanges and parliamentary associations, organizes parliamentary conferences, and lends expertise and advice on all matters of protocol. This also extends to activities outside of Ottawa, and a good example of this is parliamentary delegations visiting various regions of Canada. A timely example is the work being done for the upcoming 127th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to be hosted by the Parliament of Canada in Quebec City in October 2012.

The office is also involved as a partner in the delivery of government-sponsored activities that take place in the Parliament Buildings.

Parliamentary protocol ensures that official visits and events for foreign parliamentarians and dignitaries are properly identified, organized, and acted upon; that all visits and events on Parliament Hill are conducted in a manner that befits the dignity and stature of the Parliament of Canada; that visiting dignitaries receive all the diplomatic courtesies in accordance with international protocol practices; that dignitaries, while visiting Parliament, receive a positive image and understanding of the institution; and that guidelines and procedures for parliamentary protocol are developed and maintained based on precedents and knowledge of the institution.

In certain cases the role of the Parliamentary Protocol Office in assisting government visits and events can be minimal, for example in the case of the Prime Minister simply meeting in his Centre Block office a counterpart from another country. In many other cases, however, our involvement is much more significant.

The vast majority of visits by heads of state, heads of government, or other high-level events occur on Parliament Hill or have a large parliamentary component. The resources required to successfully deliver these activities are not insignificant and they touch on a number of services at the House of Commons and in the Parliament—for example, security services, maintenance, room allocation to name but a few.

Examples of protocol events held on Parliament Hill are welcoming ceremonies of foreign heads of state and government or other high level parliamentarians and international dignitaries; addresses to Parliament; welcoming ceremonies; openings of Parliament; investitures of Governors General; unveiling ceremonies and parliamentary legacy projects, including portraits and windows; state funerals; and commemorations of national events.

To successfully execute the above mentioned activities, the office of parliamentary protocol partners and collaborates with foreign affairs protocol, state ceremonial at the Department of Canadian Heritage, provincial or territorial offices of protocol, and other government agencies, for example, the Department of National Defence. A recent example of that is Operation MOBILE in Libya and the ceremony to salute that effort.

As a specific example, the overall responsibility for a state funeral lies with the Department of Canadian Heritage. However, when the lying-in-state occurs on Parliament Hill, and it almost invariably does, we play a key role in arranging logistics, greeting VIPs, developing scenarios, coordinating security, and so on.

One of the key challenges is assisting with such events while respecting the fact that Centre Block is a working building with a specific legislative purpose. This challenge was referred to by Speaker Scheer in a recent ruling.

I quote the decision of Speaker Scheer:

As we all know, the parliamentary precinct and its buildings exist primarily to support the functions of the legislative branch. The Centre Block in particular, housing as it does the House of Commons and Senate chambers, is a working building where parliamentary proceedings are carried out and where members must be free to perform their duties without interference even when other activities are taking place. Needless to say, these heritage buildings, especially Centre Block, are also ideal venues for all sorts of events and we are all proud to showcase them for our distinguished visitors. However, when activities, such as the visit of the Prime Minister of Israel on March 2 take place, extra care is needed to ensure that competing requirements regarding the use of the buildings and precinct are understood, with due accommodations and with the proper balance.

Different protocol practices are applied when an event is deemed parliamentary in nature or is deemed a state or national event. The parliamentary Protocol Office executes events regularly on Parliament Hill that bring together the executive and the legislative branches, and it ensures that both protocols are incorporated to avoid offence and misunderstandings.

Our protocol office adds the parliamentary components, precedents and practices to events hosted by the executive on Parliament Hill, such as the official welcome of dignitaries by the speakers or the role of party leaders during an address to Parliament. The federal order of precedence does not reflect the composition of the House of Commons—I'm thinking of party standings, for instance—or the leadership role exercised by some members of the House of Commons. For parliamentary events, where the role of the speakers, party leaders, House leaders and whips must be taken into account, party standings will determine precedence and not the federal order of precedence. Thus, for example, seating arrangements for a dinner hosted by the Governor General or the Prime Minister will be different than those for a hospitality event hosted by the Speaker.

Protocol requires flexibility, common sense, and is negotiated between the different parties involved in crafting an event. Many principles need to be considered when scripting an event: the role of the hosts, the nature of the institution, and the objectives and desired results. Protocol is more art than science. A review of the organization behind the lying in state of the late leader of the New Democratic Party demonstrates that well.

All parties involved—the executive, the legislative, the province, and the City of Toronto—applied and incorporated in their scenarios their particular protocol, the nature of their institutions, but most importantly the wishes of the family, while respecting the overall protocol for state funerals as dictated by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

That is basically the overview of how we fit into things as the office of parliamentary protocol.

I thank committee members for their attention. We will be pleased to answer any questions members may have.

12:10 p.m.


The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Madam Clerk.

We will begin our question and answer time with Mr. Armstrong.

12:10 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all for being here. It's a special treat to have you here today.

I have several questions, first of all, around funerals. When a parliamentarian dies, a member of Parliament or a Senator.... I was very close to Senator Dickson. He passed away. I attended his funeral. The Prime Minister attended, as well as some of the members of the opposition.

Who coordinates the role of Parliament in a funeral where it's a parliamentarian who's passed away?

12:10 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Let me ask Elizabeth to answer that directly.