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Fifth Annual Canadian Presiding Officers' Conference

Frank Branch, Speaker Designate of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly was host to the Fifth Annual Conference of Presiding Officers held in Fredericton from January 29 - February 1, 1988. Some forty Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks of the various provincial legislatures, the Yukon and Northwest Territories attended the three-day conference along with several observers.

The delegates participated in five working sessions covering such topics as voting procedures, rules of debate, the sub judice convention, disciplinary powers of the chair, and the use of unanimous consent and question period. For the first time, papers were presented by table officers.

During the first session, the delegates considered the traditional guidelines Speakers have followed in the casting of a tie-breaking vote notably that: "A Speaker should always vote for further discussion if a bill is not at the final stage. If the vote carries a finality to it, the Speaker should vote against it because decisions of the House must be made by a majority and that majority should not be expressed by, nor made up by, the Speaker's vote. In casting a vote on an amendment to a bill, the Speaker should vote to leave the bill in its existing form to avoid having the Speaker making up the necessary majority". One delegate remarked that Canadian legislatures were notorious for their inconsistency and asked where the uniform tradition had originated. The point was clearly made that while traditions and guidelines existed, there was nothing to stop a Speaker from voting according to his or her conscience or voting the party line. During the course of the discussions, an interesting question was raised: Does a tie-breaking vote by a Speaker against the government amount to a vote of non-confidence?

Maintaining order and decorum in the legislatures was another subject of particular interest to the presiding officers. Television was seen as a big factor in convincing the public that the decorum in our Parliaments is worse today than ever before in the past. The general understanding of what debate is and should be has changed in the public attitude. In his presentation the Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislature noted that "Canadians of the 1980s have lost the sense of rough and tumble of debate. When the public does see traditional debate in a parliament or legislature with the excitement, noise, interjections and clapping, they are offended and say that the Members are acting like school children. Proper debate was never intended to imitate a classroom where one person is speaking and everyone else is quietly and politely listening." The role for a Speaker is to determine what is good solid debate and what is unruly behaviour.

Much of the discussion centered on the Speaker's power in dealing with disorderly or unparliamentary behaviour on the part of the Members. It was suggested that a Speaker should use the power of naming a Member as the very last resort and that it is a power that should be used rarely if at all. It was also suggested that if a House is large enough, a Speaker may choose not to recognize a member rather than naming him. This may be more difficult but not impossible in a smaller legislature.

There was general consensus among the delegates that the Speaker should not try to assume all responsibility for preserving proper order and decorum in the House; that the Members are responsible for their own actions and accountable to their own electorate and will ultimately be expected to respond with more politeness, honesty and fairness. There was also general agreement that the Speaker's task in preserving decorum can be accomplished more easily if the chair is held in respect.

The informal nature of the discussions, the generous hospitality of Speaker-designate Branch and the excellent papers presented made for a most successful conference. 

New Table Officer in Northwest Territories

The Speaker of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Red Pedersen announced the appointment of Rhoda Perkison as Clerk Assistant effective February 4, 1987.

Ms. Perkison has been responsible for interpreting at Legislative Assembly sessions and committee meetings. She has also translated many major pieces of legislation into Inuktitut.

Educated at Churchill, Manitoba and at the Teacher Education Program in Fort Smith, Ms. Perkison was a classroom assistant and teacher in Baker Lake before joining the Language Bureau. She has also trained interpreter trainees and taught Inuktitut as a second language.

The Clerk Assistant, who reports to the Clerk of the Assembly, provides administrative support and procedural advice to the Legislative Assembly, including preparing reports, agenda and minutes of meetings and supervising the research, public affairs and Hansard sections of the Assembly Office. The Clerk Assistant also serves as clerk to several standing and special committees and is responsible for coordinating the running of Territorial elections.


Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 11 no 1

Last Updated: 2020-09-14