Research Handbooks in Comparative Law series
Edited by Susan Rose-Ackerman and Peter L. Lindseth
Chapter 13: The Puzzle of Administrative Independence and Parliamentary Democracy in the Common Law World: A Canadian Perspective
Lorne Sossin* Independent administrative bodies do not fit easily into the political, constitutional or legal landscape of parliamentary democracy as it is practiced in many parts of the common law world (excluding, of course, the United States). These bodies are generally established to fulfill policy mandates but without the usual forms of hierarchical accountability to the government that prevailing conceptions of parliamentary democracy normally demand. Independent administrative bodies are not courts and not government but have significant impact on the rights and interests of both individuals and groups.1 This hybrid status creates what I term the ‘puzzle’ of independence. My focus here is on how this puzzle has manifested itself in the Canadian experience, where independent administrative bodies have risen to national prominence due to several high-profile and high-stakes crises. While these bodies have come to play an integral role in the lives of most people most of the time (in Canada, for example, a landlord tenant tribunal will typically hear far more disputes than all courts combined), we tend to pay attention to independent administrative bodies only in the breach, when there are doubts about their legitimacy, the scope of their reach or the effectiveness of their remedies. Recent allegations in Canada of political interference by the federal government with the Canadian Military Complaints Commission and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have brought these concerns, as well as the broader puzzle of independence, into stark relief. The recent allegations suggest that the independence of an administrative body may only...
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