At the time this article was published
Maurice Champagne was a political scientist with the Research Service, Legislative
Library, Quebec National Assembly.
Speakers of legislative assemblies must
sometimes make controversial decisions. In Quebec and most other provinces
members who wish to complain of the conduct of the President must make a motion
to that effect (rules 315 and 316 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assemblée
nationale). No other course of action is open to them.
On this subject, the Speaker of the National
Assembly stated the following in 1973: "The House of Commons of Canada
follows the British practice whereby a motion to censure the Speaker may be
introduced and debated. This is the only way of discussing the President's
decisions. Until a motion of censure is introduced, members must place their
trust in the Speaker.1
In the past, motions to censure the Speaker
were very rare., since members could appeal his decisions. However, since the
early seventies, in the Quebec National Assembly as in most other Canadian
legislative assemblies, the Speaker's decisions have been final. Members can no
longer comment on them. If a member disregards a decision of the Speaker, he
can be expelled from the Assembly (rules 41 and 42 of the Rules of Procedure of
the Assemblée nationale). In view of this radical procedure, members
increasingly rely on substantive motions to complain of the conduct of the
Motions of censure directed at the Speaker
are no longer uncommon in the provincial legislative assemblies. In Quebec a
motion of censure was introduced on March 20, 1984. It was debated and
rejected. The Official Opposition sided with the Speaker on this matter.2
On two other occasions, namely in 1973 and 1976, the conduct of the Deputy
Speaker of the Assembly was the subject of an interpellation. Both motions of
censure were defeated.3
In the British Columbia Legislative Assembly
an opposition member placed on the order paper for September 21, 1983 a notice
of motion to censure the Speaker for making a decision favouring the
government. Since he was unable to present his motion, the member attempted to
raise a question of privilege, but was not recognized by the Speaker.4
In Manitoba Speaker D. James Walding was
also the target of a motion of censure on December 13, 1982, allegedly for
having altered a decision which he had already made and for accepting representations
from the Premier and from the Government Leader outside the Legislative
A motion of censure was introduced against
Speaker John Brockelbank of Saskatchewan on three occasions in 1980 and 1981.
Only once was the motion debated and a vote taken, namely on April 29, 1980.
The motion was defeated.6
In Alberta, on November 24 and 25, 1981, a
motion to censure Speaker Gerard Amerongen on the grounds that he had refused
to allow a member to explain himself on a question of privilege, was debated
and rejected. A week earlier the New Democratic Party introduced a motion in
the Ontario Legislature to censure Speaker John M. Turner. The motion was
debated and defeated, with the Opposition Liberal Party voting with the
Members do occasionally complain about the
Speaker's conduct without following the procedure outlined in the rules. For
example, in Saskatchewan on March 26, 1981, a group of parliamentarians
withdrew from the Assembly to protest the Speaker's actions. This tactic goes against
the principles of the democratic parliamentary process but there is nothing in
the rules of procedure to prevent it.
A more widely used tactic is for members to
criticize the Speaker outside the Assembly. In such instances, a member
(usually the Prime Minister or the Government House Leader) can introduce a
motion tinder rule 315 charging the critical member with a breach of privilege.8
The precedents listed on pages 159160 of the
20th edition of Erskitie May date back a number of years, with the most recent
being in 193738. More recently, a precedent emerged in New Zealand in 1982.
During an adjournment, a member complained
to journalists about the conduct of the Deputy Speaker. The following morning,
the media reported the complaint. On motion of the Government Leader, the
matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges. Four newspapers owners, one
radio station owner and the member who made the complaint were called as witnesses.
Two of the newspaper owners, as well as the radio station owner and the member
in question were found guilty of breaching the privileges of the House.
In its report, the New Zealand Committee
considered that it was a serious matter for a member to attack a Deputy Speaker
and that the member should have followed the appropriate procedure. The
Committee thus recommended that the member be severely reprimanded by the House
and that the media make amends in the new reports. The Committee's report was
adopted by the House.9
Another way of handling a complaint lodged
against the Speaker outside the Assembly is for the Speaker himself to make a
simple clarification which may or may not be accompanied by an order. This is
what happened in Quebec in 1973 and in 1986, when a member made some comments
about the Speaker's conduct outside the Assembly and the comments were
subsequently reported by the media. In 1973, the Speaker was satisfied with a
simple ciarification10 whereas in 1986, he made a clarification
along with an order: either the member apologize or introduce a formal motion
of censure a member's conduct, including the Speaker's conduct (rule 315), or
else he was open to charges under the same rule. The member in question
ultimately made a statement on June 3, 1986 to the effect that he had not
questioned the impartiality of the President.11
If a majority but not all members vote
against a motion to censure the conduct of the Speaker, should he later still
consider, despite these results, that he had been severely censured?
The Speaker could interpret this result as a
form of censure, but is should not necessarily be viewed by him as reason for
resigning his position, particularly if a greater number of members opposed the
motion, as compared to those who supported it.
Thus, during the debate on the Trans-Canada
Pipeline in the House of Commons in 1956, a motion to censure Speaker
Louis-René Beaudoin was rejected by a majority vote of 109 to 35. Not only did
Mr. Beaudoin remain in the Speaker's chair until the end of the session, he
continued to serve as Speaker for two additional sessions.13
The motion against Mr. Amerongen was
defeated by a majority vote of 51 to 4 and the Speaker remained in the chair.
The vote against Mr. Turner in Ontario was 86 to 17 and in Saskatchewan the
motion of censure was defeated by a vote of 20 to 11.
The 1974 motion to censure the Speaker of
the National Assembly was defeated by a large majority vote (68 to 2). The same
thing occurred in the case of two Vice~presidents. Motions of censure
introduced in 1973 and 1976 were defeated by a majority vote and both
Vicepresidents remained in office.
The closest any motion has come to
succeeding was in Manitoba where the margin was 31 to 23 on December 13, 1982.
Mr. Walding nevertheless continued to serve as Speaker until 1986.
1. Journal des débats, December 19,
1973, p. 664.
2. Journal des débats, March 20,
1974, p. 84.
3. Journal des débats, 1973, p. 811;
April 12, 1976, p. 614.
4. Orders of the Day of the Legislative
Assembly of British Columbia, September 21, 1983. See also debates of
October 5, 1983.
5. Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Votes
an Proceedings, December 13, 1982, pp. 27-28.
6. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of
Saskatchewan, April 24 and 19, 1980 and March 26, 1981.
7. Philip Laundy, The Office of Speaker
in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, London, Quiller Press, 1984, p.
8. Beauchesne, Règlement annoté et
formulaire de la Chambre des communes du Canada, 5e édition, 1978, p. 38;
Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, 20e édition, 1983, pp. 159, 235, 289, 378
9. The Table, Vol. LI 1983, pp.
10. Journal des débats, December 19,
1973, pp. 664-665.
11. Journal des débats, May 29, 1986,
12 Journal des débats, June 3, 1986,
13. Canada, Débats de la Chambre des