House of Commons to elect new speaker

House of Commons to elect new speaker


MPs elect a new Speaker of the House of Commons on Tuesday, Oct. 3 -- one week after Anthony Rota announced his resignation. 

Rota stepped down over his recognition of an invited guest who served in a Nazi SS unit during the Second World War -- a tribute and standing ovation that came with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the House chamber on Sept. 22. 

Bloc MP Louis Plamondon (Bécancour—Nicolet—Saurel, Que.), the Dean of the House, agreed to serve as interim speaker until the election. 

Here are some names to watch:

Choosing a speaker is job one for the new House of Commons. It takes precedence over all other parliamentary business, in fact.

Elections happen most often at the start of a new Parliament. Changing speakers during a parliamentary sitting is a rare occurrence. 

Sir James Edgar died in 1899, succeeded by Thomas Bain. 

And Lloyd Francis became speaker in 1984 when Jeanne Sauvé was named Governor General of Canada.

(Louis-René Beaudoin offered his resignation to the House in 1956 over his handling of the infamous TransCanada Pipeline Debate. But he remained in the role.)

HOW IT HAPPENS

  • A secret ballot has been used to elect Speakers since 1986, when Progressive Conservative MP John Fraser won after 11 ballots. Previously, the government put forward their preferred nominee with little opposition.
  • Interim speaker Louis Plamondon will oversee the vote. Plamondon typically oversees the speaker's election in his role as Dean of the House – the longest-serving MP who is not a minister, leader, or whip.
  • Hopeful speakers are allowed to address the House for up to five minutes. When there are no more speeches, voting begins after a 30-minute break. Portable booths are typically set up at the clerk's table inside the chamber to ensure privacy.
  • The Mace, symbolic of the authority of the House of Commons, stays underneath the clerk's table until the new speaker is elected.
  • Technically all MPs who aren’t ministers or party leaders can stand for election. To be removed from consideration, they have to inform the Clerk of the House by 6 p.m. the previous day.
  • MPs vote with a preferential ballot instead of the previous system of individual rounds. The Clerk counts and then destroys the ballots. MPs do not have to rank all candidates on the ballot. But the Clerk has authority to reject ballots with "unclear" intentions.
  • If no candidate receives 50 per cent, the last-place candidate is removed, and their ballots are re-assigned to the next preferred candidate. Only the winner is announced. No specific results are kept.

THE AFTERMATH

By tradition, the prime minister, opposition leader, and third-party leader congratulate the new speaker, who is playfully dragged to their chair.

Why the symbolic show of hesitation? Because becoming Speaker of the English House of Commons was once a dangerous job.

In the early days of the English Parliament, Speakers usually had to deliver news to the king, such as a refusal to raise taxes. Some monarchs were less than charitable in their reactions. Nine Speakers died violently between 1394 and 1535.


THE JOB

The Speaker’s role is to ensure the rules and customs of Parliament are obeyed, protect the rights of MPs, and act as an impartial arbiter when deciding on motions, rulings, and requests.

They only vote to break a tie, as Peter Milliken did in May 2005 on a failed motion of non-confidence.

Speakers are often most visible during Question Period as they try to maintain order. But they’re also responsible for overseeing all daily business in the House, from debates to the introduction of bills.

They are also responsible for the administration of the House of Commons, and chair the Board of Internal Economy.

Deputy and assistant deputy speakers are named after the election.


PAST ELECTIONS

1986

The first vote for Speaker of the House required 11 ballots and 12 hours before John Fraser had a majority of MPs in his corner.

1993

Liberal backbencher Gilbert Parent narrowly beats caucus colleague Jean-Robert Gauthier following a six-ballot election that took seven hours to complete. Parent and Gauthier actually tied on the fifth ballot. The following vote confirmed Parent as the winner.

1997

Parent wins another term as Speaker over independent MP John Nunziata and Liberal Roger Gallaway.

2001

With the retirement of Parent, Peter Milliken begins his 10-year run as Speaker by besting fellow Liberals Bob Kilger, Derek Lee, Clifford Lincoln, Dan McTeague, and Tom Wappel. Milliken wins re-election in 2004.

2006

Milliken defeats fellow Liberals Diane Marleau and Marcel Proulx after the Conservatives form a minority government.

2008

With another Conservative minority, Milliken wins re-election after five rounds of voting. Seven other MPs were on the initial ballot, with many citing a lack of good behaviour in the House as their reason to run.

2011

Six ballots over seven hours are required to elect Conservative Andrew Scheer. Scheer defeated NDP MP Denise Savoie on the final ballot.

2015

Nova Scotia Liberal MP Geoff Regan becomes the new speaker with a first-ballot victory over three other candidates. Regan is the first Atlantic Canadian to hold the job in nearly a century.  

2019 

Liberal MP Anthony Rota (Nipissing--Timiskaming, Ont.) emerges the winner over four other candidates, including Regan.

2021

Rota is re-elected. Here's how the election played out: