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Institutions and ProcessPeopleEventsCanada's Digital Collection Home > Institutions and Process > Making Policy > Regular Proceedings > Bills > Filibuster

How a Filibuster Works

The filibuster is a tactic opposition members use to delay a government Bill if they object to it particularly strongly. The word comes from the Spanish filibustero, meaning "freebooter". In the 17th century a filibustero could be one of the pirates who invaded the West Indies, and in the mid-19th century, he could be an American adventurer trying to start a revolution in Cuba or Nicaragua. But in spite of this romantic beginning, the word "filibuster" now usually means delaying tactics in an Assembly, a definition that was first recorded in the United States in 1882.

Under the current rules of debate, members may speak only once at each stage of the debate to the Bill and to every amendment and subamendment (amendment to the amendment). At second reading, debate is limited to a discussion of the overall principle, so the possibilities for amendment are very limited. 

At the next stage, Committee of the Whole, the members study the Bill clause by clause, and members can propose an amendment for every clause as well as several subamendments.  If members delay the Bill at this stage, the Assembly could theoretically debate the clauses and amendments and subamendments until the government's term in office expires and an election is called. But the chances of that happening are remote, because the governing party can counter the filibuster through a measure called time allocation, in which the government moves a motion to set a limit on the time for debate. Both filibuster and closure are used sparingly.

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Reproduced from the Teacher's Guide to the Alberta Legislature, 1993 with permission from the Legislative Assembly Office. 
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