Choosing a Speaker

Choosing a Speaker

The House of Commons on its first assembling after a General Election shall proceed with all practicable Speed, to elect one of its Members to be Speaker.” – Constitution Act (1867)

The office of the Speaker derives its authority from the House and the holder of the office may accurately be described as its representative and authoritative counsellor in all matters of form and procedure.” – House of Commons Procedure and Practice

It’s job one for a new House of Commons: choosing a speaker.

It takes precedence over all other parliamentary business, in fact.

By tradition, the Senate speaker will first inform MPs that the Governor General will only read the Speech from the Throne once they have elected a speaker.

More on electing a speaker:

  • 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.
  • The Dean of the House – the longest-serving MP who is not a minister, leader, or whip – oversees the vote.
  • 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 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 will 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.
  • If no candidate receives 50 per cent, the last-place candidate is removed. Another ballot will be held in the event of a tie. Only the winner is announced. No specific results are kept.


The new Speaker is dragged to the chair, pretending to resist, by the prime minister and leader of the opposition.

Why the resistance? It’s a symbolic show of hesitation. Becoming Speaker of the English House of Commons was once similar to signing your own death warrant.

In the early days of the English Parliament, Speakers usually had to deliver any bad 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 speaker receives $80,100 in additional salary, a Centre Block apartment in the Parliament Buildings, and The Farm — an official residence in the nearby Gatineau Hills.

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 after consulting with the parties.

The Liberals have promised changes to the House of Commons: a weekly prime minister’s question period based on the United Kingdom, more enforcement power for the speaker during question period, and an end to omnibus bills.

2015: Nova Scotia Liberal MP Geoff Regan becomes the new speaker with a first-ballot victory over three other candidates. He becomes the first Atlantic Canadian to hold the job in nearly a century.

2011: Six ballots over seven hours are required to elect Andrew Scheer after the Conservative won a majority government. Scheer defeated NDP MP Denise Savoie on the final ballot.

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.

2006: Milliken defeats fellow Liberals Diane Marleau and Marcel Proulx after the Conservatives won a minority government.

2001: With the retirement of Parent, Milliken begins his 10 years as Speaker by besting fellow Liberals Bob Kilger, Derek Lee, Clifford Lincoln, Dan McTeague, and Tom Wappel.

1997: Parent wins another term as Speaker over independent MP John Nunziata and Liberal Roger Gallaway.

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.

1986: The first election to produce a Speaker of the House was one to remember. It took 11 ballots and 12 hours before John Fraser had a majority of MPs in his corner.

-Andrew Thomson