Fifth Annual Canadian Presiding
Frank Branch, Speaker Designate of the New Brunswick Legislative
Assembly was host to the Fifth Annual Conference of Presiding Officers held in
Fredericton from January 29 - February 1, 1988. Some forty Speakers, Deputy
Speakers and Clerks of the various provincial legislatures, the Yukon and
Northwest Territories attended the three-day conference along with several
The delegates participated in five
working sessions covering such topics as voting procedures, rules of debate,
the sub judice convention, disciplinary powers of the chair, and the use of
unanimous consent and question period. For the first time, papers were
presented by table officers.
During the first session, the
delegates considered the traditional guidelines Speakers have followed in the
casting of a tie-breaking vote notably that: "A Speaker should always vote
for further discussion if a bill is not at the final stage. If the vote carries
a finality to it, the Speaker should vote against it because decisions of the
House must be made by a majority and that majority should not be expressed by,
nor made up by, the Speaker's vote. In casting a vote on an amendment to a
bill, the Speaker should vote to leave the bill in its existing form to avoid
having the Speaker making up the necessary majority". One delegate
remarked that Canadian legislatures were notorious for their inconsistency and
asked where the uniform tradition had originated. The point was clearly made
that while traditions and guidelines existed, there was nothing to stop a
Speaker from voting according to his or her conscience or voting the party
line. During the course of the discussions, an interesting question was raised:
Does a tie-breaking vote by a Speaker against the government amount to a vote
Maintaining order and decorum in
the legislatures was another subject of particular interest to the presiding
officers. Television was seen as a big factor in convincing the public that the
decorum in our Parliaments is worse today than ever before in the past. The
general understanding of what debate is and should be has changed in the public
attitude. In his presentation the Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislature noted
that "Canadians of the 1980s have lost the sense of rough and tumble of
debate. When the public does see traditional debate in a parliament or legislature
with the excitement, noise, interjections and clapping, they are offended and
say that the Members are acting like school children. Proper debate was never
intended to imitate a classroom where one person is speaking and everyone else
is quietly and politely listening." The role for a Speaker is to determine
what is good solid debate and what is unruly behaviour.
Much of the discussion centered on
the Speaker's power in dealing with disorderly or unparliamentary behaviour
on the part of the Members. It was suggested that a Speaker should use the
power of naming a Member as the very last resort and that it is a power that
should be used rarely if at all. It was also suggested that if a House is large
enough, a Speaker may choose not to recognize a member rather than naming him.
This may be more difficult but not impossible in a smaller legislature.
There was general consensus among
the delegates that the Speaker should not try to assume all responsibility for
preserving proper order and decorum in the House; that the Members are
responsible for their own actions and accountable to their own electorate and
will ultimately be expected to respond with more politeness, honesty and
fairness. There was also general agreement that the Speaker's task in preserving
decorum can be accomplished more easily if the chair is held in respect.
The informal nature of the
discussions, the generous hospitality of Speaker-designate Branch and the
excellent papers presented made for a most successful conference.
New Table Officer in Northwest
The Speaker of the Northwest
Territories Legislative Assembly Red Pedersen announced the appointment
of Rhoda Perkison as Clerk Assistant effective February 4, 1987.
Ms. Perkison has been responsible for
interpreting at Legislative Assembly sessions and committee meetings. She has
also translated many major pieces of legislation into Inuktitut.
Educated at Churchill, Manitoba and
at the Teacher Education Program in Fort Smith, Ms. Perkison was a classroom
assistant and teacher in Baker Lake before joining the Language Bureau. She has
also trained interpreter trainees and taught Inuktitut as a second language.
The Clerk Assistant, who reports to
the Clerk of the Assembly, provides administrative support and procedural
advice to the Legislative Assembly, including preparing reports, agenda and
minutes of meetings and supervising the research, public affairs and Hansard
sections of the Assembly Office. The Clerk Assistant also serves as clerk to
several standing and special committees and is responsible for coordinating the
running of Territorial elections.