House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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7. The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House

The Speaker of the House

Historical Perspective

No other office or position is more closely linked to the history of the House of Commons than that of the Speaker. The office dates back at least 600 years, almost to the very beginnings of Parliament itself.

Great Britain

The first Speaker to be so designated was Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1377. [1]  His predecessor, Sir Peter de la Mare, was elected in 1376 and was the first Commons spokesperson known to have been selected by the House membership. [2]  Originally, the Speaker’s principal function was to act as the spokesperson of the House in its dealings with the House of Lords and the Crown. [3]  In an era when the influence and power of the King was great and that of the House still tentative and subordinate, the Speaker was as much an agent of royal interests (seen as “the King’s man”) as a servant of the House. [4]  The year 1642 marked the end of the Crown’s influence over the Speaker, when Charles I, accompanied by an armed escort, crossed the Bar of the House, sat in the Speaker’s chair and demanded the surrender of five parliamentary leaders on a charge of treason. Falling to his knees, Speaker William Lenthall replied with these now famous words which have since defined the Speaker’s role in relation to the House and the Crown:

May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here; and I humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me. [5] 

While Speaker Lenthall’s words heralded the end of the Crown’s influence over the Speakership, it was the beginning of the government’s authority over the Chair. The Speakership then became an appointment much coveted by members of the party in power and used to advance its policies. The House allowed Speakers, who often held government posts, to participate routinely in debate and to set the agenda of the sitting by selecting when and what bills should be considered. However, with his advent to the Chair, Speaker Arthur Onslow (1728-61) loosened the ties to government and established the standards of independence and impartiality which have come to be associated with the office of Speaker. Believing that widespread corruption in government was destroying the dignity of Parliament, he became a strict proceduralist and impartial arbiter of the House’s proceedings. By the mid-1800s and the tenure of Speaker Shaw-Lefevre (1839-57), the principle of Speakers abstaining from all political activity became established. Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the House altered its rules to invest the Speaker with considerable authority to curtail obstruction and disorder, thereby firmly entrenching the tradition of a non-partisan Chair.

It was also during the Speakership of Shaw-Lefevre that the principle of continuity of office began. Upon election, the Speaker renounces all party affiliation and, when seeking re-election to the House, runs as Speaker. No Speaker of the British House of Commons seeking re-election in his or her constituency has been defeated; it has happened that Speakers have faced one or more opponents nominated by other parties. [6]  Upon retirement, the Speaker is appointed to the House of Lords with a pension as compensation for the sacrifice of active partisan political life. [7] 


As in the British parliamentary system, the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons functions as its spokesperson and as the presiding officer of its proceedings. However, the historic position and character of the British and Canadian speakerships are distinctly different.

In Canada, the relationship between the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons was clearly established by the time of Confederation. The Canadian Speaker has not, therefore, been involved in constitutional disputes relating to the role of the Speaker, as took place in Britain over a period of several centuries. The appointment and role of the Speaker were clearly defined in the Constitution Act, 1867 and subsequently in the Parliament of Canada Act and the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. [8] In addition, political parties and party government have always been a part of the Canadian House. The British Commons, on the other hand, saw the development of the system of party government over 150 years of its history, beginning in the late seventeenth century. [9]  By the end of the nineteenth century, it had conferred on its Speaker discretionary powers to overcome determined obstruction by minorities in the House.

In contrast to the established British practice of continuity in the Speakership, the experience in Canada has seen the length of tenure limited normally to one or two Parliaments. [10] The issue of the continuity of the Speakership has often been raised in the House and its committees; [11]  only two of the more than 30 Speakers since Confederation have served more than two Parliaments (i.e., Speaker Lemieux (1922-30) and Speaker Lamoureux (1966-74) each served in three Parliaments). [12] The longest tenure, that of Speaker Lamoureux, lasted nine years.

The Speaker has almost always been elected from among the Members of the governing party, [13]  and although the Speaker eschews partisan political activity, he or she does not make a complete break. Only one Speaker has chosen to sever himself from all party affiliation and to present himself as an independent candidate in general elections. Speaker Lamoureux (1966-74) resigned from the Liberal Party and, as an independent candidate, ran and won in the general elections of 1968 and 1972. In 1968, the Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative Party did not nominate candidates to oppose him; the New Democratic Party had already nominated a candidate prior to his decision to run as an independent. In 1972, both the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party ran candidates against him.

Certain developments in recent years have served to strengthen and enhance the office of Speaker. In 1968, the official Order of Precedence of Canada [14]  was amended to move the Speaker of the House of Commons from tenth position to seventh, immediately after the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Canada, former Governors General, former Prime Ministers and the Speaker of the Senate. [15]  Since the mid-1970s, the salary and allowances attached to the office of Speaker have been comparable to those of a Cabinet Minister. [16]  A long-standing rule providing for appeals to the House from decisions of the Speaker was removed from the Standing Orders in 1965. [17]  Provisional rules, adopted on June 27, 1985, and made permanent in June 1987, provide for the election of the Speaker by secret ballot. [18] 

Governing Provisions

The Constitution Act, 1867 establishes the office of Speaker, the requirement for the election of the Speaker, certain of the Speaker’s duties and the right of the Speaker to vote only in case of a tie, referred to as a “casting vote”. [19] 

The Parliament of Canada Act fixes the Speaker’s salary and enumerates certain administrative responsibilities such as chairing the Board of Internal Economy, the body which is by statute responsible for all matters of financial and administrative policy affecting the House of Commons. [20]  The Act also provides for the Deputy Speaker, or any other Member called upon by the Speaker, to preside over the House during the Speaker’s absence. [21]  The Parliament of Canada Act further provides that following a dissolution of Parliament, the Speaker and the other members of the Board of Internal Economy will remain in office, for administrative purposes, until the opening of the new Parliament. [22] 

A number of other statutes have an impact on the role and responsibilities of the Speaker of the House. For example, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act establishes the Speaker’s role in appointing two members to each provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission, [23]  in tabling the reports of these commissions and in the filing of possible objections. [24]  The Official Languages Act provides that in the event of the absence or incapacity of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Governor in Council may appoint a replacement, following consultation by the Prime Minister with the Speakers of both Houses. [25] 

Certain statutes require the Speaker to receive reports and other documents and to table them in the House. [26] Other statutes, such as the Western Grain Transportation Act, the Emergencies Act, the Energy Administration Act, the Energy Supplies Emergency Act, the Old Age Security Act, the International Development (Financial Institutions) Assistance Act and the Special Economic Measures Act, which provide for Parliament to confirm, revoke or amend instruments of delegated legislation by means of resolutions adopted after debate in the House, also require the Speaker to perform a specific role in this process. [27]

The Standing Orders provide for the Speaker’s duties as presiding officer in the House, and outline further administrative duties, most of which are carried out by the Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms under the direction of the Speaker. [28] 

Procedural Role of the Speaker

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 can accurately be described as its representative and authoritative counsellor in all matters of form and procedure. [29]  The office of the Speaker is to be distinguished from its incumbent, who requires the support and goodwill of the House in order to carry out the duties of the office. The Speaker’s authority and responsibilities as Presiding Officer in the House of Commons flow in large part from the Constitution and from the written rules of the House.

The duties of the Speaker of the House of Commons require balancing the rights and interests of the majority and minority in the House to ensure that the public business is efficiently transacted and that the interests of all parts of the House are advocated and protected against the use of arbitrary authority. [30]  It is in this spirit that the Speaker, as the chief servant of the House, applies the rules. The Speaker is the servant, not of any part of the House or any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.

Despite the considerable authority the Speaker holds, he or she may exercise only those powers conferred by the House, within the limits established by the House itself. In ruling on matters of procedure, the Speaker adheres strictly to this principle, delineating the extent of the Speaker’s authority and in some cases offering a suggestion as to matters which the House may see fit to pursue. [31] 

Guardian of Rights and Privileges

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. [32]  At the opening of each Parliament, the House is summoned to the Senate Chamber and the newly elected Speaker addresses the Crown or its representative and claims for the Commons all its rights and privileges. [33]  The claim holds good for the life of the Parliament and is not repeated in the event of a new Speaker being elected during the course of a Parliament. [34]  Freedom of speech may be the most important of the privileges accorded to Members of Parliament; it has been described as:

… a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents. [35] 

The right to freedom of speech is not absolute; there are restrictions, derived from practice, convention, and the rules agreed to by the House. For example, the Standing Orders provide for time limits on speeches, and according to the sub judice convention, it is accepted that Members will restrict themselves from discussion of matters which are under the consideration of a judge or court. [36] The duty of the Speaker is to ensure that the right of Members to free speech is protected and exercised to the fullest possible extent; this is accomplished in part by ensuring that the rules and practices of the House are applied and that order and decorum are maintained. [37]  Whenever a Member brings to the attention of the House a possible breach of a right or privilege, the responsibility of the Speaker is to determine whether or not prima facie a breach of privilege has occurred. [38]  In practice the Speaker, in hearing an alleged question of privilege, may intervene to remind Members of the Speaker’s role and to request that the Member’s remarks be directed to providing facts to establish the existence of a prima facie case. [39]  At the Speaker’s discretion, other Members may be permitted to participate. Only when the Speaker has ruled the matter to be a prima facie question of privilege is it before the House for its consideration. [40] 

Order and Decorum

As the arbiter of House proceedings, the Speaker’s duty is 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 question of order is reached, the Standing Orders provide that the Speaker identify which Standing Order or authority is being applied to the case. [41] 

Sometimes, a ruling is given quickly and with a minimum of explanation. [42]  At other times, circumstances do not permit an immediate ruling. The Speaker may allow discussion of the point of order before he or she comes to a decision. [43]  The Speaker might also reserve on a matter, returning to the House at a later time to deliver the ruling. [44]  Once the Speaker has ruled, the matter is no longer open to debate or discussion. On some occasions, the Speaker has chosen to amend or clarify a previous ruling. [45] 

The duty to maintain order and decorum in the House [46]  confers on the Speaker a wide-ranging authority extending to such matters as Members’ attire and behaviour in the Chamber, the conduct of House proceedings, the rules of debate, and disruptions on the floor of the House and in the galleries. There are a number of ways in which the Speaker ensures that order and decorum are preserved:

  • The rules governing the conduct of debate empower the Speaker to call a Member to order if the Member persists in repeating an argument already made in the course of debate, or in addressing a subject which is not relevant to the question before the House. [47]  The Speaker may intervene directly to address an individual Member or the House in general; [48]  or, the Speaker may respond to a point of order raised by another Member. [49]  The Speaker can call to order any Member whose conduct is disruptive to the order of the House. For example, if it is a question of unparliamentary language, the Speaker requests an unequivocal withdrawal of the word or expression. [50] 
  • 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. [51]  On occasion, a Member who is called to order by the Speaker may not immediately comply with the Speaker’s instructions; in such a case, the Speaker has given the Member time to reflect on his or her position and upon the duty of the Chair, exercising in the meantime the prerogative of the Chair not to “see” the Member if he or she should rise to be recognized. [52] 
  • The strongest sanction available to the Speaker for maintaining order in the House is “naming”, a disciplinary measure invoked against a Member who persistently disregards the authority of the Chair. [53]  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 that Member (i.e., address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title, as is the usual practice) and, without putting the question to the House, order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day. [54]  During debate in a Committee of the Whole House, if a Member persists in disorderly conduct and refuses to obey the warning of the Chair to discontinue his or her unparliamentary behaviour, the Chair of the Committee rises and reports 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. [55]  The Speaker will then follow the procedure for naming the Member. [56] The power to name a Member extends to the Deputy Speaker and Acting Speaker. [57] 
  • Another means of preserving order in the Chamber is the Speaker’s discretionary power to order the withdrawal of strangers: [58]  that is, anyone who is not a Member or an official of the House of Commons (e.g., Senators, diplomats, government officials, journalists or members of the general public). This has been used to clear the galleries of individuals whose presence has been a cause of disruption. [59]  From time to time, the Speaker has also seen fit to remind spectators in the galleries of the expected standard of behaviour. [60]  In addition, the rules provide that, should a Member take note of the presence of strangers (or should the House wish to proceed in camera [61]), the Speaker may put the question “That strangers be ordered to withdraw”. [62]  This motion is not debatable or amendable, and if decided in the affirmative, the Speaker — with the help of the Sergeant-at-Arms, if necessary — then ensures that the galleries are cleared. [63] 

No Appeals

The present Standing Orders prohibit any debate on decisions of the Speaker and prohibit any appeal of a decision to the House. [64]  From Confederation until 1965, however, it was possible for any Member who disagreed with a Speaker’s decision on a question of order to appeal it immediately to the House (i.e., to move a non-debatable motion on the question of whether or not the House upheld the Speaker’s ruling). [65]  In the early years of Confederation, this was rarely done. [66]  After the turn of the century, however, Members began asserting their right to an appeal to the House. [67]  By the 1920s and thereafter, hardly a session passed that did not see at least one appeal. [68] The practice reached a peak in the session of 1956 when 11 appeals were made, mostly during the very contentious “Pipeline Debate”. [69]  Similar numbers of appeals were made in the Parliaments of 1962-63 and 1963-65. [70]  In 1965, as part of a series of amendments to the Standing Orders, the opportunity to appeal rulings of the Speaker was abolished. [71]  Former Speaker Lambert supported the abolition of appeals because “one of the chief difficulties with the business of Parliament over the past 10 years has been the somewhat indiscriminate use of appeals against Speaker’s rulings, not on points of jurisprudence or points of procedure but for political effect”. [72] 

Before 1965, there were several instances where the decision of the Speaker was appealed and not sustained by the House. The first of these came in 1873 when the House overruled the Speaker on the acceptability of a petition. [73]  In 1926, another ruling was rejected, and three more in 1963 were not sustained. [74]  The vote on a fourth ruling in 1963 resulted in a tie and was sustained when the Speaker declined to give a casting vote and ruled that his decision should stand “since the decision has not been negatived”. [75] 

Impartiality of the Chair

When in the Chair, the Speaker embodies the power and authority of the office, strengthened by rule and precedent. He or she must at all times show, and be seen to show, the impartiality required to sustain the trust and goodwill of the House. The actions of the Speaker are not to be criticized in debate or by any means except by way of a substantive motion. Such motions have been moved against the Speaker [76]  or other presiding officers [77]  on rare occasions. Reflections on the character or actions of the Speaker — an allegation of bias, for example — could be taken by the House as breaches of privilege and punished accordingly.

On two occasions, newspaper editorials were found to contain libellous reflections on the Speaker and were declared by the House, in one instance, to be a contempt of its privileges [78]  and, in the other, a gross breach of its privileges. [79] 

In 1981, a Minister complained that remarks directed to the Speaker by the Leader of the Opposition constituted an attack on the authority and impartiality of the Speaker. The following day, the Minister tabled a motion in the House calling for the remarks to be referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. However, the Leader of the Opposition withdrew his remarks and the matter was taken no further. [80] 

In another incident, occurring in 1993, a question of privilege was raised concerning disparaging remarks made by a Member about the impartiality of the Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole. When the Member refused to withdraw the comments, the Speaker stated that the comments “affect[ed] the dignity of [the] House” and were “an attack against the integrity” of an officer of the House. He ruled that prima facie there was a case of privilege and the matter was referred to a Committee. Two days later, the Member rose in the House and withdrew the remarks. [81] 

In 1996, a private Member’s motion on the Order Paper alleged that another Member and his party were guilty of a contempt of the House for attempting to rally public opinion with a view to influencing an upcoming decision of the Speaker. The motion was selected for debate in the House but was later withdrawn without having been considered. [82] 

In 1998, a Member raised a question of privilege, alleging that statements attributed to other Members in a newspaper article (concerning an upcoming ruling of the Chair) constituted an attempt to intimidate the Speaker and the House itself. The Speaker found a prima facie case and the matter was referred to a committee, which investigated and concluded that the statements attributed to the Members “were not intended to be contemptuous of the House of Commons or the Speaker” and that “they did not bring into question the integrity of the House of Commons and its servant, the Speaker”. [83] 

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 an equality of voices, normally referred to as the “casting vote” of the Chair. [84]  Since 1979, the Speaker, unlike all other Members, has not had an assigned desk in the Chamber; this is a further indication that it has become an accepted practice that the Speaker has no role whatsoever in debate, whether in the House or in a Committee of the Whole. [85]

Although the requirement that Speakers remain mute in debate has existed since 1867, it has not always been applied when the House met in a Committee of the Whole. During the first 60 years after Confederation, there were many instances of participation by the Speaker in this forum. [86]  By 1927, however, the practice had become rare, and when Speaker Lemieux spoke in Committee, Members objected. [87]  After this, Speakers did not intervene in a Committee of the Whole except on occasion to defend their Estimates. [88]  Since 1968, these Estimates have been referred to standing committees for study and the Speaker, as a witness, continues to defend the Estimates of the House of Commons in this forum. [89] 

In the past, Speakers have appeared before, and have sometimes chaired, House committees, usually when matters of procedure and reform of the rules have been considered. [90]  In recent years, however, Speakers have limited themselves to appearing before standing committees as witnesses on matters within their jurisdiction, such as the spending Estimates of the House.

Casting Vote

The Speaker does not participate in debate and votes only in cases of an equality of voices; in such an eventuality, the Speaker is responsible for breaking the tie by casting a vote. [91] 

In theory, the Speaker has the same freedom as any other Member to vote in accordance with his or her conscience; however, the exercise of this responsibility could involve the Speaker in partisan debate, which would adversely affect the confidence of the House in the Speaker’s impartiality. Therefore, certain conventions have developed as a guide to Speakers (and Chairmen in a Committee of the Whole) in the infrequent exercise of the casting vote. [92]  Concisely put, the Speaker would normally vote to maintain the status quo. This entails voting in the following fashion:

  • whenever possible, leaving the matter open for future consideration and allowing for further discussion by the House;
  • whenever no further discussion is possible, taking into account that the matter could somehow be brought back in the future and be decided by a majority of the House;
  • leaving a bill in its existing form rather than having it amended. [93] 

In 1863, these conventions were acknowledged in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada when the Speaker was called upon to give a casting vote, and gave as his reason “that in the case of an equal division, the practice was, that the Speaker should keep the question as long as possible before the House in order to afford a further opportunity to the House of expressing an opinion upon it”. [94]  The application of this convention has not always been consistent and there are very few examples where Speakers or Chairmen of Committees of the Whole gave reasons when casting a vote. For instance, on one occasion, the Speaker voted in favour of a hoist amendment [95]  to the motion for third reading of a bill in order “to keep the Bill before the House”; [96]  on another, the Speaker voted against a hoist amendment for the same reason (“to give the House a further opportunity for consideration”). [97] 

The manner in which the Speaker casts a deciding vote is as follows: typically, a recorded vote is demanded, taken and, when an equality of voices is discerned at the announcement of the result, the Speaker then votes and may give reasons. Any given reasons are recorded in the Journals. On one occasion, an equality of voices was announced, the Speaker cast his vote and it later came to light that no tie had occurred. The next day, the Speaker made a brief statement and declared his vote invalidated. [98]  On another occasion, prior to the abolition of appeals from Speakers’ rulings, the voices were equal on the motion to sustain the ruling of the Chair. The Speaker declined to vote, stating that “Since the decision has not been negatived, I declare my ruling sustained” and no objection was raised. [99] 

Specific Duties

Specific duties of the Speaker in the Chamber are described below; many of the procedural topics referred to are explored in greater detail in other chapters.

Opening the sitting:
It is the Speaker’s responsibility to open the sittings of the House once it has been determined that a quorum is present. [100]  When opening a sitting, the Speaker takes the Chair, calls the House to order, reads prayers, directs that the doors to the public galleries be opened, and then calls the first item of business. If, as sometimes happens, the Speaker is absent at the opening of a sitting, the House is so informed by the Clerk and the Deputy Speaker takes the Chair. [101] 
Reading motions, putting questions, announcing results of votes:
Before debate begins on a matter, the Speaker proposes the question by reading the motion on which the House is to decide. When no Member rises to be recognized in debate, the Speaker asks if the House is “ready for the question”, thus ascertaining whether or not the debate has concluded. When debate on a question is closed, it is the Speaker’s responsibility to put the question, that is, to put the matter for a decision of the House, and afterwards to announce the result to the House. [102]
Recognizing Members to speak in the House:
No Member may speak in the House until called or recognized by the Speaker; any Member so recognized may speak during debate, questions and comments periods, Question Period, and other proceedings of the House. Various conventions and informal arrangements exist to ensure the participation of all parties in debate; nevertheless, the decision as to who may speak is ultimately the Speaker’s. [103] 
Deciding questions of order and questions of privilege:
In presiding over the deliberations of the House, the Speaker is responsible for deciding questions of order and questions of privilege, and for ensuring that the rules and practices of the House are respected. [104]  The Speaker rules on questions of order and questions of privilege as they occur and not in anticipation. [105]  A question of order may be brought to the Speaker’s attention by a Member, or the Speaker may intervene when he or she observes an irregularity. [106]  In ruling on questions of order and questions of privilege, the Speaker cites the Standing Order or other applicable authority. [107]  At times, the Speaker may be called upon to deal with situations not provided for in the Standing Orders of the House; in such cases, the rules give authority to the Speaker to consider parliamentary tradition in jurisdictions outside the House of Commons of Canada. [108] 
Decisions on motions:
The Standing Orders confer on the Speaker certain responsibilities in connection with motions coming before the House for consideration. The Speaker has the responsibility to act, in the event that he or she judges a motion to be “contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament”. [109]  In such a case, it is the Speaker’s responsibility to inform the House at the earliest opportunity, before the question is put, and to refer to the applicable rule or authority. This is to be distinguished from the Speaker’s general power to rule authoritatively on matters of procedure. While the Speaker is guardian of the rules and privileges of the House, he or she is its servant as well; the Members of the House retain control of their collective actions. Thus, if the Speaker were to inform the House that a proposed motion, though correct as to its form, runs counter to established parliamentary principles, customs or privileges, the House would then be in a position to take a decision on the matter, with the benefit of the information provided and the authorities cited by the Speaker. This rule was first adopted after Confederation [110]  and has never been invoked by the Speaker, although there have been attempts to persuade the Chair to invoke it. [111] 

Other rules of the House give the Speaker the power to select which report stage amendments will be considered by the House, and to group these for purposes of debate and division. [112]  In addition, in the event that notice of more than one opposition motion is given when a Supply day has been designated, the Speaker is responsible for selecting the one which will have precedence for consideration by the House. [113] 

Conduct of Private Members’ Business:
It is the overall responsibility of the Speaker to make all the necessary arrangements to ensure the orderly conduct of the hour of each sitting day devoted to Private Members’ Business. [114]  This includes ensuring that the House has 24 hours’ notice of the item to be considered in each sitting, [115]  seeing to the arrangement of exchanges when a sponsoring Member is unable to be present when his or her item is scheduled for consideration, [116]  and refusing a notice of an item of Private Members’ Business which is deemed to be substantially the same as another. [117] 
Private bills:
When private bills [118]  are to be brought before Parliament, those wishing to act as parliamentary agents (i.e., employed in promoting or opposing a private bill) must be granted authority to do so by the Speaker. [119]  The Speaker also has the power to issue a temporary or absolute prohibition on an individual acting as a parliamentary agent, in cases where he or she has failed to act in accordance with parliamentary rules and practice. [120] 
Tabling of documents:
Statutory provisions, as well as rules of the House, state that the Speaker receives and tables certain reports and documents in the House. When the Speaker tables a document, he or she may do so during the sitting; [121]  alternatively, the document may be deposited with the Clerk of the House. [122]  In either case, the tabling is noted in the Journals and the item tabled is deemed permanently referred to the appropriate standing committee. [123]  The specific documents tabled by the Speaker are as follows:
  • As Chair of the Board of Internal Economy (the body responsible for all financial and administrative matters affecting the House of Commons) the Speaker is responsible for tabling reports of the Board’s proceedings. [124]  The reports consist of minutes of the Board’s meetings, which are tabled as they are approved by the Board. [125]  The Speaker is also responsible for tabling the annual reports of the Board’s decisions respecting the budgets of parliamentary committees. [126]  In addition, the Parliament of Canada Act requires the Speaker to table any by-laws made by the Board within 30 days of their making; typically, these are deposited with the Clerk. [127] 
  • Statutory requirements exist whereby designated officers of Parliament [128]  and the Canadian Human Rights Commission transmit their annual reports and any special or investigatory reports to the Speaker, who then tables them in the House. [129] 
  • In the decennial process to readjust electoral boundaries, reports of the provincial and territorial electoral boundaries commissions are transmitted by the Chief Electoral Officer to the Speaker, who tables them when the House is sitting. [130] 
  • When election results are contested under the Dominion Controverted Elections Act, reports are made to the Speaker, who then informs the House; typically, this is done at or shortly after the opening of the sitting. [131]  The legislation also requires the Speaker to inform the House of amendments to the rules of the provincial Supreme Courts, which are the courts of appeal in such cases. [132]  In accordance with the Corrupt Practices Inquiries Act (which provides for investigation of alleged or suspected corrupt or illegal practices during elections), commissions of enquiry are appointed and their reports are made to Parliament — that is, to the Speakers of both Houses — and it would be the Speaker’s responsibility to inform the House of the reports. [133] 
Emergency debates:
When a Member has made a request to move the adjournment of the House in order to debate a matter requiring urgent consideration (an emergency debate), the Speaker is responsible for deciding whether or not the request will be granted. [134]  When the Speaker has granted an application for an emergency debate, the rules provide for it to take place the same day, but the Speaker may also exercise a discretionary power to defer the debate to a specific time on the next sitting day. [135]  An emergency debate ends at the times provided in the Standing Orders, but again, the Speaker has discretion to declare the motion carried and adjourn the House to the next sitting day if, in his or her opinion, debate has concluded before those times. [136]  Once it is underway, an emergency debate takes precedence over all other business; in the event of conflict or incompatibility with regard to other rules or other business of the House, the Speaker has complete discretion in reconciling the difficulty. [137] 
Recall of the House:
When the House stands adjourned during a session, the Speaker has the power to recall the House to meet prior to the date it is scheduled to reconvene. [138]  The request to recall the House is always initiated by a Minister (usually the Government House Leader), and the Speaker has no authority to consider such a request from any other Member. In these circumstances (or while Parliament stands prorogued, or prior to the first session of a new Parliament), upon receipt of a written request from the government, the Speaker will cause to be published a Special Order Paper which informs the House of any measure the government wishes the House to consider immediately. [139]  A notice for recall of the House is not usually withdrawn; but on one occasion, after receiving a request from all the recognized parties in the House, the Speaker issued a formal statement cancelling an earlier notice for recall. [140] 
Parliamentary publications:
The official publications of the House of Commons are published under the authority of the Speaker. These include, among others, the Journals, the Debates, the indexes to the Journals and Debates, the Order Paper and Notice Paper, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, bills and the minutes and reports of parliamentary committees. [141]
Chairs of Legislative Committees:
The Speaker also has responsibilities with regard to Chairs of legislative committees. [142]  It is the Speaker’s duty at the start of each session, and thereafter as necessary, to select Members to form a Panel of Chairmen. The Speaker exercises a certain amount of discretion in the choice of Members; the rules specify only that a proportionate number of Members be appointed from the government and opposition parties and that the other Presiding Officers of the House be members of the Panel. [143]  Whenever the House agrees to proceed with the appointment of a legislative committee, it is the Speaker’s responsibility to select from the Panel of Chairmen a Member to chair that legislative committee. [144] 

Administrative Role of the Speaker

The Speaker is the head of the House of Commons administration and is responsible for its overall direction and management. [145] The House administration supports Members of Parliament, individually and collectively, in their parliamentary roles as well as the House itself as an institution.

One of the fundamental privileges of the House is to regulate its own internal affairs, holding exclusive jurisdiction over its premises and the people within. [146]  By virtue of theParliament of Canada Act, all matters of administrative and financial policy affecting the House of Commons are overseen by the Board of Internal Economy, [147]  which is composed of Members of the House from the government and opposition parties. The Speaker chairs the Board of Internal Economy.

The day-to-day management of the staff of the House of Commons rests with the Clerk [148]  and the senior officials reporting to the Clerk, subject to orders of the House or of the Speaker. [149]  The Speaker, as Chair of the Board of Internal Economy and senior authority in matters of House management, retains a major interest in issues of human resources management.

Spending Estimates [150]  for the House of Commons are prepared at the request of the Board of Internal Economy and once they have been approved by the Board, it is the Speaker’s responsibility to transmit them to the President of the Treasury Board for tabling with the government’s departmental Estimates for the fiscal year.

The Speaker also chairs the Executive Committee, which is established by the Board of Internal Economy. The Executive Committee is responsible for management policy and major decision-making affecting general administrative practices, security, and financial and human resources administration. [151] 

The right of each House of Parliament to regulate its own internal affairs also extends to the management of the premises “within the precincts and beyond thedebating Chamber …”. [152]  As guardian of the rights and privilege of the House, the Speaker ensures that they are respected within and outside the House. [153]  Within the precincts, the Speaker oversees matters of security and policing. Security within the buildings occupied by Members and staff of the House is the responsibility of the Sergeant-at-Arms, who acts under the Speaker’s authority. [154]  For this purpose, the House maintains its own security service. Arrangements are in place whereby the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is charged with security of the grounds outside the buildings. There are occasions when the House security staff request and receive assistance from outside police forces, whether the RCMP or the local police. It is also well established that outside police forces wishing to enter the parliamentary precincts must first have permission from the Speaker to do so, and that the authority to grant or withhold permission rests with the Speaker, who exercises sole discretion in this regard. [155] 

The Speaker as the chief administrator of the House oversees all its dealings with government departments in matters of administration. Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is the primary provider of central and common services to the Government of Canada and to the Parliament of Canada. Officials of the House of Commons, under the Speaker’s authority, work in close co-operation with PWGSC for the delivery of professional and technical services such as translation and interpretation, printing and publishing, as well as the management of the Parliament Buildings and leased properties. The National Capital Commission (NCC) is a Crown corporation whose objective is to plan and assist in “the development, conservation and improvement of the National Capital Region in order that the nature and character of the seat of the Government of Canada may be in accordance with its national significance”. [156]  The NCC has the responsibility for maintaining the grounds on Parliament Hill [157]  and this historic site is the focal point of much other NCC-sponsored activity. The Speaker is naturally interested to ensure that all such activity takes place with due regard to the dignity and authority of the institution and the privileges of Members, such as the right to have access to the House of Commons and the parliamentary precinct at all times.

Ceremonial /Diplomatic Role of the Speaker

Certain responsibilities of the Speaker may be categorized as being of a traditional, ceremonial or diplomatic nature, highlighting the role of the Speaker as a representative of the Commons. The Speaker is the representative and spokesperson for the House of Commons in its relations with the Senate, the Crown and other bodies outside the House of Commons. Messages, correspondence and documents addressed to the House of Commons are communicated to it by the Speaker. [158] 

When entering or leaving the House, the Speaker is always preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, who carries the Mace. [159]  The opening of a sitting of the House is preceded by a ceremonial event known as the Speaker’s parade, in which the Speaker walks in procession through the halls of the Centre Block to the House of Commons Chamber. [160]

Whenever the House is summoned to the Senate Chamber to attend the Queen, the Governor General, or the representative of the Governor General, the Speaker leads the procession. This happens at the opening of a Parliament and of a session, [161] or whenever there is to be a ceremony to grant Royal Assent to bills. [162] When a new Parliament or new session opens and a Speech from the Throne is read in the Senate Chamber, it is then officially communicated to the House by the Speaker. When the House has debated the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the text of the Address is engrossed, signed by the Speaker and personally presented to the Governor General. [163]

The Parliament of Canada maintains relations with the provincial and territorial legislatures as well as with most foreign parliaments. Many of these relationships are carried on by, or in the name of, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker of the Senate. Contacts between the Parliament of Canada and other parliaments and legislative assemblies may range from exchanges of correspondence, to formal visits conducted on a reciprocal basis, to training and development sessions for parliamentary officers.

The Parliament of Canada is an active participant in the international exchange of ideas, information and experiences among world parliaments, and holds membership in several inter-parliamentary associations and friendship groups. [164] The Speaker of the House is an honorary president of each of them and, with the Speaker of the Senate, authorizes the budgetary allocations for each association. [165]  Parliamentarians (as delegates, members or participants) attend national, bilateral and international meetings, conferences and seminars arranged through the parliamentary associations and friendship groups.

Outside the framework of the inter-parliamentary associations, the Parliament of Canada also participates in exchanges and programs of parliamentary co-operation with other parliaments throughout the world, authorized and overseen by both Speakers. Parliamentary exchanges offer parliamentarians the opportunity to broaden their knowledge, to discuss problems of mutual interest and issues of the day. The Speaker’s involvement may include accepting invitations from other parliaments, hosting visiting delegations of parliamentarians, and participating in the meetings of Speakers from Canada and abroad.

During a sitting, the Speaker may draw the attention of the House to the presence of distinguished visitors seated in the gallery of the House. [166]  Generally, this takes place immediately following Question Period, though the Speaker has also recognized visitors prior to Question Period and even during Question Period. [167]  In most cases, the visitors recognized are seated in the Speaker’s Gallery. [168]  No written rules or formal guidelines exist to define what type of visitors the Speaker shall recognize. The practice has been to recognize:

  • heads of state and leaders of foreign governments, and official guests of the Governor General or of the Prime Minister;
  • parliamentary delegations, presiding officers and cabinet ministers from provincial and territorial legislative assemblies, or from foreign countries;
  • Canadians who have distinguished themselves in any field of endeavour by their achievements, deeds or success of national or international scope. [169] 

From time to time, a distinguished visitor (usually a head of state or of government) has given a joint address to Members of the House of Commons and Senators in the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker, as host, takes a pre-eminent role in such events, which are organized in accordance with an established protocol. [170]

Election of the Speaker as Presiding Officer

The election of the Speaker of the House of Commons is a constitutional requirement. [171]  An election must take place at the beginning of the first session of a Parliament, when the House is without a Speaker. Should the Speaker resign or state his or her intention to resign in mid-Parliament, election proceedings again take place; a vacancy occurring for any other reason also leads to the election of a new Speaker. [172]  This constitutional requirement is the basis of the Standing Orders which specify when and under what circumstances the election of a Speaker takes place. [173]  Although the Speaker has in most cases been elected at the opening of the first session of a Parliament, several Speakers have been elected in mid-session or at the opening of the second or later session of a Parliament. [174] In any case, the election takes precedence over all other business and is not to be considered as a question of confidence in the government. [175]  If necessary, the election continues beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment until a Speaker is elected. No other business can come before the House until the election has taken place and the new Speaker has taken the Chair. [176] 

Although the time at which a Speaker is to be elected is described in the Constitution, no Standing Order before 1985 ever indicated by what means this should be accomplished. From 1867 to 1985, the Clerk of the House conducted the election. The general practice was for the Prime Minister to propose the name of a Member to become Speaker. This debatable motion was usually seconded by a leading Minister, although starting in 1953, the nomination typically was seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. [177] After debate on the motion, the question was put by the Clerk and the Member was elected by a majority of the Members present; in almost all cases, the motion was carried unanimously. [178]  The Speaker-elect, showing mock reticence, was then escorted to the Chair by the mover and seconder, after which he or she accepted the nomination and the Mace was placed on the Table. It has been customary for the Speaker-elect to make a pretence of reluctance while being escorted to the Chair. This has its origin in the genuine reluctance with which early British Speakers assumed their duties. [179] 

In 1982, the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure (known after its chairman as the Lefebvre Committee) recommended a new procedure to be followed in electing a Speaker by secret ballot. [180]  The recommendation was acted upon in 1985, when the government responded favourably to a re-issue of the recommendation by the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (known after its chairman as the McGrath Committee). [181]  In its response, the government suggested changes to the recommendation that were later reflected in proposed amendments to the Standing Orders. The amendments were adopted by the House in June 1985. [182]  The new procedure went into effect in September of that year on a provisional basis and was first invoked in 1986 when Speaker Bosley resigned the Speakership and, after 11 ballots, the House elected John Fraser as the new Speaker. [183]  The protracted election prompted calls for changes in the process; to that end, the Standing Orders were amended in 1987, to exclude from a subsequent ballot candidates receiving five percent or less of the total votes cast. At the same time, the secret ballot procedure became permanent. [184]  In 1988, Speaker Fraser was re-elected on the first ballot. In 1994, Speaker Parent was elected after six ballots, and re-elected in 1997 after four ballots.

Election of the Speaker by Secret Ballot

When the House meets at the beginning of a new Parliament, Members are summoned to the Senate Chamber through a message delivered to the House by the Usher of the Black Rod. [185]  Preceded by the Clerk of the House, the Members go to the Senate Chamber where they are informed by a Deputy of the Governor General [186]  that the causes of summoning will not be divulged (meaning that the Speech from the Throne will not be read) “until the Speaker of the House of Commons shall have been chosen according to Law …”. The Members then return to the House and proceed immediately to the election of a Speaker.

All Members of the House, except for Ministers and party leaders, are automatically considered candidates for the Speakership. [187]  The Standing Orders designate who shall preside over the election of a Speaker [188]  but are silent as to whether the Member presiding could also be a candidate. In all four elections to date, the Member presiding took the prescribed action to remove himself from the list of candidates. Any eligible Member who does not wish to be considered must so inform the Clerk in writing by 6:00 p.m., at the latest, on the day before the election is to take place. [189]  The notice of withdrawal must be signed by the Member. [190]  After the deadline has passed, the Clerk draws up an alphabetical list of the names of Members who do not wish to be considered or who are ineligible by virtue of being Ministers or party leaders. A Member who has withdrawn may, before the deadline, recall the letter of withdrawal and allow his or her name to go forward. [191]

The rules providing for the Speaker’s election by secret ballot are silent on many aspects of the election process. In 1986, when preparations began for the first secret-ballot election, matters not covered by the written rules were settled by the Clerk in consultation with the House Leaders, and have since then become part of the practice associated with an election of the Speaker. [192] 

The Chamber is set up somewhat differently from normal when a Speaker is to be elected. The Table is cleared of its usual accoutrements and, while the Clerk’s chair remains at its head, the chairs of the Table Officers are removed. A ballot box is placed on a stand at the foot of the Table and portable voting booths are placed on either side of the Table. While the election proceeds, the Mace rests under the Table as no Speaker is in the Chair.

When the election of a Speaker takes place at the beginning of a Parliament, it is presided over by the so -called “dean of the House”, the Member with the longest unbroken record of service who is neither a Minister nor a holder of any office within the House. [193]  After the return of the House from the Senate Chamber, the Clerk invites the dean of the House to take the Chair as the Member presiding. When an election is held during a Parliament to replace a Speaker who has given notice of his or her intention to resign, as was the case in 1986, the outgoing Speaker presides. [194]  In the absence of an outgoing Speaker at an election taking place in the course of a Parliament, the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole would preside. [195]  The Member presiding is vested with all the powers of the Chair and votes in the election; however, he or she may not cast an additional ballot in the event of a tie. [196] 

The Standing Orders require the Member presiding to inform the House that the list of Members who do not wish to be considered for election to the office of Speaker, or who are ineligible, is available for consultation at the Table. [197]  This is done before balloting begins; at the same time, the Member presiding reads out (in alphabetical order) the names of the Members appearing on the first ballot, and informs the House that this list is available in each voting booth. Both these lists will also have been distributed to Members at their desks. It has happened that Members not wishing to be considered have sought to remove their names before having passed the start of voting. The Member presiding has responded that, the deadline having passed (6:00 p.m. of the previous day), the list for the first ballot cannot be amended, but doubtless the House would take note of any such request. [198]  The voting begins when the Member presiding asks those who wish to cast their ballots to leave their desks, proceed along the corridors behind the curtains in the direction of the Chair, and come to the Table through the doorways at the left and right of the Chair, according to whether the Members sit on the Speaker’s left or right.

At these doorways, Members have their names recorded and are issued ballot papers by Table Officers assisting the Clerk. [199]  Members must enter through the doorway on the side of the House where they are seated. Once provided with a ballot paper, Members then proceed to the voting booth on the appropriate side of the Table. Members print the first and last names of a candidate on the ballot paper, [200]  deposit the paper in the ballot box [201]  and then leave the area around the Table in order to ensure the confidentiality of the vote for other Members.

When the Member presiding is satisfied that all Members wishing to vote have done so, the Clerk withdraws from the Chamber to count the ballots, with the assistance of other Table Officers, in a nearby room. The Sergeant-at-Arms carries the ballot box, and pauses by the Chair while the Member presiding deposits his or her ballot paper. The Member presiding then signifies that the proceedings are suspended while the counting of the ballots takes place.

The ballots are counted in secret. Once the Clerk is satisfied as to the accuracy of the count, all ballot papers and related records are destroyed. The Clerk is enjoined by the Standing Orders not to divulge in any way the number of ballots cast for any candidate. [202]  When the count is complete, the bells are rung for a few minutes to call the House to order and the Clerk re-enters he Chamber.

If any Member has received a majority of the votes cast, the Clerk gives the Member presiding the name of the successful candidate, which is then announced from the Chair. [203]  If no Member has received a majority of the votes cast, then the Clerk provides the Member presiding with a list of the candidates in alphabetical order for the next ballot. The list is drawn up as follows: from the original list of candidates, the Clerk deletes the name of the last-place candidate (or names, in the case of a tie vote for last place), as well as the name of any Member who received five percent or less of the total votes cast. [204]  The rule further provides that no names be deleted in the event that every candidate receives the same number of votes. The Member presiding announces that a second ballot will be necessary and reads out the names of the candidates. At this point, any candidates on the second ballot who do not wish to be further considered may rise and withdraw, stating their reasons. [205]  The Clerk is then instructed to remove from the list the names of Members who have thus withdrawn. When an alphabetical list of eligible Members is available in each voting booth, the Member presiding asks Members who wish to vote to proceed in the same manner as for the first ballot.

The voting procedure for the second ballot is the same as for the first, except that the ballot papers are a different colour. When the Member presiding is satisfied that all Members wishing to vote have done so, he or she instructs the Clerk to proceed with the count of the second ballot. When the count is complete, the Clerk destroys all the ballot papers and related records, again to ensure the secrecy of the count as required by the Standing Orders.

The Member presiding then calls the House to order and either announces the name of the successful candidate, or that a third ballot will be necessary, in which case the names of the candidates eligible for the third ballot will be read from the list prepared by the Clerk. Members who wish to withdraw their candidacy at this point or on any subsequent ballot may do so and are not required to give reasons. [206]  The names of those who withdraw are then removed from the list of eligible candidates and, when the list is made available, the Members proceed to vote.

Balloting continues in this fashion until one candidate has received a majority of the votes cast or until only one name remains. If necessary, the House may continue to sit beyond its usual adjournment time until a Speaker is declared elected. [207] 

After announcing the name of the successful candidate from the Chair, the Member presiding invites the Speaker-elect to take the Chair. The Member presiding steps down and escorts the Speaker-elect from his or her seat to the dais. The Speaker-elect may make a token show of resistance. [208] 

Standing at the top of the steps, the first official act of every Speaker elected since Confederation has been to thank the House for the honour it has bestowed. The opening words follow a pattern established over time: “Honourable Members, I beg to return my humble acknowledgements to the House for the great honour you have been pleased to confer upon me in choosing me to be your Speaker”.

Speakers have typically included in their remarks a pledge to carry out their duties with firmness and impartiality, an acknowledgement of the great responsibilities of the office, a request to the House for its continued support and goodwill, and acknowledgements and commendations directed to predecessors, other candidates (in the case of secret-ballot elections), constituents, family and fellow Members. [209]  The Speaker then takes the Chair. The voting booths and ballot box having been removed, the Sergeant-at-Arms takes the Mace (symbol of the authority of the House) from under the Table, where it sits during the election, and places it on the Table, signifying that now with the Speaker in the Chair, the House is properly constituted.

Since the Speaker has been elected by secret ballot, the party leaders have risen on occasion to offer congratulations and good wishes, and to pledge their support once the newly elected Speaker has taken the Chair and the Mace has been laid on the Table. [210]  Before 1986, when the Speaker was nominated on a motion moved by the Prime Minister and elected when the motion was adopted by the House, it was the custom for the individual nominated to be warmly spoken of in the nomination speeches of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and congratulatory remarks after the election did not occur as a rule. [211] 

By the time the new Speaker has taken the Chair and heard from any Members wishing to offer congratulations, the House may have gone beyond its usual time of adjournment as set out in the Standing Orders; under these circumstances, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next sitting day. [212]  This occurred in 1986 when the House adjourned at 2:30 a.m. to reconvene later the same day for the opening of the session. [213]  In 1988, the Speaker was elected after a single ballot, and the sitting was suspended for several hours until the opening of Parliament later the same day. [214]  At other times, the Speaker was elected before the House reached its usual adjournment time, and the House then adjourned to the following day at the time fixed for the opening of Parliament. [215] 

During the election of a Speaker, debate is not permitted, no motions are accepted and the Member presiding may not entertain any question of privilege. [216]  On one occasion, a point of order was raised and settled by the Chair. [217] 

At the time fixed for the formal opening of Parliament with a Speech from the Throne, the House receives the Usher of the Black Rod and goes in procession to the Senate Chamber. At the Bar of the Senate, the newly elected Speaker stands on a small platform, removes his or her three-cornered hat and receives an acknowledgement from the Governor General, who is seated on the Throne. The Speaker addresses the Governor General by an established formula, as follows:

May it please Your Excellency,

The House of Commons has elected me their Speaker, though I am but little able to fulfil the important duties thus assigned to me. If, in the performance of those duties, I should at any time fall into error, I pray that the fault may be imputed to me, and not to the Commons, whose servant I am, and who, through me, the better to enable them to discharge their duty to their Queen and Country, humbly claim all their undoubted rights and privileges, especially that they may have freedom of speech in their debates, access to Your Excellency’s person at all seasonable times, and that their proceedings may receive from Your Excellency the most favourable construction. [218] 

The Speaker of the Senate, on behalf of the Governor General, makes the traditional reply:

Mr./Madam Speaker,

I am commanded by His/Her Excellency the Governor General to declare to you that he/she freely confides in the duty and attachment of the House of Commons to Her Majesty’s Person and Government, and not doubting that their proceedings will be conducted with wisdom, temper and prudence, he/she grants, and upon all occasions will recognize and allow, their constitutional privileges. I am commanded also to assure you that the Commons shall have ready access to His/Her Excellency upon all seasonable occasions and that their proceedings, as well as your words and actions, will constantly receive from him/her the most favourable construction. [219] 

A new Speaker always presents himself or herself to the Governor General; however, the claiming of privileges by the Speaker on behalf of the House takes place only at the opening of a Parliament and is not repeated in the event that a new Speaker is elected before the end of the Parliament. [220] 

Election of the Speaker During a Session

When a Speaker is to be elected during a session, the Members assemble in the House at the usual time for the start of the sitting. The Chair is taken either by the Speaker who has already indicated his or her intention to resign the office, [221]  or, in the absence of the Speaker, by the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees of the Whole. [222]  Because the office of Speaker is vacant, the Mace is not on the Table. [223]  The Prime Minister informs the Members that the Governor General has given leave to the House to elect a Speaker. The Chair occupant then presides over the usual proceedings for the election of a Speaker. Once a successful candidate is announced, the Speaker-elect is escorted from his or her place and makes some brief remarks from the upper steps before taking the Chair for the first time. The Mace is then placed on the Table and the sitting is suspended for a few minutes pending the arrival of the Usher of the Black Rod. Once summoned, the House proceeds to the Senate Chamber where the Speaker presents himself or herself and receives the Governor General’s acknowledgement, in the traditional wording. [224] On its return from the Senate, the House proceeds to the business of the sitting.

Only two of the 33 Speakers elected since Confederation were elected during a session. [225]  Both cases predate the current rules providing for the election of the Speaker by secret ballot. In 1899, Speaker Bain succeeded Speaker Edgar, the only Speaker to have died while in office, and presided over the House for the remainder of the Eighth Parliament, until 1901. Speaker Francis was elected during the Thirty-Second Parliament (1984) to succeed Speaker Sauvé, who resigned to become Governor General of Canada. Speaker Bain and Speaker Francis presided over the House for the balance of the session and the Parliament in which they were elected.

Election of the Speaker at the Opening of a Second or Later Session Within a Parliament

When the House is to proceed to the election of a Speaker immediately at the opening of the second or subsequent session within a Parliament, the House meets for the opening of the session on the date fixed by proclamation. As for the election of a Speaker during a session, the Chair is taken either by the Speaker who has already indicated his or her intention to resign the office, or by the Deputy Speaker, and the Mace is not on the Table. The Prime Minister is recognized and signifies the consent of the Governor General to proceed to the election of a new Speaker. [226]  The House then goes through the usual proceedings for the election of a Speaker. The Speaker-elect is escorted from his or her seat to the dais where he or she makes the usual remarks and acknowledgements and takes the Chair for the first time. The Mace is then placed on the Table. The sitting would normally be adjourned at this point or shortly thereafter, and the presentation of the Speaker to the Governor General and the reading of the Speech from the Throne would take place the following day. [227] 

The election of a Speaker on the opening day of the second or subsequent session of a Parliament has occurred six times since 1867. [228]  Each time, the vacancy in the Speakership arose through resignation. In 1986, the most recent example, Speaker Bosley’s resignation took effect on the opening day of the Second Session of the Thirty-Third Parliament, and Speaker Fraser then became the first to take the Chair under the new rules for the election of the Speaker by secret ballot.

In all six cases, the House met for the opening of the session on the date fixed by proclamation. In the five cases preceding 1986, the House was immediately summoned to the Senate and advised (as at the opening of a Parliament) that a Speaker must be chosen before the Speech from the Throne could be read. [229]  On its return from the Senate, the House proceeded to the election of a Speaker; a Member was nominated by the Prime Minister, seconded by a leading Minister, and (with one exception [230] ) after a brief intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, the person nominated was unanimously elected.

Campaigning for the Speakership

The rules for the election of the Speaker by secret ballot contain no provision for a nomination process and are silent on the matter of campaigning for the office. [231]  The special procedure committee which recommended the secret-ballot process sought to give control of the choice of Speaker to the House and its Members (away from what it called the “exclusive control” of the Prime Minister), noting that the Speaker belongs not to the government or opposition but to the House. [232]  Speaker Bosley, appearing before the committee in 1985, expressed reservations about the success of a secret-ballot system should political-style campaigning be resorted to. [233] 

In each of the four secret-ballot elections held to date (1986, 1988, 1994, 1997), campaign activity occurred but took place informally, outside the Chamber, because the rules do not permit debate during the election process. [234]  In recent years, Members have noted the difficulty faced by those newly elected to the House who are called upon to choose a Speaker with little time or opportunity to become informed about all the candidates. [235]  Prior to the election for the Speaker in 1994, some of the parties in the House organized caucus meetings to which individual candidates were invited. [236]  Prior to the 1997 election, it was suggested that candidates should declare themselves and attend an all-party question-and-answer session organized by one of the four opposition parties. [237] 


A Speaker is elected as the first item of business at the start of each Parliament, and presides over the House for the life of the Parliament. [238]  When the Parliament is dissolved, the Speaker is deemed to remain in office for administrative purposes until a new election takes place. [239]  Should a vacancy in the Speakership occur during a Parliament, another Speaker must be elected forthwith; [240]  no other business can come before the House until a new Speaker has been chosen.

A vacancy in the Speakership can arise through death or resignation of the office. Speaker Edgar (1896-99) died while in office, in July 1899, during a session. Speaker Edgar had been away from the House for some time, due to indisposition. In his absence, the Chair was taken by the Deputy Speaker. [241]  Speaker Edgar’s death was announced to the House on July 31, 1899, by the Prime Minister, who then moved a motion for the adjournment of the House. After a brief intervention by a Member of the opposition, the motion was adopted and the sitting was adjourned. [242]  The next day, the House met at its usual time and immediately proceeded to elect a new Speaker. [243] 

A vacancy in the Speakership may occur when the Speaker expresses an intent to resign the office or if the House were to take action to remove the Speaker from office. It has also happened that the office of Speaker has been vacated when the incumbent accepted a position which necessitated an automatic relinquishing of his or her seat in the House.

On three occasions, a vacancy in the Speakership arose after the Speaker gave written notice of intent to resign. The resignations were those of Speaker Black in 1935, Speaker Sauvé in 1984 and Speaker Bosley in 1986.

The resignation of Speaker Black (1930-35) as Speaker was tendered in a letter to the Prime Minister dated January 15, 1935, during a prorogation. This was announced to the House by the Prime Minister when the House met on January 17, the date set for the opening of the session. The House then proceeded to elect a new Speaker. [244] 

Speaker Sauvé (1980-84), having been designated to become Governor General of Canada, resigned as a Member and as Speaker by letter to the Clerk of the House dated January 6, 1984. The letter stated that her resignation would take effect as of midnight, January 15, 1984. The House, which had adjourned on December 21, reconvened on January 16, and the Clerk read the letter. The House then proceeded to the election of Speaker Francis. [245] 

Speaker Bosley (1984-86) resigned the Speakership in 1986. His concern about the “erosion of public respect for Parliament” was known, and it was his opinion that he could best contribute to the reform of the institution as a private Member, giving the House an “unfettered” choice of Speaker by the new secret-ballot process. [246]  He wrote to the Clerk on September 5, 1986, while Parliament was prorogued, tendering his resignation to take effect with the election of a successor on the date set by proclamation for the opening of the new session. When the House met on September 30, the Speaker tabled copies of the correspondence and expressed his acknowledgements to the House for the honour of having served as its Speaker. Then, pursuant to Standing Order, he presided over the election by secret ballot of Speaker Fraser. [247] 

In three further instances, Speakers accepted other positions, by virtue of which their seats in the House (and thus the Speakership) were relinquished. Speaker Brodeur (1901-04) and Speaker Sévigny (1916-17) were appointed to Cabinet [248]  and Speaker Sproule (1911-15) was appointed to the Senate. [249]  In each case, the appointment took effect during the interval between two sessions and, therefore, no formal indication of intent to resign was communicated to the House. On those occasions, when the House reconvened, it met without a Speaker. The letter informing the House of the Deputy Governor General’s arrival for the opening of the new session, normally read by the Speaker, was instead read by the Clerk. Later, when in accordance with usual practice, the Clerk announced the list of electoral districts for which notifications of vacancy had been received, among them were those of Speaker Brodeur in 1904, [250]  Speaker Sproule in 1916 [251]  and Speaker Sévigny in 1917. [252] 

There is also the unusual example of Speaker Anglin, who was twice elected Speaker in the course of the Third Parliament (1874-78). First elected at the opening of Parliament in 1874, he vacated his seat in the House during the intersession. [253]  A by-election was held, in which Mr. Anglin was re-elected. Thus, when the new session opened on February 7, 1878, the House was informed both of the vacancy in the riding held by the former Speaker, and of his re-election to the House. [254]  He was again nominated for the Speakership, and re-elected. [255] 

Few examples exist in Canada where the resignation of a Speaker was secured following the action of a legislative body to effect a removal. [256]  In 1875, in the House of Assembly of the province of Nova Scotia, a motion was moved which proposed that the Speaker’s resignation be requested and that a new Speaker be elected. [257]  The motion was adopted on a recorded division, and the House then adjourned to the following day when, as the first item of business, the Speaker rose, tendered his resignation and left the Chair. [258]  The House then adopted a motion, moved by a member of the cabinet, that the resignation be accepted and that a committee of Ministers be struck to inform the Lieutenant Governor that the House was without a Speaker. [259]  When the House next met, the Committee reported that it had communicated with the Lieutenant Governor; a new Speaker was then elected. [260] 

In July 1956, in the House of Commons, Speaker Beaudoin (1953-57) offered his resignation, but this offer was not taken up by the House. This occurred on the heels of the political controversy and procedural disputes of what has since become known as the Pipeline Debate. [261]  During the consideration of the pipeline bill, numerous points of order were raised and the Chair faced many challenges. There were 25 appeals from rulings of the Chair (allowed under the rules in effect at that time), all of which were sustained. [262]  A motion of censure against the Speaker was moved and defeated. [263]  This is the only instance of a motion of censure against a Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada. Three weeks after passage of the bill by the House, a question of privilege was raised which called into question the Speaker’s impartiality. [264]  On July 2, at the opening of the sitting, the Speaker made a statement and placed his resignation before the House to take effect at the pleasure of the House. [265]  However, no resolution of the House was forthcoming and no objection was registered when the Speaker continued to fulfil his official duties. Speaker Beaudoin served for the balance of the Twenty-Second Parliament.

There have been other cases where motions of censure were brought against Speakers of the Senate and other legislatures in Canada; however, none were adopted. [266] 

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