Powers of the Chair to Enforce Order and Decorum

While the House is the master of its own proceedings and the Speaker its servant, the Speaker has extensive powers to enforce rules of debate and maintain order so that the House can protect itself from excesses and conduct its business in an orderly fashion. The Standing Orders state explicitly that the Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and decide questions of order.335 The preservation of order and decorum has been a duty of the Speaker since 1867, but the task was never more difficult than during the early years of Confederation. Speakers at that time were regularly confronted with rude and disorderly conduct which they were unable to control. The throwing of paper,336 books,337 and other projectiles, including firecrackers in one case,338 combined with the noises Members made imitating cats,339 making music340 and generally being loud, made for a very riotous assembly.341 The early 20th century House was calmer and more austere, although in 1913, during the debate on the Naval Aid Act, disorder in the Chamber grew to a point almost beyond control.342 Subsequent occasions of turbulence were infrequent and usually occurred in connection with the imposition of closure.343 It was not until 1956 during the Pipeline Debate that the Speaker again had great difficulty preserving order.344 The 1960s, with a succession of minority governments, and the late 1970s, with the introduction of televised sittings, also proved to be challenging. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Speakers Jerome, Sauvé, Francis and Bosley all had to contend with scores of language breaches and other violations of order and decorum.345 During the late 1980s and the 1990s, both Speakers Fraser and Parent were also obliged to deal with a number of incidents of disruptive behaviour.346

During the minority Parliaments of the following decade, the decline in decorum continued to the extent that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was asked to consider recommending changes to the Standing Orders in order to strengthen the disciplinary powers of the Chair. While admitting that “drastic options” might prove necessary in the future, the Committee recommended that the parties assist and support the Speaker in maintaining decorum and encouraged the exercise of “the full extent of [the Speaker’s] disciplinary powers”.347

Accepted conventions of parliamentary conduct and respect for the authority of the Chair are normally sufficient to permit order and decorum to be maintained during debate and other proceedings. However, if a rule of debate is being breached,348 the Speaker will intervene directly to address a Member or the House in general and to call to order any Member whose conduct is disruptive.349 The Speaker’s declarations on disorderly or indecorous conduct are typically made quickly before any discussion takes place.

Members rarely defy the Speaker’s authority or risk evoking the Chair’s disciplinary powers. If a Member challenges the authority of the Chair by refusing to obey the Speaker’s call to order, to withdraw unparliamentary language, to cease irrelevance or repetition, or to stop interrupting a Member who is addressing the House, the Chair has recourse to a number of options. The Speaker may recognize another Member,350 or refuse to recognize the Member until the offending remarks are retracted and the Member apologizes.351 As a last resort, the Chair may “name” a Member, the most severe disciplinary power at the Speaker’s disposal.


“Naming” is the term used to designate a disciplinary measure invoked against a Member who persistently disregards the authority of the Chair. If a Member refuses to heed the Speaker’s requests to bring his or her behaviour into line with the rules and practices of the House, the Speaker has the authority to name the Member, that is, to address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title as is the usual practice, and to order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day.352 The Speaker may also let the House take any supplementary disciplinary action it may choose. In either case, naming is a coercive measure of last resort.

Historical Perspective

The British practice of naming Members applied in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation and in the House of Commons after Confederation until 1927.353 Although there were instances of naming before Confederation,354 from 1867 until 1927 there was only one case. In 1913, Speaker Sproule, who had taken the Chair to quell disorder in a Committee of the Whole, cited a British rule and named Mr. Clark (Red Deer) for “disregarding the authority of the Chair and flagrantly violating the rules of the House”.355 After the Member was named, he apologized to the House, which found his explanation satisfactory. No motion to suspend him was proposed.356 Still, in the 60-year interval between Confederation and 1927, there were other times when the Speaker, facing Members unwilling to respect the Chair’s calls to order, might have resorted to naming but did not.357

When the naming sanction was codified in the 1927 Standing Orders,358 it referred simply to the Speaker’s power to name a Member who engaged in persistent irrelevance or repetition;359 no reference was made to naming a Member for refusing to retract unparliamentary language or for disregarding the authority of the Chair. Furthermore, the Standing Orders did not specify the procedure to be followed after a Member had been named.360 It was not until 15 years later, in 1942, that the first incident of naming occurred under the amended Standing Orders. In this case, after Speaker Glen had named Mr. Lacombe (Laval—Two Mountains), the Minister of Finance immediately moved a motion to suspend Mr. Lacombe. The motion carried easily.361 Thus, the practice developed that, after being named by the Speaker, a Minister, usually the Government House Leader, would move a motion to suspend the Member, typically for the remainder of the day’s sitting. Subsequent naming incidents occurred in 1944, 1956, 1961, 1962 (twice) and 1964.362

Beginning in 1978, after television cameras had been introduced in the Chamber, the frequency of naming increased dramatically.363 Possibly even more significant than the rise in the number of namings was the fact that the House appeared increasingly willing to divide on the subsequent motion to suspend the offending Member. This placed the Speaker in a potentially vulnerable position in that, after naming a Member, it was up to a Minister (usually the Government House Leader) to move a motion to suspend the Member, and since the motion was votable, it could be defeated. Thus, the authority of the Speaker depended in each case of naming on the initial support of the government to move the motion and on the subsequent support of the House to adopt it.364

In 1985, as the number of naming incidents continued to increase, the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee) addressed the question of “whether the disciplinary powers of the Chair should be clarified and strengthened”.365 The Committee’s final report recommended “that the Speaker be empowered to order the withdrawal of a member for the remainder of a sitting … [and] that the proceedings consequent upon the naming of a member be set out in the Standing Orders”.366 In February 1986, the government tabled proposed amendments to the Standing Orders that went beyond the recommendation of the Committee to include measures that would allow the Speaker, on ordering the withdrawal of a Member for the second or any subsequent occasion during a session, to suspend the Member for a period of five days without resort to motion.367 During debate on the motion to adopt these new provisions, Members expressed strong support for the concept of granting the Speaker authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for one sitting, but were equally hesitant to extend such power further, preferring to leave subsequent punishments in the hands of the House itself.368 In February 1986, the House agreed to certain amendments to the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, and they came into effect that same month.369 The rule changes left untouched the Standing Order that had existed since 1927370 but added a new Standing Order granting the Speaker the authority to order the withdrawal of a Member for the remainder of the sitting.371 Although the original method of naming, followed by a votable motion to suspend the Member for a specified period of time, has not been resorted to since October 1985,372 it remains a practice which can still be referred to by the Speaker or invoked by the House.

The Process of Naming

The Speaker typically calls upon a Member who has transgressed the established standards of decorum to retract the offending words or otherwise apologize without qualification. Should the Member hesitate or refuse to comply, the Speaker normally repeats the request, often with a warning that the persistent disregard will result in the Member being named. Such exchanges may continue at the Speaker’s discretion, but once it is clear that the Member will not comply, the Speaker names the Member and orders his or her withdrawal for the remainder of the sitting day. In naming a Member, the Speaker will say:

(Name of Member), it is my duty to name you for disregarding the authority of the Chair, and to direct your withdrawal from the House for the remainder of the sitting.

The named Member is not barred from committees or from the parliamentary precinct; however, greater penalties are possible. In some circumstances, after naming a Member but before ordering the Member’s withdrawal from the House, the Speaker may wish the House to decide what disciplinary action to take against a Member. This option involves a motion, usually proposed by the Government House Leader, to suspend the Member named from the service of the House for a specified period of time. Such a motion is neither debatable nor amendable. It imposes a greater penalty since suspension from the service of the House bars the Member not only from attendance in the Chamber but also from participation in the work of committees, and the proposed suspension may exceed the remainder of the sitting. Notices standing in the name of the suspended Member are removed from the Notice Paper for each day of the Member’s suspension.373 The Speaker may also order the Sergeant-at-Arms to take the necessary steps to remove a Member who refuses to leave the Chamber after having been ordered to withdraw.374

During debate in a Committee of the Whole, if a Member refuses to obey the warning of the Chair to discontinue his or her unparliamentary behaviour, the Chair of the Committee may rise and report the conduct of the Member to the Speaker. The Chair may do this on his or her own initiative without recourse to a motion from the Committee.375 The Speaker will deal with the matter as though it had occurred in the House.376