Procedure

Opening of Parliament: Electing the Speaker (Canada)

The 41st Parliament of Canada will open on Thursday, 2 June 2011.

The opening of a Parliament is also the opening of the first session of that Parliament. Two procedures distinguish it from the opening of subsequent sessions. These are the taking and subscribing of the oath of allegiance by Members and the election of a Speaker. The general practice is for Members to be sworn in prior to opening day, after the Clerk has received the certificates of election returns from the Chief Electoral Officer.

The first real order of business is the election of the Speaker.

The Constitution Act, 1867 requires that a Speaker be elected at the beginning of a Parliament and at any other time when a vacancy occurs. While the Constitution requires that the Speaker be elected by the House of Commons, traditionally this amounted to the rubber-stamp approval of a Member nominated by the Prime Minister. In 1986, however, the Standing Orders were changed and now the Speaker is elected by secret ballot.

At the first sitting of a new Parliament, the Members of Parliament (MPs) assembled in the House are summoned to the Senate Chamber. There they are are informed that the business of the new Parliament may not officially commence, nor the Throne Speech be read, until the House of Commons has elected a Speaker.

The Members then return to the House and immediately proceed to elect a Speaker by secret ballot.

Candidates

All MPs except for Cabinet ministers and party leaders are eligible to run for the Speakership. Any MP who does not wish to put his or her name forward must issue a letter withdrawing from the ballot by the day before the vote. All MPs who do not remove their name from the ballot as of 6pm the day before the election are listed as candidates on the ballot.

Prior to the election, the Members who are candidates may make introductory speeches of no more than five minutes. Following the speeches, the House suspends its proceedings for one hour before the election is held.

Conduct of the Election

The election is presided over by the “Dean of the House”, the Member with the longest unbroken record of service in the House who is not a Cabinet Minister, party Leader, House Leader or Whip.

The election is conducted by secret ballot using voting booths placed on the Table in front of the Speaker’s chair. During the election, no debate is allowed, no motion is accepted and no question of privilege may be raised.

When the first ballot is completed and counted, the bells are rung and the Members are called to hear the results. All candidates who receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from the ballot. If no candidate received less than 5% of the vote then the MP with the fewest votes drops off. This continues, with a one hour break between ballots, until one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

The winner is escorted to the Speaker’s chair by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Official Opposition. The newly elected Speaker, by tradition, feigns reluctance as he or she is “dragged” to the chair in a practice dating from the days when British Speakers risked execution if the news they reported to the King was displeasing.

The Speaker takes the Chair, thanks the Members for electing him or her and then adjourns the House until the next day.

There were eight MPs entered in the race for Speaker: Denise Savoie, Andrew Scheer, Lee Richardson, Ed Holder, Barry Devolin, Merv Tweed, Bruce Stanton and Dean Allison. Of those, only Savoie was from the Opposition benches. Andrew Scheer was elected Speaker on the 6th ballot. At 32, he is the youngest Speaker in House of Commons’ history.

The Deputy Speaker

In addition to the Speaker, a Deputy Speaker, also known as the Chair of Committees of the Whole or “Chair of Committees”, is elected at the beginning of each parliament to act in place of the Speaker when the latter is unavailable. Under the Standing Orders, the Speaker, after consulting with each of the party leaders, nominates a candidate for Deputy Speaker to the House, which then votes on that nomination. The Deputy Speaker presides over daily sessions of the House when the Speaker is not in the chair. The Deputy Speaker also chairs the House when it sits as a Committee of the Whole. Other presiding officers, the Deputy Chair of Committees and the Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees, are chosen each session to occupy the chair when the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are not available. The Deputy speaker and the other presiding officers are members of the Panel of Chairs, and can therefore be selected by the Speaker to chair legislative committees. Like the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker has a role in administering the House.

See this post for an overview of the role of the Speaker. For anyone interested in watching the election of the Speaker, it will be broadcast on CPAC in Canada (check your local listings), and livestreamed on the CPAC website (possibly subject to regional restrictions -viewers outside of Canada might be unable to view this feed). Proceedings of the House of Commons are also available for viewing online on ParlVu.

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