It is satisfying to learn that
articles written for this publication can prompt a response from a former
colleague whose interest in Parliament has continued even after years away from
the Hill. In the summer 2003 issue of the Canadian Parliamentary
Review Mr. Richard Jones took exception to my rejoinder (published in the
Autumn 2002 issue) to an article on the Speakers Baton by Bruce Hicks in the
Winter 2001 issue.
Apparently in disagreeing with
Mr. Hicks, I have also managed to disappoint Mr. Jones. This is unfortunate,
but it could not be helped. The fundamental purpose of my article was to
contest the arguments put forward by Mr. Hicks who defended the introduction of
the Speaker’s baton within the context of British parliamentary tradition as he
understands it. I did not set the framework of the debate; Mr. Hicks did. In my
assessment, his arguments are weak and unconvincing and my letter sought to
Mr. Jones is mildly chagrined
that I did not seize the opportunity to appreciate the “imagery” and
“symbolism” that is behind the creation of the baton. As he puts it, Jeanne
Sauvé, the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, who subsequently became
the first Governor General of her gender, establishes an in-Canada heraldic
authority which, in turn, devised a baton as a symbol of the Speaker’s office
to be used in the coat of arms of John Fraser, the first man elected to hold
that position by secret ballot. Upon leaving the Speakership, Mr. Fraser
presented a real baton to be used by his successors. Whatever the merits of
this sequence of events, its supposed “symbolism” is beside the point. More
important by far is the baton itself as a symbol for the office of Speaker.
Here, Mr. Hicks had it right. My objection, however, is to the invention of
something that is inappropriate to the nature of the office of Speaker whatever
the source, British or Canadian.
Would Mr. Jones be just as
comfortable with a sword or a hockey stick instead of a baton? Probably not. A
symbol to be effective has to have some meaningful relationship or association
to the position or person it identifies. That is why I do not believe that a
baton is the best choice as a symbol. It has no significance to the role or
office of Speaker. The mace, on the other hand, does relate to Parliament and
to the Speaker as I maintained in my letter. I have two examples to prove the
point, one of which involves Madame Sauvé.
When Roland Michener became
the third Canadian-born Governor General, he was, in accordance with
established practice, granted a personal coat of arms. In recognition of the
fact that he had been a Speaker of the House of Commons during the Diefenbaker
era, his crest included a lion in profile holding, not a baton, but a mace in
both paws. Madame Sauvé also had a coat of arms. In fact, there were two
versions designed for her. The first, as the one for Roland Michener, was
designed by the College of Heralds in London. The second, however, was prepared
by the Canadian Heraldic Authority. In both, there is the traditional
mace in the shield, rather than the crest, signifying the fact that she too had
been a Speaker of the House of Commons during her public career.
It is a pity that the examples
of Roland Michener and Jeanne Sauvé were not followed when the Canadian
Heraldic Authority set about designing a coat of arms for John Fraser. The
departure from two Canadian precedents that should have been relevant guides
was unnecessary and unwarranted. That an actual baton was subsequently made by
Mr. Fraser, though purportedly a gift of the Queen as Mr. Hicks insists, was a
misplaced gesture at best. That its possible use could rival the
significance of the mace, however, renders the baton absurd.
Charles Robert is Principal
Clerk, Procedure, the Senate.