Party Whip (Canada)

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In Canada the Party Whip is the member of a political party in the Canadian House of Commons, the Canadian Senate or a provincial legislature charged with ensuring party discipline among members of the caucus. The whip is also responsible for assigning offices and scheduling speakers from his or her party for various bills, motions and other proceedings in the House.


The party whip works to ensure that the number of MPs in the House or at committee meetings is adequate to win a vote if one is called. When a vote is called in the House, division bells ring until the whips for each party are satisfied that there are sufficient numbers of members of their own party present for the vote to proceed.

The whip's role is especially important when there is a minority government or if the government has a slim majority, as the absence of a handful of MPs during a confidence vote can result in the defeat of the government. Party discipline is strict in Canada and MPs are expected to vote with the rest of their party in all but designated free votes.

Categories of whip[edit]

In Canada, as in the United Kingdom and other countries using the Westminster system, there are three categories of whip that are issued on particular bills. These whips are issued to MPs in the form of a letter outlining Parliamentary schedule, with the sentence "Your attendance is absolutely essential" next to each debate in which there will be a vote, underlined one, two or three times according to the severity of the whip:

  • A Single Line Whip is a guide to what the party's policy would indicate, and notification of when the vote is expected to take place; this is non-binding for attendance or voting.
  • A Two Line Whip, sometimes known as double line whip, is an instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, but without sanction; partially binding for voting, attendance required unless prior permission given by the whip.
  • A Three Line Whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote in a particular way, breach of which could have serious consequences; binding for both attendance and voting. Non-attendance permission can be given by the whip but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances and may lead to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply. The nature of three line whips and the potential punishments for revolt varies dramatically among parties and legislatures.

Use in Canadian government[edit]

James E. Walker, Chief Government Whip from 1963 to 1966, commented: "Once you get beyond the taxicab radius of Ottawa, nobody seems to have heard of a Whip. For that matter, nobody in Ottawa, three blocks from the Hill, has ever heard of the Whip either!"[1]

The position of Chief Government Whip is not a cabinet-level office, however, the Whip may receive a concurrent appointment such as minister without portfolio or Minister of State and sit in cabinet by virtue of that position.

For a time, the Reform Party of Canada publicly styled their parliamentary whip with the title of "Caucus Coordinator" rather than Whip.

Current Whips[edit]


House of Commons[edit]


  1. ^ James E. Walker, "The Functions of the Whip in Canada", Parliamentarian, Vol. 52, No. 4 (October 1971), p. 260.

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