Statement on Reasons for Vote to Break a Tie
Speaker Myron Kowalsky, Saskatchewan, March 29, 2004
Background: On March 29, 2004 the question
on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne in the Saskatchewan
Legislative Assembly ended in a tie vote with 27 in favour
and 27 against. The Speaker does not normally vote however he must do so in the
case of a tie. Certain principles guide a casting vote and these were
outlined in the following statement.
Speaker Kowalsky: In parliamentary assemblies in the Westminster tradition, a
central principle underlying the system is the impartiality of the Speaker.
Both Erskine May and Beauchesne
state the following:
Confidence in the impartiality
of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful working of
procedure, and many conventions exist which have as their object, not only to
ensure the impartiality of the Speaker but also, to ensure that his impartiality
is generally recognized. He takes no part in debate in the House. He votes only
when the voices are equal, and then only in accordance with rules which
preclude an expression of opinion upon the merits of a question. (May 22nd edition, p.90; Beauchesne 6th
edition, p. 49 ... paragraph 90.)
The principle that the Speaker
votes only to break a tie is enshrined in both legislation and rules in the
Legislative Assembly in Saskatchewan.
The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act states as follows:
Section 18: Questions arising
in the Assembly shall be decided by a majority of votes, other than that of the
Speaker or Acting Speaker, but where there is an equality of votes, the Speaker or Acting Speaker has a vote.
The Rules and Procedures of
the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan state the
Rule 26(1) The Speaker shall
not take part in any debate before the Assembly.
Rule 26(2) In case of an
equality of votes, the Speaker shall give a casting vote, and any reasons
stated by him shall be entered in The Journal.
Under these rules, the Speaker
is obliged to vote when the voices are equal.
How then does the Speaker
vote? Marleau and Monpetit,
summarize parliamentary convention in this area as follows:
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 the Speaker’s impartiality. Therefore, certain conventions have
developed as a guide to Speakers, (and Chairmen of Committee of the Whole) in
the infrequent exercise of the casting vote. Concisely put, the Speaker would
normally vote to maintain the status quo.
Canadian and British authorities
describe these principles or conventions as follows:
- The Chair should always vote for further discussion;
- Where no further discussion is possible, important
decisions should not be taken except by a majority;
- Where amendments to a Bill are involved, the Bill
should be left in its existing form.
Generally the Chair votes to
maintain the status quo regarding the motion and leaves the matter open for
future discussion. That the Speaker should follow these principles rather
than any partisan position was reinforced when this legislature unanimously
made the decision to select a Speaker by secret ballot of the elected members
instead of appointment by the Premier.
These principles also apply to
a vote of confidence. The vote on the address in reply to the Speech from the
Throne is traditionally viewed as a question of confidence. In our
parliamentary system, a question of confidence is a motion which, if defeated,
indicates that the government has lost the confidence of the House and is thus
unable to continue in office.
In general the principle that
applies in this instance is that decisions of the legislature should be taken
only by a majority. In a vote such as this one, that is a test of the
Assembly’s confidence in the government, the decision of non-confidence
should be clearly stated by a majority. It would not be appropriate for the
vote of the Speaker alone to overturn the status quo as determined in the last
I therefore vote in favour of the motion to adopt the address in reply to the
Throne Speech. The motion is carried.