Other Presiding Officers
At Confederation, the constitutional responsibility of the Speaker to “preside at all meetings” of the House281 was fulfilled by the Speaker alone, as there were no provisions allowing another Member to take the Chair.282 After just a few months, the First Parliament passed an Act which allowed the Speaker to choose any Member to occupy the Chair in the Speaker’s absence during the course of a sitting.283 When the House formed itself into a Committee of the Whole, the Speaker had the authority to select a Member to act as Chairman.284 Many Members were called upon to fulfill this task.285 There could be no guarantee that Members selected ad hoc to preside over the House or a Committee of the Whole would be conversant with the rules or able to arrive at a satisfactory resolution of questions of order. There were no set adjournment times for the daily sittings and the House typically sat late into the evening. All this tended to add to the burden of responsibility carried by the Speaker.
In 1885, having cited the British practice as an example to follow, the Prime Minister put forward the proposition that the House would be better served if the positions of Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole were divided into two offices so that a permanent Chairmanship of Committees of the Whole would be established. The salaried incumbent could also act as Speaker both at the beginning of and during a sitting when the Speaker was absent.286 The Speaker would retain the right to call any Member to take the Chair temporarily during a sitting and would still be obliged, in the absence of the Chairman, to select another Member to chair any Committee of the Whole. The House was not entirely convinced of the need;287 nevertheless, the Prime Minister pursued the matter. After debate, rules were adopted providing for a Chairman of Committees of the Whole to hold office for the duration of a Parliament288 and later that year, a bill was passed enabling the Chairman to act as Speaker in the Speaker’s absence.289 The provisions of that Act are now found in the Parliament of Canada Act and were the basis for subsequent changes in the Standing Orders, which vested in the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole all the legal powers of the Speaker when the Speaker is absent from the House.
In the years that followed, it became accepted practice for the Deputy Speaker, on occasion, to delegate the powers of Chairman to other Members.290 In 1938, when it was foreseen that the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole would be absent from the House for a period of time, the House adopted an amendment to the rules to provide for the selection of a Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole who would have all the powers of the Chairman.291 The rule codified the power of the Chairman to open a sitting of the House in the Speaker’s absence, a power that until then had not been shared.292 It was suggested that the new position not be permanent but be filled only as required;293 the rule provided for the office of Deputy Chairman to be filled on a sessional basis or as the need arose. After the initial appointment for a single session in 1938, the post was left vacant for nine years and not filled until 1947.294 From 1947 to 1953, subsequent appointments were made as the need arose.295 When nominating a Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole in 1953, the Prime Minister referred to the appointment as “completing the organization of the personnel of the House”296 and thereafter the practice of selecting a Deputy Chairman for the duration of each session was established.
As the work of the House and the length of its sessions continued to increase, the House identified a need for the services of an additional Presiding Officer. The position of Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole was created in 1967, through an amendment to the rules pursuant to the recommendation of a special committee on procedure.297 Again, the rule enabled the incumbent to exercise all the powers of the Chairman of Committees of the Whole, including those of Deputy Speaker, during the Speaker’s absence. There was no suggestion that the position should be temporary and, since 1971, it has routinely been filled.298
The written rules on other Presiding Officers have evolved slowly over the years. In 1906, the rule obliging the Speaker to appoint a Member to preside at any Committee of the Whole (“shall appoint”) was relaxed so as to remove the element of obligation (“may appoint”).299 In 1927, the term “Deputy Speaker”, which had for some time been in common use among Members in referring to the Chairman of Committees of the Whole, began to be used in the written rules.300 The original rules governing the selection of the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole explicitly required the selection to take place at the start of each Parliament, after the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne had been agreed to. However, this rule was not always adhered to301 and in 1955, it was amended so that the selection could be made early in a new Parliament, regardless of whether or not the Address had yet been agreed to.302 In 1968, a reference to its British antecedents was dropped from the rule providing for the appointment of the Deputy Speaker.303 In 2004, the rules governing the appointment of the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole and of the Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole were extensively amended. Since that time, the Prime Minister no longer proposes the candidates; this is done by the Speaker, after consultations with the leaders of all recognized parties. In addition, the motions for appointment are no longer subject to debate or amendment.304 In 2015, the title “Assistant Deputy Speaker” was added to those of Deputy Chair, as well as Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.305 This change took effect at the beginning of the Forty-Second Parliament.
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, or in the terms of the Parliament of Canada Act:
Every act done and warrant, order or other document issued, signed or published by a Deputy Speaker … that relates to any proceedings of the House of Commons or that, under any statute, would be done, issued, signed or published by the Speaker, if then able to act, has the same effect and validity as if it had been done, issued, signed or published by the Speaker.306
The Parliament of Canada Act provides that when the Speaker’s unavoidable absence is announced to the House by the Clerk at the start of a sitting,307 the Deputy Speaker takes the Chair. If the Speaker is still absent at the start of the next sitting, the Deputy Speaker again assumes the Speaker’s role and may continue to do so from day to day until the Speaker’s return. If the House should adjourn for longer than 24 hours, the Deputy Speaker can continue to act as Speaker only for 24 hours from the time of adjournment.308
From time to time the Speaker has been absent at the beginning of a sitting; more rarely, the Speaker has been absent over several consecutive sittings.309 In the absence of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole or the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole open the sitting of the House.310 In such cases, they are entitled to exercise all the powers vested in the Deputy Speaker during the Speaker’s absence.311
The primary roles of the Deputy Speaker and the other Presiding Officers are to occupy the Chair in the Chamber in lieu of the Speaker when the latter is unavailable or occupied with other duties, to take the Chair when the House sits as a Committee of the Whole and on occasion to preside over legislative or special committees. In addition, the Deputy Speaker has certain administrative responsibilities.
In the House, the Speaker is generally in the Chair at specific times: at the opening of the sitting and during Members’ Statements, Oral Questions, Routine Proceedings and recorded divisions. The remaining time in the Chair is shared by the Deputy Speaker and the other Presiding Officers.312 On occasion, the Speaker or one of the other Presiding Officers may choose another Member to replace them for a short period.313
When the House forms itself into a Committee of the Whole, it is the duty of the Chair of Committees of the Whole to take the Chair if present in his or her place in the House.314 The fact that the rules now provide for the selection of a Deputy and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole does not, in theory, affect the Speaker’s ability to appoint another Member to preside in the absence of the Deputy Speaker.315 However, in keeping with the practice established at the turn of the 20th century, the task of filling the acting chairmanship typically falls upon the Member acting as Speaker at the time.316 It has rarely been necessary for the Speaker to call upon another Member.
The Deputy Speaker, along with the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, is a member of the Panel of Chairs for legislative committees and may thus be appointed by the Speaker to chair a legislative committee or to act in place of the Speaker to appoint Members to chair legislative committees.317 On three occasions, the House adopted a special order establishing a special committee to be chaired by the Deputy Speaker.318
While the Standing Orders provide for the Speaker’s impartiality and independence by prohibiting participation in any debate before the House,321 there is no such clear statement as to whether the Deputy Speaker and other Presiding Officers should take part in debate. Until the 1930s, it was not unusual for Deputy Speakers to participate actively in debate322 and there has been controversy from time to time over the extent to which the Chair Occupants, other than the Speaker, should remain aloof from partisan politics.323
In 1931, when a question arose as to the propriety of the Deputy Speaker speaking in debate, it was generally felt that the actions of the Deputy Speaker must be governed by “good taste and judgement”.324 Since then, and in the absence of any rule or guideline governing the political activities of Presiding Officers of the House or limiting their participation in debate or voting, the degree of participation has been an individual decision. In 1993, Deputy Speaker Champagne agreed to act as co-chair of her party’s leadership convention. A question of privilege was raised in the House by a Member who argued that this decision affected the appearance of impartiality attached to the office of Deputy Speaker and that she was therefore guilty of a contempt of the House. Speaker Fraser ruled that, given the existing practice and the absence of clear direction from the House, Deputy Speakers have used varying degrees of discretion in terms of their party involvement. He clarified that they remain members of their political parties, and unlike the Speaker, may attend caucus meetings, participate in debate and vote. The Speaker ruled that the Deputy Speaker is not “cloaked with the same exigencies that are expected of the Speaker” and that the matter did not constitute a prima facie case of privilege.325
The Deputy Speaker and other Presiding Officers generally avoid taking part in debate, but do for the most part maintain their right to vote when not presiding over the House.326 In 1985, when the Assistant Deputy Chairman participated in debate on a bill before the House, an objection was raised.327 In 1999 and 2007, however, the Deputy Chair participated in the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne without objection.328 Presiding Officers have presented petitions329 and made Members’ Statements330 and no objection has been made. On occasion, a Presiding Officer has taken the opportunity to offer a comment from the Chair, and again no objection was made.331 In general, occupants of the Chair have not sponsored or pursued private Members’ bills or motions,332 or placed written questions on the Order Paper.333
Method of Selection
The rules of the House provide for the selection of the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole.334 The Deputy Speaker is selected at the start of every Parliament and holds office for the duration of the Parliament. The selection generally occurs after the Speaker’s report to the House on the Speech from the Throne, at the opening of the first session.335 Until 2004, a Member, usually the Prime Minister,336 moved a motion proposing that a certain Member assume the office of Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole House. With a few exceptions, the proposed Member has been from the government side of the House337 and the motion has been seconded by a government Member.338 In 2004, the Standing Orders were amended such that the Speaker, after consultation with the leaders of the officially recognized parties, announces the name of the Member he or she has selected for the position. A motion for that Member’s election is deemed to have been moved and the question is put immediately without debate or amendment.339
The rules continue to require that the Deputy Speaker be fluent in the official language which is not that of the Speaker “for the time being”.340 The candidates proposed have rarely met with opposition.341 Since 2004, the Deputy Speaker has been appointed from one of the recognized parties in the House other than that of the Speaker.342
The rules provide similarly for the selection of Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole for a session.343 Until the amendment of the Standing Orders in 2004, the appointments were made at the start of each session, or from time to time as necessary, by means of a motion moved and seconded by Members from the government side of the House.344 In some cases, adoption of the motion was preceded by debate and a recorded division.345 Since 2004, the procedures for this selection mirror those for the selection of a Deputy Speaker.
With just four exceptions, the Members selected to the offices of Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole have come from the government benches.346
The selection of a Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole is effective for the life of the Parliament; in the event of a vacancy in the office “by death, resignation, or otherwise”, the House is required to proceed “forthwith” to the selection of a successor.347
Vacancies in the office of Deputy Speaker have occurred between sessions as well as during a session. Vacancies have occurred four times between sessions (1889, 1914, 1959 and 1961), when Members who were occupying the Chair as Deputy Speaker were appointed to Cabinet positions. Charles Carroll Colby and Pierre-Édouard Blondin were appointed to Cabinet in 1889 and 1914, respectively. As was the law at the time, they resigned their seats as Members, thus vacating the office of Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole.348 Each was re-elected in by-elections between sessions and in each case, on the first day of the new session, the Speaker informed the House of the vacancy in representation and then announced the certificate of election and return of the Member.349 On the fourth and third sitting day of the new session, respectively, a new Deputy Speaker was selected;350 in accordance with the rules in effect at the time, the selection could not take place until after the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne had been agreed to.351 Pierre Sévigny and Jacques Flynn were appointed to Cabinet in 1959 and 1961, respectively. In each case, on the first day of the new session, following the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister informed the House of changes to the Cabinet and then moved a motion to appoint a Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole.352 In none of the foregoing cases do the official publications mention a resignation or letter of resignation communicated to the House by the Speaker.
There have also been vacancies during a session (in 1935, 1952, 1970, 1984, 1990 and 2012). The death of Armand LaVergne in 1935 is the only instance of the death of a Deputy Speaker while in office.353 A successor was chosen four sitting days after news of his death was brought to the House.354 J.A. Dion was appointed a judge in 1952 and resigned as a Member, thus creating a vacancy in the Deputy Speakership.355 Hugh Faulkner was appointed a Parliamentary Secretary in 1970, and his resignation was communicated to the House by the Speaker.356 Lloyd Francis, selected as Deputy Speaker at the opening of the Thirty-Second Parliament in 1980,357 vacated that office by virtue of his election to the Speakership following the resignation of Speaker Sauvé in the Second Session of that Parliament.358 Denise Savoie, selected as Deputy Speaker at the opening of the Forty-First Parliament, vacated the office by virtue of resigning her seat in the House of Commons. In the latter four cases, the new Deputy Speaker was selected on the day on which the House was informed of the change in status of the Members. A less typical case is that of Deputy Speaker Marcel Danis, who was appointed to the Cabinet on February 23, 1990. Following his Cabinet appointment, he did not preside over the House, but remained in office as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole until May 15, 1990, when his official resignation was communicated to the House and a new Deputy Speaker was elected.359
The offices of Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole may be filled “at the commencement of every session, or from time to time as necessity may arise”.360 Thus, a vacancy during a session would not necessarily be filled immediately, or at all. For example, after the initial appointment of a Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole for a single session in 1938, the post was left vacant until 1947.361 In December 1967, the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole, Maurice Rinfret, died and the position remained vacant for the balance of the session. However, since 1974 (First Session, Thirtieth Parliament), the House has operated with the full complement of Presiding Officers as the statutes and rules provide, and current practice has been that when such vacancies arise, they are filled without undue delay.362
Vacancies during a session in the offices of Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair and Assistant Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Chair have occurred for various reasons. In more than one case, a Member serving as Deputy Chair or Assistant Deputy Chair was appointed to fill a vacancy among the other Presiding Officers,363 or accepted an appointment of another kind.364 In 1961, the Prime Minister informed the House that the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole wished to be replaced due to illness and immediately moved a motion naming a successor.365 In 1996, the Deputy Chairman was appointed to the Senate and resigned as a Member, thus vacating the Deputy Chairmanship.366 On other occasions, vacancies have occurred as the result of resignations.367 In some cases where the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole stepped down, the fact of the resignation was announced to the House by the Speaker.368
The selection of a particular individual as Chair, Deputy Chair or Assistant Deputy Chair has been renewed from Parliament to Parliament or from session to session, as the case may be. It has also happened that individuals have moved from one position as Presiding Officer to another, either through filling vacancies during a session or through selection to other positions in a new session of Parliament; however, there is little evidence to suggest that this experience has created a path to the Speakership. Of the 36 Speakers who have occupied the Chair since Confederation, only 10 have had prior experience as Presiding Officers in the House of Commons.369