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.

United Kingdom

The first Speaker to be recorded on the Parliament Rolls was Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1377,1 although the first Speaker is commonly considered to have been his predecessor, Sir Peter de la Mare, in 1376.2 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 in which 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 Crown’s influence over the Speaker came to an end in 1642, when King 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, they marked the beginning of the government’s authority over the Chair. The Speakership 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 determining when and which bills should be considered. With his accession to the Chair, however, 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 an 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 had become established. Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, the House modified its rules to invest the Speaker with considerable authority to curtail obstruction and disorder, thereby firmly entrenching the tradition of a non-partisan Chair.

The tenure of Speaker Shaw-Lefevre saw the tentative appearance of the principle of continuity in office. According to this principle, the Speaker renounces all party affiliation and when seeking re-election to the House, runs as Speaker. This principle failed to take root in Canada as it has done in the United Kingdom. To date, no Speaker of the British House of Commons seeking re-election in his or her constituency has been defeated; it has, however, happened that incumbent 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. The historic position and character of the British and Canadian Speakerships are, however, 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 17th century.9 By the end of the 19th century, it had conferred upon its Speaker discretionary powers sufficient 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 continuity has been raised in the House and in its committees.11 Of the 36 Speakers to hold office since Confederation, seven have served two Parliaments12 and only three have served more than two.13 Speaker Milliken (2001–11) was the only Speaker to preside over four Parliaments and is the longest-serving Speaker to date.

The Speaker has almost always been elected from among the Members of the governing party,14 and although the Speaker eschews partisan political activity, he or she does not make a complete break. When running for re-election, incumbent Speakers are usually careful to avoid partisan statements that might prejudice their perceived impartiality in the future. Only one Speaker has chosen to sever himself from all party affiliations 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 refrained from nominating 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 Table of Precedence for Canada15 was amended to move the Speaker of the House of Commons from eighth position to fifth, immediately after the Governor General (or the Administrator of the Government of Canada), the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Canada and the Speaker of the Senate.16 Since the mid-1970s, the salary and allowances attached to the office of Speaker have been comparable to those of a Cabinet Minister.17 Moreover, a long-standing rule providing for appeals to the House from decisions of the Speaker was removed from the Standing Orders in 1965.18 In addition, rules, which were provisionally adopted on June 27, 1985, and made permanent in June 1987, provide for the election of the Speaker by secret ballot. In 2015, this was changed from a majority runoff system to a single preferential ballot system.19 Changes to the Standing Orders adopted in 2004 conferred upon the Speaker the responsibility of selecting the three other Presiding Officers, after consultations with the leaders of all recognized parties.20

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”.21

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.22 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.23 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 shall remain in office, for administrative purposes, until the opening of the new Parliament.24

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,25 in tabling the reports of these Commissions and in the filing of possible objections.26 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.27

Certain statutes require the Speaker to receive reports and other documents and to table them in the House.28 Other statutes, such as 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.29

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, as head of the House administration, under the direction of the Speaker.30

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 may accurately be described as its representative and authoritative counsellor in all matters of form and procedure.31 The office of the Speaker must 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 the balancing of the rights and interests of the majority and minority in the House to ensure that public business is transacted efficiently and that the interests of all parts of the House are advocated and protected against the use of arbitrary authority.32 It is in this spirit that the Speaker, as the chief servant of the House, applies the rules. The Speaker is the servant, neither of any part of the House nor of any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and serves the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.

Despite the considerable authority of the office, the Speaker may exercise only those powers conferred upon him or her by the House, within the limits established by the House itself. In ruling on matters of procedure, the Speaker is expected to adhere strictly to this principle, delineating the extent of the Speaker’s authority and in some cases offering suggestions as to matters which the House may see fit to pursue.33

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.34 At the opening of each Parliament, the House is summoned to the Senate Chamber where the newly elected Speaker addresses the Crown or its representative and claims for the Commons all of its accustomed rights and privileges.35 The claim holds good for the life of the Parliament and is not repeated in the event of the election of a new Speaker during the course of a Parliament.36 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.37

The right to freedom of speech is not, however, absolute; there are restrictions imposed by the House on its Members, 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, Members refrain from discussion of many matters which are currently under consideration by a court.38 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.39 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.40 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.41 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 can a motion be brought formally before the House for its consideration.42

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. This duty carries with it a wide-ranging authority extending to matters as diverse as the behaviour and attire of Members, the conduct of proceedings, the rules of debate and disruptions on the floor of the Chamber and in its galleries.43 When a decision on a matter of procedure or a question of order is reached, the Standing Orders require the Speaker to identify which Standing Order or other authority is being applied to the case.44

However, this is not always applied in practice. Sometimes, a ruling is delivered quickly and with a minimum of explanation.45 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.46 The Speaker might also reserve his or her decision on a matter, returning to the House at a later time to deliver the ruling.47 Once the Speaker has ruled, the matter is no longer open to debate or discussion. On rare occasions, the Speaker has, however, chosen to amend or clarify a previous ruling.48

In addition to ruling on procedural issues, Speakers may make statements with a view to providing information, clarification or direction to the House.49

There are a number of ways in which the Speaker may act to ensure 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.50 The Speaker may intervene directly to address an individual Member or the House in general,51 or the Speaker may respond to a point of order raised by another Member.52 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 usually asks the Member to rephrase or withdraw the word or expression.53

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.54 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, declining in the meantime to “see” the Member should the latter rise to be recognized.55 A warning at the time the Member is called to order that the Chair may elect to do this has sometimes been sufficient to secure compliance.56

The most severe sanction available to the Speaker for maintaining order in the House is “naming”, a disciplinary measure reserved for Members who persistently disregard the authority of the Chair.57 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., to address the Member by name rather than by constituency or title, as is the usual practice,) and without putting the question to the House, to order his or her withdrawal from the Chamber for the remainder of the sitting day.58 During debate in a Committee of the Whole House, if a Member persists in disorderly conduct and refuses to obey the injunction of the Chair to desist, 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.59 The Speaker will then ordinarily follow the procedure for naming the Member.60 The power to name a Member extends as well to the Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Speakers.61

Another means of preserving order in the Chamber is the Speaker’s discretionary power to order the withdrawal of strangers;62 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 measure has also been used to clear the galleries of individuals whose presence has been a cause of disruption.63 From time to time, the Speaker has also seen fit to remind spectators in the galleries of the standard of behaviour expected of them.64 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,65 the Speaker may put the question “That strangers be ordered to withdraw”.66 This motion is neither debatable nor amendable; if it is decided in the affirmative, the Speaker, relying on security staff, then ensures that the galleries are vacated.67

No Appeals

The Standing Orders prohibit any debate on decisions of the Speaker and prohibit any appeal of a Speaker’s decision to the House.68 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).69 In the early years of Confederation, this was rarely done.70 After the turn of the 20th century, however, Members began asserting their right to an appeal to the House.71 By the 1920s and thereafter, hardly a session passed that did not see at least one such appeal.72 The practice reached a peak in the session of 1956 when 11 appeals of Speaker’s rulings were made, mostly during the very contentious pipeline debate.73 Similar numbers of appeals were made in the Twenty-Fifth (1962–63) and Twenty-Sixth (1963–65) Parliaments.74 In 1965, as part of a series of amendments to the Standing Orders, the ability of Members to appeal rulings of the Speaker was abolished.75 Former Speaker Lambert supported the abolition of such 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”.76

Before 1965, there were a few instances in which decisions of the Speaker were appealed and not sustained by the House. The first of these occurred in 1873 when the House overruled the Speaker on the acceptability of a petition.77 In 1926, another ruling was rejected, and three more in 1963 were not sustained.78 The vote on a fourth ruling in 1963 resulted in a tie and was sustained only when the Speaker declined to cast a vote and ruled that his decision should stand “since the decision has not been negatived”.79

Since 1965, Members have occasionally attempted to circumvent the prohibition against appeals by rising on points of order to “seek clarification” of a Speaker’s ruling or statement. In these circumstances, the Chair typically advises the Member to review the written transcript of his ruling and/or to consult the procedural authorities cited therein.80

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.81 The actions of the Speaker may not be criticized in debate or by any means except by way of a substantive motion. Such motions have been moved against the Speaker82 or other Presiding Officers83 on very 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 privileges84 and in the other a gross breach of its privileges.85

In 1981, a Minister complained that remarks directed to Speaker Sauvé by the Leader of the Opposition constituted an attack on the former’s authority and impartiality. The following day, the Minister rose on a question of privilege calling for the matter 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.86

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 declared that they “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 forthwith to a committee. Two days later, the Member rose in the House and withdrew the remarks.87

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 placed on the Order of Precedence but was later withdrawn from the Order Paper without having been debated.88

In 1998, a Member rose on 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”.89

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 debate90 and votes only in the event of an equality of voices, normally referred to as the “casting vote” of the Chair.91 Since 1979, the Speaker, unlike all other Members, has not been assigned a desk in the Chamber; this is a further indication that it has become an established practice that the Speaker has no role whatsoever in debate, whether in the House or in a Committee of the Whole.92

Although the requirement that Speakers remain mute in debate has existed since 1867, it has not always been applied when the House has 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.93 By 1927, however, the practice had become rare, and when Speaker Lemieux spoke in Committee, Members objected.94 After this, Speakers did not intervene in a Committee of the Whole except on occasion to defend their estimates.95 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.96

In the past, Speakers have appeared before, and have sometimes chaired, House committees, usually when matters of procedure and proposed reform of the rules have been considered.97 However, there has been a growing tendency during the last few Parliaments for Speakers to limit themselves to appearing as witnesses only on matters within their jurisdiction.

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 (see Figure 7.1, “Casting Vote of the Speaker Since 1867”).98

Figure 7.1 Casting Vote of the Speaker Since 1867



Motion Before the House

Casting Vote (Yea or Nay)

Speaker’s Statement


Speaker Cockburn (1867–73)


May 6, 1870

A three month hoist amendment to a motion for third reading of a bill entitled a Bill respecting interest.


“…to keep the Bill before the House.”

Journals, pp. 310‑1

Debates, col. 1405‑6

Speaker Ouimet (1887–91)


February 28, 1889

A six month hoist amendment to a motion to study a bill entitled Bill to make further provision as to the prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and to amend chapter one hundred and seventy-two of the Revised Statutes of Canada, intituled: “An Act respecting Cruelty to Animals” in Committee of the Whole.


“…to give the House a further opportunity for consideration.”

“…to leave the question before the House.”

Journals, pp. 113‑4

Debates, p. 368

Speaker Lemieux (1922–30)


March 31, 1925

A motion to use the remainder of the time allotted to the consideration of Private Bills for the consideration of Public Bills and Orders.


“…as there is a Committee [Special Committee appointed to consider jointly with Mr. Speaker the advisability of revising the Rules of the House] appointed by the House to discuss the advisability of amending some rules and as this committee has not yet considered Rule 25 which is affected by the principle involved in the said motion, therefore it would be wise to let the committee consider this motion and report on it before further action.”

Journals, pp. 180‑2

Debates, pp. 1714‑5

Speaker Macnaughton (1963–65)


December 4, 1963

A motion to sustain the ruling of the Chair.

The Chair did not vote

“Since the decision has not been negatived, I declare my ruling sustained.”

Journals, pp. 621‑2

Debates, pp. 5405‑6

Speaker Milliken (2001–11)


September 16, 2003

An amendment to delete certain words in a Supply day motion.


“…since the House has been unable to take a decision tonight, I will vote so that Members may be given another opportunity to pronounce themselves on the issue at some future time and, accordingly, I cast my vote in the negative.”

Journals, pp. 972‑3

Debates, pp. 7436‑7


May 4, 2005

A motion for second reading of Bill C-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (consecutive sentence for use of firearm in commission of offence).


“…for further debate on this bill.”

Journals, pp. 701‑2

Debates, pp. 5674‑5


May 19, 2005

A motion for second reading of Bill C-48, An Act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments.


“…to allow the House time for further debate so that it can make its own decision at some future time.”

Journals, pp. 783‑4

Debates, pp. 6259‑60


April 29, 2009

A motion for second reading of Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period).


“…in circumstances such as today’s it is customary, for this Speaker at least, to vote in favour of a motion at second reading.”

Journals, pp. 427‑9

Debates, pp. 2868‑9


October 8, 2009

A motion to proceed to Orders of the Day.


“…the Chair normally votes in favour of further debate on a matter. Accordingly, in this case, I will vote no on the motion so that the debate on the motion before the House may continue.”

Journals, pp. 892‑4

Debates, pp. 5725‑6

Speaker Scheer (2011–15)


June 6, 2012

A motion for second reading of Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying).


“…it has been the tradition that at second reading the Speaker votes in favour of a motion at second reading, so I will declare the motion carried.”

Journals, pp. 1450‑2

Debates, pp. 8996‑8

Speaker Regan (2015–present)


May 16, 2016

A motion for concurrence at report stage of Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to provide for certain other measures.


“…precedents hold that the Speaker votes to allow debate to continue on a matter before the House, which in this case, means that I would vote yes.”

Journals, pp. 453‑5

Debates, pp. 3352‑4

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 his or her impartiality. Therefore, certain conventions have developed as a guide to Speakers (and Chairs in a Committee of the Whole) in the infrequent exercise of the casting vote.99 Concisely put, the Speaker normally votes 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, preserving the possibility that the matter might somehow be brought back in the future and be decided by a majority of the House; and
  • leaving a bill in its existing form rather than causing it to be amended.100

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”.101 The application of this convention has not always been entirely consistent. For instance, on one occasion, the Speaker voted in favour of a hoist amendment102 to the motion for third reading of a bill in order “to keep the Bill before the House”;103 on another, the Speaker voted against a hoist amendment for the same reason (“to give the House a further opportunity for consideration”).104

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 state reasons. Any reasons given are recorded in the Journals.105 On three occasions, an equality of voices was announced, the Speaker cast his vote and it later came to light that no tie had occurred. In all three instances, the Speaker subsequently made a brief statement to the House in which he corrected the record.106 On another occasion, prior to the abolition of appeals from Speakers’ rulings, the voices were equal on a 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.107

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.108 When opening a sitting, the Speaker takes the Chair, calls the House to order, reads the prayer and calls for a moment of private reflection; on Wednesdays, the Speaker recognizes a Member to lead the House in the singing of the national anthem. The Speaker then directs that the doors to the public galleries be opened, and 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 (or one of the other Chair Occupants) takes the Chair.109

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 to the House for a decision, and afterwards to announce the result to the House.110

Recognizing Members to speak in the House: No Member may speak in the House until called upon 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 encourage the participation of all parties in debate; nevertheless, the decision as to who may speak is ultimately the Speaker’s.111

Deciding on points of order, questions of privilege and debate on motions: 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.112 The Speaker rules on questions of order and questions of privilege as they occur and not in anticipation.113 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. In ruling on questions of order and questions of privilege, the Speaker cites the Standing Order or other applicable authority.114 At times, the Speaker may be called upon to deal with situations not provided for in the Standing Orders; in such cases, the rules give authority to the Speaker to consider parliamentary tradition in jurisdictions outside the House of Commons of Canada “so far as they may be applicable”.115

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.116 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.117

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.118 This includes ensuring that the House has 24-hours’ notice of the item to be considered in each sitting,119 seeing to the arrangement of exchanges when a sponsoring Member is unable to be present when his or her item is scheduled for consideration,120 and refusing a notice of an item of Private Members’ Business which is deemed to be substantially the same as another.121

Private bills: When private bills122 are to be brought before Parliament, persons 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.123 The Speaker also has the power to issue a temporary or absolute prohibition on an individual acting as a parliamentary agent, in cases where the agent has failed to act in accordance with parliamentary rules and practice.124

Tabling of documents: Statutory provisions, as well as rules of the House, require the Speaker to receive and table certain reports and documents in the House. When the Speaker tables a document, he or she may do so during the sitting;125 alternatively, the document may be deposited with the Clerk of the House.126 In either case, the tabling is noted in the Journals.127 Documents tabled by the Speaker are, among others, 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.128 The reports consist of minutes of the Board’s meetings, which are tabled as they are approved by the Board.129 The Speaker is also responsible for tabling the annual reports of the Board’s decisions respecting the budgets of parliamentary committees.130 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.131
  • The Speaker is required, after consultation with the House Leaders, to table annually, before September 30, a calendar of sitting and non-sitting weeks for the following year.132
  • Statutory requirements exist whereby designated officers of Parliament133 and other designated entities transmit their annual reports, and any special or investigatory reports to the Speaker, who then tables them in the House.134
  • 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.135
  • When election results are contested or appealed under the Canada Elections Act, reports of court decisions are made to the Speaker, who then informs the House.136

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 to grant the request.137 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.138 An emergency debate ends at the times specified in the Standing Orders, but again, the Speaker has discretion to declare the motion carried and to adjourn the House to the next sitting day if, in the Speaker’s opinion, debate has concluded before those times.139 Once it is under way, 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.140

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 on which it is scheduled to reconvene.141 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.142 A notice for recall of the House is not usually withdrawn; however, 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.143

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 Order Paper and Notice Paper, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, bills, and the minutes and reports of House of Commons committees.144

Chairs of legislative committees: The Speaker also has responsibilities with regard to Chairs of legislative committees.145 It is the Speaker’s duty at the start of each session, and thereafter as necessary, to select Members to form a Panel of Chairs. 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 on the Panel ex officio.146 Whenever the House decides to proceed with the appointment of a legislative committee, it is the Speaker’s responsibility to select from the Panel of Chairs a Member to chair that committee.147

Take-note debates: The Speaker may, further to the adoption of a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown, preside over a take-note debate conducted in a Committee of the Whole.148

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.149 The House administration supports Members of Parliament, individually and collectively, in their parliamentary roles and the House itself as an institution.

One of the fundamental privileges of the House is the right to regulate its own internal affairs, exercising exclusive jurisdiction over its premises and the people within.150 By virtue of the Parliament of Canada Act, all matters of administrative and financial policy affecting the House of Commons are overseen by the Board of Internal Economy,151 which is composed of Members of the House from the government and opposition parties. The Speaker presides over the Board of Internal Economy.

The day-to-day management of the staff of the House of Commons rests with the Clerk152 and the senior officials reporting to the Clerk, subject to orders of the House or of the Speaker.153

Spending estimates 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.154

The right of each House of Parliament to regulate its own internal affairs also extends to the management of the premises “within the precinct and beyond the debating Chamber …”.155 As guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, the Speaker ensures that they are respected within and outside the House.156 Within the precinct, the Speakers of the two Houses jointly oversee matters of security and policing which are the operational responsibility of the Parliamentary Protective Service.157 There are occasions when the security staff request and receive assistance from outside police forces. It is well established that outside police forces wishing to enter the Parliament Buildings must first obtain permission from the Speaker to do so, and that the authority to grant or withhold such permission rests with the Speaker, who exercises sole discretion in this regard.158

The Speaker, acting in accordance with an order of the House, may also request the civil authorities to hand over any individual in their custody whose presence is required in the exercise of the constitutional rights and powers of the House of Commons. In 2007, Speaker Milliken did so, issuing a rare “Speaker’s warrant” requiring the attendance of an incarcerated individual before a standing committee of the House.159

As the chief administrator of the House, the Speaker oversees all of its dealings with government departments in matters of administration. For instance, officials of the House of Commons, under the Speaker’s authority, work in close co-operation with Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) 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.160 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”.161 The NCC is responsible for maintaining the grounds on Parliament Hill162 and this historic site is the focal point of much other public activity. The Speaker is naturally interested in ensuring 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 unimpeded access to the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Precinct at all times.163

Ceremonial/Diplomatic Role of the Speaker

Certain responsibilities of the Speaker are 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 of the House of Commons in its relations with the Senate, the Crown and other bodies. Messages, correspondence and documents addressed to the House of Commons are communicated to it by the Speaker.164

When entering or leaving the House at the beginning or end of a sitting, the Speaker is always preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace. 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 Chamber of the House of Commons.165

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,166 or whenever there is to be a traditional ceremony to grant Royal Assent to bills.167 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.168

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 interparliamentary associations and groups.169 The Speaker of the House is an honorary president of each of them. Under the Speaker’s authority (and that of the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration) a Joint Interparliamentary Council distributes funds to the various associations and oversees their administration.170 Parliamentarians (as delegates, members or participants) attend national, bilateral and international meetings, conferences and seminars arranged through the parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups.

Outside the framework of the interparliamentary 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 opportunities 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 meetings of Speakers from Canada and abroad.

In accordance with the role of representative of the House, the Speaker is the only Member who may draw the attention of the House to the presence of distinguished visitors seated in the gallery of the House.171 Generally, this takes place immediately following Question Period, although the Speaker has also recognized visitors prior to Question Period and even during Question Period.172 In most cases, the visitors recognized are seated in the Speaker’s Gallery.173 Although no Standing Orders exist to define what types of visitors the Speaker shall recognize, current practice is to recognize:

  • heads of state, heads of provincial, territorial and foreign governments and Leaders of National Aboriginal Organizations;
  • presidents or secretaries general of important international organizations (e.g., the United Nations);
  • official parliamentary delegations, Presiding Officers and cabinet ministers from provincial and territorial legislative assemblies, or from foreign countries; and
  • Canadians who have distinguished themselves in any field of endeavour by their achievements, deeds or success of national or international scope.174

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.175

Election of the Speaker as Presiding Officer

The election of the Speaker of the House of Commons is a constitutional requirement.176 An election must take place at the opening 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 would again take place; a vacancy occurring for any other reason would also lead to the election of a new Speaker.177 This constitutional requirement is the basis of the Standing Orders which specify when and under what circumstances the election of a Speaker takes place.178 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.179 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.180 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.181

Although the time at which a Speaker is to be elected is indicated in the Constitution, no Standing Order before 1985 ever prescribed the means by which 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.182 After debate on the motion, the question was put by the Clerk and the nominee was elected by a majority of the Members present; in almost all cases, the motion was carried unanimously.183 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.184

In 1985, the House adopted a new procedure to be followed in electing a Speaker by secret ballot.185 Using a majority runoff system186, 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.187 The protracted election prompted calls for changes in the process; to that end, the Standing Orders were amended in 1987 to exclude from subsequent ballots candidates receiving five per cent or less of the total votes cast. At the same time, the secret ballot procedure became permanent.188 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. Speaker Milliken was elected after five ballots in 2001, acclaimed in 2004, elected after a single ballot in 2006, and elected after five ballots in 2008. In 2011, Speaker Scheer was elected after six ballots.

In 2001, the Standing Orders were amended to afford each candidate for the Office of Speaker an opportunity to address the House for not more than five minutes prior to the first ballot.189 This change had been recommended to allow all Members to hear from the candidates in an open forum.190 Then, in 2015, the Standing Orders were amended to provide for a single preferential ballot system for the election of the Speaker.191 This change had been recommended as a way to improve the often lengthy multiple ballot system, and to encourage a nonpartisan voting. In 2015, Speaker Regan was the first Speaker elected using this system.192

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 by means of a message delivered to the House by the Usher of the Black Rod.193 Preceded by the Clerk of the House, the Members make their way to the Senate Chamber where they are informed by a Deputy of the Governor General194 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 Ministers and party leaders, are automatically candidates for the Speakership.195 The Standing Orders designate who shall preside over the election of a Speaker,196 but are silent as to whether the Member presiding may also be a candidate. In all elections to date, the Member presiding took the prescribed action of removing 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.197 The notice of withdrawal must be signed by the Member.198 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.199

The rules providing for the Speaker’s election by secret ballot are silent on many aspects of the election process. They do not, for example, indicate whether the Clerk may be assisted in the counting and destruction of ballots or whether the sitting should be suspended while this process is under way. 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; these have since become part of the practice associated with an election of the Speaker.200

The Chamber is set up somewhat differently 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 the holder of any office within the House.201 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.202 In the absence of an outgoing Speaker at an election taking place during the course of a Parliament, the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole would preside.203 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.204

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.205 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 ballot. The Member presiding informs the House that both lists have been distributed to Members at their desks and are also available at the Table. In recent practice, the Member presiding then invites any Members whose names are on the ballot and who do not wish to be considered for election to rise and inform the House accordingly.206 Members appearing on the ballot are permitted to make brief introductory speeches of no more than five minutes to the House.207 Following the speeches, the House suspends its proceedings for 30 minutes before the election is held. The voting begins with an invitation from the Member presiding to 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. Listed on the ballot paper in alphabetical order are the names of all the Members wishing to be considered for the Speakership.208 Once provided with a ballot paper, Members then proceed to the voting booth on the appropriate side of the Table. Each Member votes by ranking the candidates in order of preference, marking the number “1” in the space adjacent to the name of the candidate who is their first preference, the number “2” in the space adjacent to the name of the candidate who is their second preference and so on. Members are not required to rank all the candidates and may vote for only one candidate, if they so choose.209 The Member then deposits the ballot paper in the ballot box210 and then leaves 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. The Member presiding then signifies that the proceedings are suspended while the counting of the ballots takes place.

The ballots are counted in secret. The Clerk counts the number of first preferences recorded on the ballots. If a candidate receives a majority of first preferences, the Clerk provides the Member presiding with the name of that candidate.211 If no candidate receives an absolute majority of first preferences, the candidate (or candidates) with the least number of first preferences is (are) eliminated, and the ballots are then reallocated. In all subsequent counts, ballots belonging to the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences are reallocated to other candidates based on their subsequent preference; that is, the Clerk treats the second or lower preference on the ballot as if it were the first preference for the next highest candidate in the order of preference who is not eliminated. This process continues until a candidate receives an absolute majority of votes.212 The Standing Orders provide that each ballot is considered in every count, unless it is exhausted.213 A ballot is exhausted when all the candidates indicated as a preference on that ballot are eliminated.214

In the case of a tie between two or more candidates, the Clerk prepares new ballot papers listing the candidates’ names in alphabetical order, and the Members vote in the same way as for the first ballot.215 If necessary, the House may continue to sit beyond its usual adjournment time until a Speaker is declared elected.216

Once there is a successful candidate, the bells are rung for a few minutes to call the House to order and the Clerk re-enters the Chamber. The Clerk passes the name of the successful candidate to the Member presiding, who then announces it from the Chair.217 The Clerk is enjoined by the Standing Orders not to divulge in any way the number of preferences marked for any candidate, and once the Speaker is declared elected, the ballots and all related records of the vote are destroyed.218

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 the Speaker-elect is escorted from his or her seat to the dais by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It is customary for the Speaker-elect to offer a token show of resistance.219

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.220 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 advent of secret ballot elections, a practice has developed whereby the party leaders rise 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.221 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 spoken of warmly 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.222

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.223 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.224 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.225 Since then, the Speaker has been elected before the usual adjournment time, and the House has then adjourned to the following day at the time fixed for the opening of Parliament.226

During the election of a Speaker, debate is not permitted, motions are not accepted and the Member presiding may not entertain any question of privilege.227 On one occasion, a point of order was raised and settled by the Chair.228

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.229

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.230

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 a new Speaker is elected before the end of a Parliament.231

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 office232 or in the absence of the Speaker, by the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole.233 Because the Office of Speaker is vacant, the Mace is not on the Table.234 The Prime Minister informs the Members that the Governor General has given the House leave to elect a Speaker. The Chair Occupant then presides over the usual proceedings for the election of a Speaker. Once a successful candidate has been 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.235 Upon its return from the Senate, the House proceeds to the business of the sitting.

Only 2 of the 36 Speakers elected since Confederation were elected during a session.236 Both cases predate the 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 Second Session of the Thirty-Second Parliament (1984) to succeed Speaker Sauvé, who resigned to become Governor General. 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 Chair of Committees of the Whole, 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.237 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 is normally 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 take place the following day.238

The election of a Speaker on the opening day of the second or subsequent session of a Parliament has occurred six times since 1867.239 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 new rules adopted in 1985 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.240 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 exception241) 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.242 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 neither to the government nor to the opposition, but to the House.243 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.244

However, 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.245 While the rules do not permit debate during the election process, an amendment to the rules in 2001 provided for candidates to make brief statements to the House.246

In each of the 10 elections of the Speaker held under the secret ballot system (1986, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2015), campaign activity occurred but took place informally outside the Chamber. For example, prior to the election of the Speaker in 1994, some of the parties in the House organized caucus meetings to which individual candidates were invited.247 Prior to the 1997 election of the Speaker it was suggested that candidates should declare themselves and attend an all-party question and answer session organized by one of the opposition parties.248 Similarly, in 2001, all candidates’ meetings were held prior to the election of the Speaker.249 Prior to the election of the Speaker in 2008 and in 2011, some candidates hosted election-day receptions, where Members were invited to gather between rounds of voting.250


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.251 When Parliament is dissolved, the Speaker is deemed to remain in office for administrative purposes until a new election takes place.252 Should a vacancy in the Speakership occur during a Parliament, another Speaker must be elected forthwith;253 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 illness. In his absence, the Chair was taken by the Deputy Speaker.254 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.255 The next day, the House met at its usual time and immediately proceeded to elect a new Speaker.256

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

On three occasions, vacancies in the Speakership arose after the Speaker gave written notice of his or her intention 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 reconvened on January 17, the date set for the opening of the session. The House then proceeded to elect a new Speaker.257

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, 1983, reconvened on January 16, 1984, and the Clerk read the letter. The House then proceeded to the election of Speaker Francis.258

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.259 He wrote to the Clerk on September 5, 1986, while Parliament was prorogued, tendering his resignation to take effect upon 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 the Standing Orders, he presided over the election by secret ballot of Speaker Fraser.260

In three 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 Cabinet261 and Speaker Sproule (1911–15) was appointed to the Senate.262 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 1904,263 Speaker Sproule in 1916,264 and Speaker Sévigny in 1917.265

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.266 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.267 He was again nominated for the Speakership and was re-elected.268

Few examples exist in Canada of the resignation of a Speaker following directly from the action of a legislative body to effect his or her removal.269 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.270 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.271 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.272 When the House next met, the Committee reported that it had communicated with the Lieutenant Governor; a new Speaker was elected forthwith.273

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.274 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), 11 from rulings of the Speaker and 14 from rulings of the Chair in a Committee of the Whole, all of which were sustained.275 A motion of censure against the Speaker (a very rare occurrence) was moved and defeated.276 Three weeks after passage of the Bill by the House, a question of privilege was raised which called into question the Speaker’s impartiality.277 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.278 However, no resolution of the House was forthcoming and no objection was registered when the Speaker continued to fulfill his official duties. Speaker Beaudoin served for the balance of the Twenty-Second Parliament.

In March 2000, notice was given in the House of a motion of censure imputing bias to the Speaker in respect of a ruling on a question of privilege.279 The ruling had been in response to allegations that privileged communications between Members and the Office of the Legislative Counsel had been inappropriately disclosed. Debate on the motion was twice circumvented by means of government motions to proceed immediately to Orders of the Day. Consultations among the House Leaders led ultimately to the withdrawal of the motion of censure and to the adoption, after debate, of a motion referring the issue of confidentiality to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.280