Manner of Speaking

Place of Speaking

A Member must be in his or her designated place and must stand in order to be recognized to speak.79 The Speaker may, however, exempt any Member with a disability from these requirements on an ongoing basis.80 Otherwise, temporary individual exceptions to these two conditions have occurred, for example, when a Member has been unable to rise as a result of an injury or illness.81 When the Chair Occupant rises, Members standing must sit down.82 When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole or during proceedings pursuant to Standing Orders 38(5) (Adjournment Proceedings), 52 (Emergency Debates) and 53.1 (Take-note Debates), Members may rise and speak from any Member’s seat.83

Remarks Addressed to the Chair

Any Member participating in debate, whether during a sitting of the House or a Committee of the Whole, must address the Chair, not the House, a particular Minister or Member, the galleries, the television audience, or any other entity.84 Since one of the basic principles of procedure in the House is that the proceedings be conducted in a respectful manner, Members are less apt to engage in heated exchanges and personal attacks when their comments are directed to the Chair rather than to another Member. If a Member directs remarks toward another Member and not the Speaker, the Member will be called to order and may be asked to rephrase the remarks.85

Proper Attire

While the Standing Orders do not prescribe a dress code for Members participating in debate,86 Speakers have ruled that all Members desiring to be recognized to speak at any point during the proceedings of the House must be wearing contemporary business attire.87 Current practice requires that male Members wear jackets, shirts and ties. Clerical collars have been allowed, although ascots and turtlenecks have been ruled inappropriate for male Members participating in debate.88 The Chair has stated that wearing a kilt is permissible on certain occasions (for example, Robert Burns Day).89 Members of the House who are in the armed forces have been permitted to wear their uniforms in the House.90 Although there is no notation to this effect in the Journals or in the Debates, a newly elected Member introduced in the House in 2005 wore traditional Métis dress (including a white hooded anorak bearing an embroidered seal emblem) on that occasion without objection from the Chair.91

In certain circumstances, usually for medical reasons, the Chair has allowed a relaxation of the dress standards permitting, for example, a Member whose arm was in a cast to wear a sweater in the House instead of a jacket.92

Language of Debate

The Constitution Act, 1867 guarantees that a Member may address the House in either English or French.93 Given the bilingual nature of the House and the existence of simultaneous interpretation,94 Members rarely have difficulty expressing their views and having them understood in the Chamber. In addition, all parliamentary publications, such as the Journals, the Debates, and the Order Paper and Notice Paper, are printed in both official languages.

Other languages are occasionally used in debate, but not at great length.95 The Chair has invited Members who use a language other than French or English to repeat their comments in one of the two official languages in order to allow for simultaneous interpretation.96 As the Speaker has noted, however, serious difficulties could arise in maintaining order, and the accuracy of the records of the House, if languages other than English or French were used to any great extent.97 Members have also used sign language to make statements and to ask questions during Question Period.98

Reading of Speeches

Although not formally prohibited by a Standing Order, the practice of reading from a written speech while addressing the House was, until recent decades, frowned upon. The practice of discouraging the reading of speeches is of British derivation and was intended to maintain the cut and thrust of debate, which depends upon successive speakers addressing the arguments put forward by previous speakers.99

Although the tradition of not reading speeches existed at Confederation, changing practices prompted the House, in 1886, to adopt the following resolution:

That the growing practice in the Canadian House of Commons of delivering speeches of great length, having the character of carefully and elaborately prepared written essays, and indulging in voluminous and often irrelevant extracts, is destructive of legitimate and pertinent debate upon public questions, is a waste of valuable time, unreasonably lengthens the Sessions of Parliament, threatens by increased bulk and cost to lead to the abolition of the official report of the Debates, encourages a discursive and diffuse, rather than an incisive and concise style of public speaking, is a marked contrast to the practice in regard to debate that prevails in the British House of Commons, and tends to repel the public from a careful and intelligent consideration of the proceedings of Parliament.100

Notwithstanding this, the problem persisted and several Speakers felt obliged to address it during the decades that followed in statements and rulings discouraging the reading of speeches.101 In 1956, Speaker Beaudoin received the consent of the House to have printed in the Journals a statement on the issue in which he cited authorities on procedure (i.e., May, Bourinot, Beauchesne and various Speakers) and the practice of the House. His careful summary of established practice in this regard remains definitive:

A Member addressing the House may refer to notes. The Prime Minister, the cabinet ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, the leaders of other parties or Members speaking on their behalf, may read important policy speeches. New Members may read their [maiden] speeches. The Members speaking in a language other than their mother tongue, the Members speaking in debates involving matters of a technical nature, or in debates on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and on the budget may use full notes or, if they wish, read their speeches.102

As demands on the time and energy of Members of Parliament continue to increase, their use of speaking notes, and even of prepared texts, has become more common. The Chair has, accordingly, been disinclined to insist that Members refrain from reading written speeches. When points of order have been raised in this regard, Chairs have typically ruled that it is permissible for Members to refer to notes.103

Use of Lectern

It has long been an accepted practice for the Minister of Finance to make use of a lectern during the presentation of the budget. This convenience was unavailable to other Members, although Chair Occupants made no objection to Members laying their speaking notes on books. This changed in 2003 with the adoption by the House of a committee report recommending that portable lecterns be made available to all Members upon request.104

Citation of Documents

There is no Standing Order which governs the citation of documents; the House is guided mainly by custom and precedent. Generally, the reading of articles from newspapers, books or other documents by a Member during debate has become an accepted practice and is not ruled out of order provided that such quotations do not reflect on past proceedings in the House,105 do not refer to, comment on or deny anything said by a Member,106 and do not use language which would be out of order if spoken by a Member.107

A speech should not consist of a single long quotation or a series of quotations joined together by only a few original sentences.108 Members may not quote from the “blues” (the unedited preliminary version of the Debates) nor may they quote from correspondence when there is no way of confirming the authenticity of the signature.109 They may quote from private correspondence as long as they identify the sender by name or take full responsibility for its contents.110 Finally, Members may not quote from the proceedings of a committee before it has reported to the House.111

Tabling of Documents and Speeches

Any document quoted by a Minister in debate or in response to a question during Question Period must be tabled upon request.112 Indeed, a Minister is not at liberty to read or quote from a dispatch (an official written message on government affairs) or other state paper without being prepared to table it if this can be done without prejudice to the public interest.113 As Speaker Glen noted in a 1941 ruling:

… an honourable Member is not entitled to read from communications unless prepared to place them on the Table of the House. The principle upon which this is based is that where information is given to the House, the House itself is entitled to the same information as the honourable Member who may quote the document.114

It is not necessary to table a public document referred to but not quoted by a Minister.115 If a Minister quotes a private letter in debate, the letter becomes a public document and must be tabled on request.116 However, a Minister is not obliged to table personal or briefing notes referred to during debate or Question Period.117 Although it is customary to do so under the rubric “Tabling of Documents”, a Minister is at liberty to table a document at any time without any requirement for consent.118 All documents tabled in the House by a Minister are required to be in both official languages.119

There has been a long-standing practice in the House that private Members may not table documents, official or otherwise.120 Speaker Lamoureux observed that while Ministers must, upon request, table official documents cited in debate in support of an argument, this rule has never been interpreted to apply to documents referred to by private Members. In 1974, when a Member attempted to seek unanimous consent to table a document, Speaker Lamoureux stated that there was “no provision in the rules for a private Member to table or file documents in any way”. The Speaker concluded by suggesting that Members “could presumably make them public in a number of other ways”.121 However, since the mid-1980s, with the unanimous consent of the House, Members have been allowed to table documents or material to which they have referred during their speeches or during Question Period.122 These documents (often copies of correspondence or advertisements) have on occasion been tabled in only one language.123 Private Members sometimes place on the Table material for the information of all Members, although this is not considered an official tabling.124

In order that the Debates be as accurate a record as possible of what was actually spoken in the House, Members are not permitted to table speeches for printing in the Debates.125 Very rarely a Member has received the consent of the House to have long lists, statistics or similar material printed in the Debates as part of a speech.126 There have also been instances when the House has given its consent to have documents or exchanges of letters printed as a formal appendix to the Debates for the information of the House.127

Displays, Exhibits and Props

Speakers have consistently ruled that visual displays or demonstrations of any kind used by Members to illustrate their remarks or emphasize their positions are out of order. Similarly, props of any kind have always been found to be unacceptable in the Chamber.128 Members may hold notes in their hands, but they will be interrupted and reprimanded by the Speaker if they use papers, documents or other objects to illustrate their remarks.129 Exhibits have also been ruled inadmissible.130 During the “Flag Debate” in 1964, the Speaker had to remind Members on numerous occasions that the display of competing flag designs was not permissible.131 Small Canadian flags and desk flags have been disallowed.132 While political buttons and lapel pins have not been considered exhibits as long as they do not cause disorder,133 the Speaker has interrupted a division to request that certain Members remove “props” from their lapels.134

Maiden Speech

A Member’s first speech in the House is referred to as the Member’s “maiden speech”. Traditionally, the House extends certain courtesies to a Member delivering a maiden speech. On such occasions, the Speaker may recognize the Member in preference to others rising at the same time; however, this privilege will not be granted unless claimed within the Parliament to which the Member was first elected.135 The Member is permitted to read his or her speech136 and, by courtesy, is not interrupted.137 Additional time beyond that allotted by the rules is sometimes granted by the Chair to permit a Member to complete his or her speech.138 Since consideration of the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne is normally the first extensive debate in a new session, many new Members take advantage of the occasion to make their maiden speeches.139