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CPA Activities: The Canadian SceneCPA Activities: The Canadian Scene

Presiding Officers hold Second Conference

The second annual conference of Canadian Presiding Officers was held in Vancouver on March 30 and 31, 1985.

The host of the conference, Speaker Walter Davidson of British Columbia, welcomed fellow Speakers and Deputy Speakers from seven provinces, both territories and the House of Commons. Speakers from Newfoundland and Ontario were unable to attend due to elections in their provinces while the presiding officers of the Senate and the province of Alberta were also absent due to previous commitments.

The delegates and some 15 table officers were privileged to hear a former Speaker of the House of Commons James Jerome, reflect on some personal experiences based on his six years in the chair (1974-1980). He noted how important it was for Speakers to obtain from the Prime Minister an undertaking that reasonable constituent requests not be prejudiced by acceptance of the speakership.

Mr. Jerome discussed the difficulties in having a Speaker seek election as an independent candidate. In most cases Speakers who became independents could expect the disintegration of their party's local organization.

The British practice of choosing new Speakers in mid-Parliament from among experienced members was discussed, but Mr. Jerome doubted this would work in Canada for several reasons. For one thing retiring British Speakers are appointed virtually automatically to the House of Lords. No equivalent guarantee exists in Canada. In any event their customs are ill suited to a legislature where young members accept the speakership but may still be interested in a career outside of Parliament after they leave the chair.

Arguments for and against creating a special constituency of Parliament Hill for the Speaker were considered. While Mr. Jerome thought there was much to recommend in such an idea, he observed that in the long run the independence of a Speaker derives more from his pr her performance in office than from the way he is chosen. Several Speakers including John Bosley of the House of Commons and Richard Guay of Quebec spoke of the need to educate the public about the role of the Speaker and the institution of Parliament. Speaker James Walding of Manitoba distributed the results of a constituency survey he mailed to some 8,000 households in his riding. While he acknowledged it was not a scientific" survey, the results indicated that two thirds of the 310 people who replied felt it was very important for the Speaker to be impartial in the chair. In response to another question constituents felt their chances of obtaining a serious hearing for their viewers in a Speaker's riding were better than if they were represented by either a government or opposition private member but less than if represented by a cabinet minister. A very large majority of respondents felt the bell-ringing incidents in Ottawa and Manitoba revealed a fundamental weakness in the parliamentary system.

Complete results of the survey may be obtained by writing the Speaker's Office, Legislative Assembly, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C OV8.

Before adjourning on Sunday the Speakers compared notes on a few issues of mutual interest such as the political composition of the Boards of Internal Economy in various jurisdictions, postal charges for mailing provincial Hansards and policies regarding spousal travel. Although the time and site of the next conference have not been established Speaker Bosley suggested a comparative research paper would be useful as the basis for discussion at the next meeting.

New Speaker in Newfoundland

Patrick McNicholas, the Progressive Conservative member for St. John's Centre was elected Speaker of the Newfoundland House of Assembly on April 25. Mr. McNicholas replaces James Russell who was named Minister of Consumer Affairs and Communications.

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 8 no 2

Last Updated: 2020-03-03