Opening the 43rd Parliament
By Andrew Thomson | UPDATED December 9, 2019 10:47amET
ELECTING A SPEAKER
Liberal MP Anthony Rota (Nipissing–Timiskaming, Ont.) emerged the winner over four other candidates, including former speaker Geoff Regan.
By tradition, the prime minister, opposition leader, and third-party leader congratulated the new speaker. But first, Rota was dragged to the chair in the traditional show of resistance to accepting the position.
Anthony Rota addresses MPs after being elected Speaker of the House:
"I ask one favour of all of you. Just think, every time you get up…Let's make that sure that our friends, family & children, parents, are all proud of us when we're in this House. That's all I ask."#cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/fTJ0VtIqPm
— CPAC (@CPAC_TV) December 5, 2019
So how will Rota approach the job? Here’s what he told CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen before the vote:
“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 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.
How it happens:
- The Dean of the House – the longest-serving MP who is not a minister, leader, or whip – oversees the election. That title currently belongs to Louis Plamondon of the Bloc Québécois, first elected in 1984 as a Progressive Conservative.
- 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. (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 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. The Clerk counts and then destroys the ballots. MPs do not have to rank all candidates, 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.
By tradition, the prime minister, opposition leader, and third-party leader will congratulate the new speaker.
But first, the new speaker is dragged to the chair, pretending to resist.
Why the symbolic show of hesitation? Because 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.
Newly-elected speaker Geoff Regan jokingly resists as he’s escorted to the chair by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons on Dec. 3, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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 first vote for 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.
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.
Parent wins another term as Speaker over independent MP John Nunziata and Liberal Roger Gallaway.
With the retirement of Parent, Peter Milliken begins his 10 years as Speaker by besting fellow Liberals Bob Kilger, Derek Lee, Clifford Lincoln, Dan McTeague, and Tom Wappel. Milliken wins re-election in 2004.
Milliken defeats fellow Liberals Diane Marleau and Marcel Proulx after the Conservatives form a minority government.
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.
Six ballots over seven hours are required to elect Andrew Scheer. Scheer defeated NDP MP Denise Savoie on the final ballot.
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.
SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
The Liberal government has formally outlined its plan for a new Parliament where Justin Trudeau and his ministers can no longer rely on a majority of seats.
As expected, the speech pledged to continue the reconciliation process with Indigenous people, provide tax cuts, and make progress on affordable housing, gun control and national pharmacare — but with few details.
The government repeated its commitment to cooperate with other parties, and to be more ambitious on climate change. But did the references to regional tension laid bare in October’s election result assuage concerns in western Canada?
CPAC’s Andrew Thomson recapped the day with this Facebook Live update:
The government outlines its agenda for the new Parliament, and MPs elect a new speaker in a day filled with symbolism and tradition. CPAC's Andrew Thomson has key highlights and reaction on Parliament Hill.
More coverage at www.cpac.ca
Posted by CPAC – Cable Public Affairs Channel on Thursday, December 5, 2019
Opening of Parliament: Watch full CPAC coverage
In 1984 the Montreal Gazette said the event might have “mystified Canadians watching the event on television.”
In fact, the traditions surrounding the Speech from the Throne trace their lineage back to 16th-century England.
The Usher of the Black Rod and Speaker of the House lead MPs to the Senate chamber for the speech, since the Governor General or monarch is not traditionally allowed inside the House of Commons. The Governor General, meanwhile, leads a ceremonial procession from Rideau Hall to Parliament Hill and the temporary Senate chamber.
(One tradition remains peculiar to the Palace of Westminster in London, though. The cellars there are searched before every opening of Parliament in a ceremonial nod to the foiled 1605 Gunpowder Plot that would have blown up the House Lords and killed King James I as the beginning of a Catholic revolt in England.)
The government writes the speech, which MPs debate for up to six days after returning to the Commons.
That process begins with a motion by two government backbenchers to consider an Address in Reply: a short statement of thanks to the Governor General for providing the speech. Debate begins with “Leaders’ Day” and a speech by the leader of the opposition. By tradition the prime minister speaks next, followed by the other party leaders.
The royal representative almost always reads the Speech from the Throne. Sometimes the monarch performs the duty themselves. King George VI read the 1939 speech during a pre-war visit to Canada. Queen Elizabeth II did the same in 1957 and 1977.
Whether a king, queen, or governor general delivers the speech, its text is entered onto parchment and presented to the Crown by the Speaker of the House.
And then there’s the first piece of government legislation — a traditional bill (C-1) that confirms Parliament’s right to consider whatever matters it sees fit, beyond the throne speech.
TOP PHOTO: Governor General Julie Payette delivers the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber on Dec. 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand