The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers
The Speaker of the House of Commons is elected by fellow members of Parliament to preside over proceedings of the House and interpret its rules impartially, to maintain order and decorum in the chamber and defend the rights and privileges of its members. The Speaker also oversees the House of Commons administration and is the spokesperson and representative of the House.
The Speaker is responsible for regulating debate and preserving order in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the written rules of the House, and for deciding any matters of procedure that may arise. In overseeing the proceedings of the House, the Speaker must seek to maintain a balance to allow the majority to conduct business in an orderly manner and to protect the right of the minority to be heard. He or she also ensures that the rights of individual members—such as free speech, exemption from jury duty, and freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation and molestation—and of the House as an institution—such as the right to regulate its own affairs and the right to institute inquiries and to call witnesses and demand papers—are fully protected and exercised.
In considering a procedural issue, the Speaker may invite members to present their comments and may, on occasion, seek the advice of the Clerk of the House on the matter. In making a ruling, the Speaker draws on a full range of procedural information, including precedents, to determine how the Standing Orders have been applied and interpreted in the past. The Speaker may also make a statement to communicate information or clarification to members of the House.
The Speaker must always show, and be seen to show, the impartiality required to maintain the trust and goodwill of the House; he or she does not vote except in the case of a tie. The actions of the Speaker may not be criticized in debate or by any means except by way of a motion put before the House. As well, the Standing Orders prohibit debate on decisions of the Speaker and the appeal of Speaker’s decisions to the House. For more information on the Speaker’s procedural role during Question Period see the Our Procedure article about questions.
As the head of the House administration, the Speaker is responsible for its overall direction and management. Many of the administrative duties of the Speaker are performed by the Clerk of the House under the direction of the Speaker and pertain to the provision of support to members of Parliament—both individually and collectively—in their parliamentary roles and to the House itself as an institution. The Speaker chairs the Board of Internal Economy, the governing body of the House of Commons.
The Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons jointly oversee matters of security and policing within the parliamentary precinct. Outside police forces wishing to enter the Parliament buildings must first obtain the authorization from the Speaker to do so.
As the chief administrator of the House, the Speaker oversees the dealings of the House with all federal government departments in matters of administration. This function is mainly carried out by officials of the House under the Speaker’s authority.
The Speaker represents the House of Commons in all its powers and proceedings and is the guardian of its rights and privileges. He or she represents the House in its relations with the Senate, the Crown and other bodies outside Parliament.
The Speaker performs several traditional and ceremonial duties, such as the procession to the Senate chamber when the House is summoned to attend the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the opening of a Parliament and at the opening of a session or for a ceremony for the granting of royal assent, and the Speaker’s parade that precedes the opening of a sitting of the House.
The Speaker also fulfills diplomatic obligations such as maintaining relations with provincial and territorial legislatures and foreign parliaments, and authorizing and overseeing, together with the Speaker of the Senate, parliamentary exchanges and cooperation programs with other parliaments.
All communications addressed to the House of Commons are conveyed to it through the Speaker.
Election of the Speaker of the House
The Constitution Act, 1867 requires the election of the Speaker at the beginning of a Parliament and again at any time a vacancy occurs. At the beginning of a new Parliament, the Speech from the Throne is read only after the Speaker has been elected. No other business can come before the House until the election has taken place and the Speaker has taken the chair.
The process for the election of the Speaker is laid out in the Standing Orders. The vote, which is presided over by the dean of the House—the member with the longest unbroken record of service—is conducted by preferential secret ballot using voting booths placed on the table in front of the Speaker’s chair. Once the votes are tallied and one of the candidates obtains an absolute majority of the votes, the name of the successful candidate is announced to the House.
Once elected, the Speaker is escorted by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to take the chair and thanks the members for electing him or her. The House then suspends or adjourns until the time fixed for the formal opening of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne.
Under the preferential ballot system, members who wish to vote for a candidate for Speaker rank the candidates listed on the ballot by writing the number one (1) next to their first choice, the number two (2) next to their second choice, and so on until they have completed the ranking of any candidates they wish to vote for. Members are not required to rank all candidates on the ballot.
The ballots are then tallied by the Clerk of the House. Vote counts are initially distributed based on each member’s first choice. If a candidate for Speaker receives more than half of the votes cast, the member presiding over the election shall announce the name of the successful candidate to the House. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. (If two or more candidates are tied with the fewest number of votes, they are all eliminated.)
Ballots assigned to the eliminated candidate(s) are recounted and added to the totals of the remaining candidates based on the next preference indicated on each ballot. This process is repeated until one candidate obtains an absolute majority of the votes, at which time the name of the successful candidate is announced to the House.
If, after all other candidates have been eliminated, two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the Clerk of the House prepares new ballots with only the names of the remaining candidates, in alphabetical order. The voting and counting process described above is repeated until a candidate obtains more than half of the votes cast.
The House appoints a Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole at the start of every Parliament or at any time a vacancy occurs.
After consultation with the leaders of each of the officially recognized parties, the Speaker announces to the House the name of a member they consider to be qualified for the position. The motion is deemed to have been moved and seconded, and the question is put to the House without debate or amendment.
The Deputy Speaker replaces the Speaker in his or her absence. Every action of the Deputy Speaker when acting in the Speaker’s place has the same effect and validity as if the Speaker had acted. The Deputy Speaker also takes the chair when the House sits as a committee of the whole, is a member of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees and may, on occasion, chair legislative committees or act in place of the Speaker to appoint members to chair legislative committees. The Deputy Speaker may be asked to serve on the Board of Internal Economy.
Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and
Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole
At the beginning of every session, or at any time a vacancy occurs, the House appoints, by motion, following the same process used to select the Deputy Speaker, two other chair occupants: an Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and an Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. Either of them may take the chair when the House sits as a committee of the whole in the absence of the Deputy Speaker. They may also replace the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker during House sittings.
These two presiding officers also serve as members of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees, and thus may be appointed by the Speaker to chair legislative committees.
For more information:
- House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, 2017
- Standing Orders of the House of Commons
- Speaker of the House of Commons, House of Commons website
- Selected Decisions of Speakers of the House of Commons, House of Commons website