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The Evolving Speakership
Gary Levy

Gary Levy is editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review

This article examines three issues related to the Office of Speaker in Canada’s elected legislatures -- how Speakers are chosen, how long they remain in office and the circumstance by which they leave office. It covers all Speakers who have been in office since the Review was established in 1978.

Canada has thirteen elected legislative bodies (the House of Commons, ten provincial and two territorial legislatures) ranging in size from the 301 member House of Commons to the seventeen member Yukon Legislative Assembly. Yet, regardless of an assembly`s size or composition, every Speaker bears ultimate responsibility for balancing two fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy. The majority has the right to conduct its business in an orderly manner and the minority has the right to be heard. This responsibility makes the Speaker a crucial figure in our parliamentary form of government.

The duties of the Presiding Officer have changed little over the centuries. First, he or she is the spokesperson for the House in its relations with outside authorities, including the Crown. Second, the Speaker presides over sittings and enforces rules for the preservation of order and the conduct of business. Third, the Speaker has extensive responsibilities relating to the administration of the House. While these constants remain there have been change in other aspects, most notably the way Speakers are chosen.

The Election Process

For more than a hundred years after Confederation Speakers of the House of Commons were nominated by the Prime Minister then elected in a voice vote by the House. A similar procedure was followed in every other assembly.

To enhance the stature of the Presiding Officer and to make it clear that the Speaker is not a government appointee the House adopted, in 1985, a reform which provided for the election of its Speaker by a secret ballot. Every member (except  Ministers of the Crown) are listed on the ballot unless they have informed the Clerk in writing that they do not want their name to stand. One or more ballots are then held with the lowest person(s) being eliminated until someone emerges with a majority. A variation on this secret ballot procedure has since been adopted by Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories.

As shown in the table on the following page there have now been nearly 20 Speakers elected under rules providing for a secret ballot in various legislatures. When the procedure was introduced, some concerns were expressed in Ottawa that it could end the tradition of rotating the position between English and French Canadians. So far that has not been the case.

There was also speculation that the new process would open the way to Opposition Members being elected if they happened to be the best candidate. Experience so far, in both Ottawa and other legislatures, shows that with the exception of Ronald Russell (Nova Scotia) in 1998 only individuals from the majority party have won the Speakership under the secret ballot system. By contrast under Prime Ministerial nomination James Jerome, a Liberal, was asked to stay on as Speaker by the Conservative Government of Joe Clark following the 1979 election. In Ontario John Stokes of the NDP was chosen as Speaker by the Conservative Government of William Davis in 1977 and another Ontario Conservative Government chose Liberal Hugh Edighoffer as Speaker. In all these cases the Government was in a minority position.

Another issue relates to the chances of ethnic minorities or women under a secret ballot system. There does not seem to be much change in this respect. The three women chosen under the secret ballot system constitute about the same proportion as the eight chosen by Prime Ministerial nomination since 1978.

Perhaps the major difference under the secret ballot system is the cumbersome process for selecting a successor when a Speaker resigns unexpectedly when the House is in session. This happened in Ontario in 1996. The rules provided that there must always be a Speaker but there was no provision for a Deputy Speaker to automatically assume the Chair except during the absence of the Speaker. Before a new Speaker could be elected members naturally wanted a few days to consider the career consequences of seeking this job. It was necessary, therefore, to resort to an interim device. By agreement a new Speaker, Ed Doyle, was elected by acclamation on the understanding he would resign in a week to allow for another secret ballot election.

Of course interim Speakers are sometimes necessary under the Prime Ministerial method of naming Speakers. A case in point is Speaker Robert Bruce of Yukon. Elected to the Yukon Legislature by the narrowest of margins, his election was subsequently contested and the seat declared vacant thereby creating a vacancy in the Speakership. Doug Livingstone became Speaker but Mr. Bruce ran in a by-election and upon his re-election as member he was re-elected Speaker.

The problem of succession could probably be addressed fairly easily by providing in the Standing Orders that upon the departure of a Speaker during a session the Deputy Speaker is deemed to be Speaker for a certain period, perhaps two weeks, after which the a secret ballot election is held in the usual way.

Another interim arrangement occurred in New Brunswick. Shirley Dysart became Speaker under the old system but left when the government announced a shuffle and her replacement by Gérald Clavette. The Government later decided to amend the rules to implement a secret ballot system for the new Speaker. As a result Mr. Clavette was only in office long enough for the new rules to be adopted after which an election was held and Mrs. Dysart returned to the Chair.

 

Speakers of Canada’s Thirteen Elected Legislatures 1978-1998
(Speakers in office since June 1978. To calculate time in office for present Speakers June 6, 1998 is used)

Elections
Since 1978

Speaker

Party

Date First
Elected

Times Elected

Total Days in Office

Subsequently

House of Commons

James Jerome

Lib

September 30, 1974

2

2023

Judge

 

Jeanne Sauvé

Lib

April 14, 1980

1

1372

Governor General

1979 1988

Lloyd Francis

Lib

January 16, 1984

1

295

Defeated

1980 1993

John Bosley

PC

November 6, 1984

1

693

Remained MP

1984 1997

*John Fraser

PC

September 30, 1986

2

2666

Ambassador

 

*Gilbert Parent

Lib

January 17, 1994

2

1601

 

British Columbia

Harvey Schroeder

SC

March 30, 1978

2

1628

Cabinet Minister

 

Walter Davidson

SC

September 13, 1982

2

1516

Retired

1979 1991

John Reynolds

SC

November 7, 1986

2

1098

Cabinet Minister later MP

1983 1996

Stephen Rogers

SC

November 9, 1989

1

726

Retired

1986

Joan Sawicki

NDP

November 5, 1991

1

868

Remained MLA

 

*Emery Barnes

NDP

March 22, 1994

1

826

Retired

 

*Dale Lovick

NDP

June 25, 1996

1

603

Cabinet Minister

 

*Gretchen Brewin

NDP

March 26, 1998

1

72

 

New Brunswick

William Woodroffe

PC

March 2, 1973

2

2020

Retired

 

Robert McCready

PC

Februray 1, 1979

1

777

Cabinet Minister

1978 1991

James Tucker

Lib

March 24, 1981

2

1654

Cabinet Minister

1982 1995

Charles Gallagher

Lib

April 8, 1986

1

508

Defeated

1987

Frank Branch

Lib

March 22, 1988

1

1248

Remained MLA

 

Shirley Dysart

Lib

February 11, 1992

1

813

Remained MLA

 

Gérald Clavette

Lib

November 29, 1994

1

3

Remained MLA

 

*Shirley Dysart

Lib

December 2, 1994

1

326

Retired

 

*Danny Gay

Lib

October 25, 1995

1

635

Cabinet Minister

 

*John McKay

Lib

November 4, 1997

1

214

 

Newfoundland &

Gerald Ottenheimer

PC

November 19, 1975

1

1322

Minister, later Senator

Labrador

Leonard Simms

PC

July 12, 1979

1

1030

Cabinet Minister

 

James Russell

PC

May 10, 1982

1

1080

Cabinet Minister

1979 1989

Patrick McNicholas

PC

April 25, 1985

1

1491

Defeated

1982 1993

Tom Lush

Lib

May 25, 1989

1

1447

Cabinet Minister

1985 1996

Paul Dicks

Lib

May 20, 1993

1

811

Cabinet Minister

 

Lloyd Snow

Lib

October 16, 1995

2

964

 

Nova Scotia

George Doucet

Lib

February 22, 1977

1

652

Retired

 

Ronald Russell

PC

December 6, 1978

1

806

MLA then Speaker then MLA

1978 1988

Arthur Donahoe

PC

February 19, 1981

3

3659

Retired

1981 1993

Ronald Russell

PC

February 26, 1991

1

853

Remained MLA

1984 1998

Paul MacEwan

Lib

June 28, 1993

1

1239

Remained MLA

 

Wayne Gaudet

Lib

November 18, 1996

1

367

Cabinet Minister

 

Gerry Fogarty

Lib

November 20, 1997

1

151

Remained MLA

 

*Ronald Russell

PC

May 21, 1998

1

16

 

Ontario

John Stokes

NDP

October 17, 1977

1

1282

Remained MLA

 

John Turner

PC

April 21, 1981

1

1505

Remained MLA

1977 1987

Hugh Edighoffer

Lib

June 4, 1985

2

1994

Retired

1981 1990

*David Warner

NDP

November 19, 1990

1

1772

Defeated

1985 1995

*Allan McLean

PC

September 26, 1995

1

366

Remained MLA

 

*Ed Doyle

PC

September 26, 1996

1

7

Remained MLA

 

*Chris Stockwell

PC

October 3, 1996

1

611

 

Quebec

Clément Richard

PQ

December 14, 1976

1

1428

Cabinet Minister

 

Claude Vaillancourt

PQ

November 11, 1980

1

862

Judge

1976 1989

Richard Guay

PQ

March 23, 1983

1

999

Defeated

1981 1994

Pierre Lorrain

Lib

December 16, 1985

1

1443

Consul General

1985

Jean-Pierre Saintonge

Lib

November 28, 1989

1

1827

Judge

 

Roger Bertrand

PQ

November 29, 1994

1

469

Cabinet Minister

 

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau

PQ

March 12, 1996

1

816

 

Saskatchewan

John Brockelbank

NDP

November 12, 1975

2

2408

Defeated later MLA

 

Herb Swan

PC

June 17, 1982

1

1629

Cabinet Minister

1978 1991

Arnold Tusa

PC

December 3, 1986

1

1824

Defeated

1982 1995

*Herman Rolfes

NDP

December 2, 1991

1

1549

Retired

1986

*Glenn Hagel

NDP

February 29, 1996

1

828

 

Manitoba

Harry Graham

PC

November 27, 1977

1

1419

Remained MLA

1977 1990

James Walding

NDP

February 25, 1982

1

1447

Remained MLA

1981 1995

Myrna Phillips

NDP

May 8, 1986

1

671

Defeated

1986

Denis Rocan

PC

July 21, 1988

2

2434

Remained MLA

 

Louise Dacquay

PC

May 23, 1995

1

1110

 

Alberta

Gerard Amerongen

PC

March 2, 1972

4

5215

Retired

1979 1989

David Carter

PC

June 12, 1986

2

2636

Retired

1982 1993

*Stan Schumacher

PC

August 30, 1993

1

1322

Retired

1986 1997

*Ken Kowalski

PC

April 14, 1997

1

418

 

Yukon

Donald Taylor

PC

December 13, 1974

4

3866

Defeated

 

Sam Johnston

NDP

July 15, 1985

2

2708

Defeated

1978 1992

Alan Nordling

NDP

December 14, 1992

1

436

Cabinet Minister

1982 1996

John Devries

YP

April 18, 1994

1

960

Retired

1985

Robert Bruce

ND

December 4, 1996

1

85

Unseated, later re-elected

 

Doug Livingston

ND

March 24, 1997

1

17

Remained MLA

 

Robert Bruce

ND

April 14, 1997

1

418

 

Prince Edward

Russell Perry

Lib

June 6, 1978

1

392

Remained MLA

Island

Dan Compton

PC

June 29, 1979

1

1213

Remained MLA

1978 1989

Marion Reid

PC

October 28, 1982

1

1320

Remained MLA

1979 1993

Edward Clark

Lib

June 9, 1986

2

2502

Remained MLA

1982 1996

Nancy Guptill

Lib

April 15, 1993

1

1359

Remained MLA

1986

Wilbur MacDonald

PC

January 3, 1997

1

519

 

Northwest

David Searle

Ind

May 1, 1975

1

1657

Retired

Territories

Robert MacQuarrie

Ind

November 13, 1979

1

344

Remained MLA

 

Donald Stewart

Ind

October 22, 1980

2

2577

Defeated

1979 1991

Red Pedersen

Ind

November 12, 1987

1

706

Remained MLA

1983 1995

Richard Nerysoo

Ind

October 19, 1989

1

755

Cabinet Minister

1987

*Michael Ballantyne

Ind

November 12, 1991

1

728

Remained MLA

 

*Jeannie Marie-Jewell

Ind

December 13, 1993

1

397

Retired

 

*Sam Gargan

Ind

November 20, 1995

1

929

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenure

Results are inconclusive on the question of whether the secret ballot process results in longer tenure. In Ottawa both Speaker John Fraser and Gilbert Parent have been re-elected under this system. In the provinces Speakers Warner (Ontario) Rolfes (Saskatchewan) Schumacher (Alberta) and Barnes (British Columbia) served one term. Several others Speakers elected by secret ballot have yet to submit their names to their colleagues for re-election.

Looking at Speakers chosen by Prime Ministerial nomination since 1978 one notices several individuals who enjoyed more than one term including Don Taylor of Yukon and Gerard Amerongen of Alberta who were elected had four times and Arthur Donahoe of Nova Scotia elected three times.

Opinions will vary as to the ideal tenure for a Presiding Officer but if one takes the norm to be one Speaker per parliament, it will be seen that only the Prairie provinces and Prince Edward Island have maintained that average.  In Alberta there have been six elections since 1978 but only four Speakers which means each Speaker will have served for an average of 1.5 parliaments or about 6 years.  At the other extreme is New Brunswick where there have been five elections and 10 Speakers since 1978.

It is, of course, difficult to generalise about tenure in the Speakership since one has to take into account factors such as the turnover rate for members generally, age at taking office, and reasons for leaving. Such factors have not been considered in this article but the trend in many jurisdictions seems to be toward a shorter term for the Speaker. As of June 1998 the longest serving Speaker was Gilbert Parent who has been in office for four and a half years whereas more than half of the Speakers had less than two year’s experience. Very few jurisdictions have not changed the Speakership in mid term at least once during the last twenty years.

Prospects for Retiring Speakers

At the federal level usual practice is for a retiring Speaker to be offered an appointment as judge, ambassador or even Governor General as in the case for Mrs. Sauvé. Only one Speaker since 1978 returned to his role as private member. In the provinces some former Speakers were awarded with appointments including Marion Reid who became Lieutenant Governor of PEI. However it is not unusual for a Speaker to go back to the backbenches and more than a few  have moved into the Cabinet, something one rarely sees in the House of Commons.

No Speaker has ever gone to become Premier although Len Simms of Newfoundland became Leader of the Opposition. Another Newfoundlander, Gerald Ottenheimer was subsequently appointed to the Senate. John Reynolds went on to become a cabinet member in British Columbia and later a federal MP after leaving the Speakership.

One possible reason many provincial Speakers go on to the cabinet is that in several legislatures there are relatively few private members left on the government side after the original cabinet has been chosen. Since most Premiers do not like to go outside of the legislature to choose Ministers (although they could) the Speakership becomes a prime source of new cabinet material in the event a shuffle is required. As legislatures reduce the number of seats this trend will likely continue.

The final point to emerge from this short study is that while the institution of the Speakership is in theory essentially the same from one Canadian jurisdiction to another there are some subtle and not so subtle differences in the practices examined in this paper.

 

Articles Related to the Office of Speaker from Previous Issues of the Canadian Parliamentary Review


John Bosley. A Speaker Looks at Parliamentary Reform, vol. 8 (1): 7-9, 1985.
Margaret Boyes. Nancy Hodges: Speaker and Trailblazer, vol. 20 (2): 14-15, 1997.
David Carter. Seven Years in the Speaker’s Chair, vol. 17 (1):16-17, 1994.
Maurice Champagne. Censure Motions Against Speakers of Legislative Assemblies, vol. 9 (4):22-23, 1986.
Marcel Danis. The Speakership and Independence: A Tradition in the Making, vol. 10 (2): 17-19, 1987.
Robert Fleming and Thomas Mitchinson. The Speakership in Canada, vol. 6 (1):20-24, 1983.
Lloyd Francis. Some Thoughts on the Office of Deputy Speaker, vol. 4 (1):3-4, 1981.
John A Fraser. What it Means to be Canadian, vol. 14 (4): 2-4, 1991.
Glenn Hagel. Outreach Programs for Legislators in Saskatchewan, vol. 20 (2): 2-3, 1997.
David Hamilton. Freedom of Speech and the Office of Speaker, vol. 21 (1): 7-10, 1998.
James Jerome. Televising the House of Commons: A Retrospective, vol. 4 (4):7-9, 1981.
Gary Levy. The First Election of a Speaker by Secret Ballot, vol. 9 (4): 10-14, 1986.
Pierre Lorrain. The Parliamentary Tradition in Canada, vol. 10 (2):4-5, 1987.
Dale Lovick. Re-examining the Mythology of the Speakership, vol. 19 (4):2-6, 1996-97.
Jean-Pierre Saintonge. Thoughts of a New Speaker, vol. 12 (4):22, 1989.

 


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 21 no 2
1998






Last Updated: 2019-07-15