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Speaker-Procedural Role

The House devises its own rules, develops its own practices, and is master of its own proceedings. The Office of the Speaker derives its authority from the House, and the holder of the Office is its representative and authoritative counsellor in all matters of form and procedure. The Speaker’s authority and responsibilities as Presiding Officer in the House of Commons flow in large part from the Constitution Act, 1867 and from the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

Duties and Authority

In overseeing the proceedings of the House, the Speaker must seek to maintain the balance between two fundamental operating principles of Parliament: to allow the majority to conduct business in an orderly manner and to protect the right of the minority to be heard.

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution. The Speaker’s duties include:

Freedom of speech is one of the most important privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament. This freedom is circumscribed, however, by the necessity to maintain order and decorum when debate is taking place. Thus, the right to speak is tempered by the written rules of the House, which are, in general, limitations on what may be said, when, by whom and for how long.

The Speaker is charged with ensuring that the rules of the House are followed. The Speaker’s disciplinary powers ensure that the debate is focused and that Members’ rights to free speech are in balance with civil and respectful discourse.

The Speaker has a duty to preserve order and decorum in the House and to decide any matters of procedure that may arise. When a decision on a matter of procedure or a point of order is reached, the Standing Orders require that the Speaker identify which Standing Order or authority is being applied to the case. Once the Speaker has ruled, the matter is no longer open to debate or discussion.

The authority of the Speaker to maintain order and decorum extends to such matters as:

In considering a procedural issue, the Speaker may invite Members to present their comments and/or may seek the advice of the Clerk of the House. Depending on the circumstances and the issue, the Speaker may hear representations on a procedural issue and then reserve his or her ruling in order to reflect on the matter, to carry out research, or to seek further advice or information.

The Speaker rules on points of order and questions of privilege as they occur. Prior to 1965, the rulings of Speakers were subject to an appeal and could be overturned by the House; since then, Members have not been allowed to question a decision of the Chair.

In making a ruling, the Speaker draws on a full range of procedural information and examines the precedents to determine how the Standing Orders have been applied and interpreted in the past.

Sanctions

The Speaker is empowered to call a Member to order if the Member’s conduct is disruptive or if the Member persists in repeating an argument already made in the course of debate, or in addressing a subject that is not relevant to the question before the House.

If the Speaker has found it necessary to intervene in order to call a Member to order, he or she may then choose to recognize another Member, thus declining to give the floor back to the offending Member.

The strongest sanction available to the Speaker for maintaining order in the House is “naming”. If a Member refuses to behave in a way consistent with the rules and practices of the House and persistently disregards the authority of the Chair, the Speaker can address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title, as is the usual practice, and, without putting the question to a vote, order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day. Any further sanction must be initiated and agreed to by the House itself.

Impartiality

In order to protect the impartiality of the office, the Speaker abstains from all partisan political activity (for example, by not attending caucus meetings), does not participate in debate, and will vote only in the case of a tie, invoking what is normally referred to as the “casting vote” of the Chair.

Specific Responsibilities

The Speaker has specific responsibilities with respect to:

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