What is a Parliamentarian and why sport organizations need one

Published June 6, 2017

Recently I completed a course on parliamentary procedure with the University of Wisconsin and proudly updated my LinkedIn profile to announce my status as a newly minted Parliamentarian and member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. Since then, I have had a number of people comment my LinkedIn post with quizzical expressions asking “So, just what is a Parliamentarian?”

A Parliamentarian is an expert in interpreting and applying Rules of Order for meetings. Organizations usually have established parliamentary procedures that they follow for their meetings such as Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised. A Parliamentarian provides advice to Boards and presiding officers to ensure that meetings are conducted by parliamentary procedure in a manner that abides by the rules of the organization while enabling members to participate equitably. A Parliamentarian also contributes expertise in Bylaws creation and amendments, elections, and governance.

In the Canadian sport system, there is an ongoing movement towards creating more effective governance models. This movement is being driven, in part, by Sport Canada at the national level and is also being embraced by PTSOs and clubs as the sport system evolves to being more organized and professional. Many Boards are recognizing that it is no longer effective or necessary for Directors to be focused on the organization’s operations given that the organization often employs a professional staff with education and experience in sport management. Part of this focus on governance includes the necessity of ensuring that meetings of the Board and meetings of the members follow some form of parliamentary procedure and adhere to the governing documents of the organization. With the recent changes to the federal Canada Not for Profit Corporations Act and similar provincial legislative changes, members now have much greater power to affect the direction of an organization and it is incumbent upon Boards to ensure that proper procedure is observed.

Over the past few years, through my work with numerous sport organizations, I have noticed that while some have a basic understanding of parliamentary procedure, there is a lack of expertise in being able to use the rules to manage meetings - particularly those meetings that have contentious agenda items. Parliamentary procedure and the rules of the organization, when properly applied, can help to ensure that issues are discussed and decided in a fair and equitable manner.

Recently, my colleague Dina Bell-Laroche and I have been working with Wrestling Canada Lutte’s Board of Directors on a governance modernization project focussed on supporting the Board to enhance its performance as it moves towards being a policy-based board. This first-of-its-kind ground breaking project includes facilitated discussions to develop a set of good governance principles that the Board commits to upholding in all of its work, Parliamentarian support for drafting agendas and chairing meetings, and an enhanced communication strategy between the Board and WCL members and stakeholders.

“The Board of Wrestling Canada Lutte has undertaken a governance modernization project to enhance its performance over the coming year. A key part of this project has been working with Kathy as a Parliamentarian during Board meetings and at our Annual Meeting to learn how to effectively use parliamentary procedure to ensure our discussions are focused and productive.  We have seen immediate benefits from this coaching and have been able to streamline our agendas and meetings that has enabled directors and members to have meaningful discussions that are moving our organization forward.”

Tamara Medwidsky, Executive Director, Wrestling Canada Lutte

Using an independent Parliamentarian during meetings ensures a degree of neutrality during sticky discussions, allows for teaching moments during meetings as different procedural rules and terminology are implemented, ensures that the relevant legislation is followed, and confirms that the organization’s Bylaws and rules are being correctly interpreted and upheld.

If you would like more information on how a Parliamentarian could benefit your organization, please contact me at KEH@sportlaw.ca or Steve Indig at SJI@sportlaw.ca.

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