At the time this article was published Lloyd
Francis was the Member of Parliament for Ottawa West and Deputy Speaker of the
House of Commons.
The Deputy Speakership is one of those
parliamentary offices about which little has been written. Although some duties
are prescribed by statute, the great bulk of what a Deputy Speaker does is
delegated to him by the Speaker on an informal basis. His role may include
certain administrative or ceremonial functions as well as the many hours spent
presiding over the House. In this article the present Deputy Speaker looks back
at his first year in office and outlines some of the traditional problems
facing Speakers and Deputy Speakers.
The office of Deputy Speaker was created in
1885 when Parliament passed the Deputy Speaker Act. Its three main provisions
were later incorporated into the Speaker of the House of Commons Act. The
Speaker may call on the Deputy Speaker if he or she decides to leave the Chair
briefly during the sittings. Secondly, if the Speaker should be absent at the
beginning of a sitting, the Clerk informs the House that the absence of the
Speaker is unavoidable. The Deputy Speaker then takes the Chair, presiding in
the same way as the Speaker. Finally, a general provision confers on the Deputy
Speaker all the power and authority of the Speaker to act in the absence of the
Speaker. Section 53 of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons spells out
in detail the responsibilities of the Deputy Speaker as Chairman of Committees
of the Whole House.
A presiding officer is very much like a
referee in a football game. He has to make decisions on the spot and the
decisions have to be correct. Just like football, we now have television in the
House of Commons and the replays can be devastating if the person in the Chair
makes a bad decision. Members can be severely critical of his performance but
they respect someone who is honestly trying to be fair and do a good job.
Whoever presides tends to get the kind of respect that he or she deserves. I
feel that I have good relationships with Members on both sides of the House.
My greatest difficulty as Deputy Speaker is
that I represent Ottawa West, a constituency which is highly sophisticated and
places a very heavy service demand upon its Member of Parliament. Daily
telephone calls are sometimes beyond belief although I do have an excellent
staff to help me cope with them. My volume of correspondence is, I think,
substantially more than that received by most Members of Parliament.
By tradition, the Deputy Speaker is not
permitted to speak in the House of Commons. This means that in matters
affecting the Public Service such as collective bargaining with staff
associations I must remain silent in the House. I have spoken outside
Parliament, usually in a non partisan way, but this has not prevented me from
stating that I firmly believe the legislation governing collective bargaining
in the Public Service, mainly the Public Service Staff Relations Act and the
Public Service Employment Act, are urgently in need of amendment. I have
definite views of the kinds of amendments that would be appropriate. I feel no
restriction in discussing them with my constituents.
My role as Deputy Speaker did not inhibit me
when it came to amendments to the Municipal Grants Act. Along with other Ottawa
MPs, I have been pressing for these for a number of years. When it was brought
forward by the Minister of Finance, the bill was deficient in a number of
respects, but it was better to take a half a loaf than none at all. I attended
committee hearings when the bill was referred to the Miscellaneous Estimates
Committee and I spoke on the subject. Again, I do not believe the nature of my
representations were partisan in the traditional sense. I did my best to
represent my constituents.
During my first year in office I was in the
Chair during three critical periods. First during the Throne Speech Debate when
the Finance Minister introduced what the opposition considered a mini-budget.
Second during the application of closure on a motion to send the constitutional
proposals to a special joint committee. At first two, then six members of the
Official Opposition stood in front of the Chair in an attempt to interrupt the
vote on the motion. Finally I presided over much of the marathon twenty-three
hour emergency debate on December 18-19, 1980.
These events gave me a reasonably high
profile in my constituency. Nevertheless I cannot help but feel that my role as
a Member of Parliament has changed. In the Christmas period I have
traditionally been invited to a reception by the Public Service Staff Association;
but not this year. In other subtle ways, people who expected me to speak
vigorously and publicly on behalf of necessary changes have indicated some
concern due to the role I now play in the House of Commons. This is rather a
sensitive matter for me. I suspect a study of the political lives of Deputy
Speakers throughout the Commonwealth would show their capacity to be re-elected
is very definitely inhibited by the nature of the job.
Some thirteen years as a Member of
Parliament has given me an opportunity to compare other parliamentary offices
with my present position as Deputy Speaker. I was Parliamentary Secretary to
the President of Treasury Board, to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and
served for a period as Chief Government Whip. Of these positions I would
definitely put the Whip's job at the bottom of the scale of preference. It is a
totally impossible position, subject to pressures from all sources, and with
very little scope for dealing with them. The Deputy Speaker, at least, has a
measure of independence and a straightforward relationship with his colleagues
in the House.
On the whole, I rate my, experience in this
Parliament, so far in three ways. As far as presiding in the Chair is
concerned, I must say, that I enjoy it. After thirteen years, I believe I have
a reasonable knowledge of the rules and procedures of the House of Commons and
I feel comfortable with them. In the second aspect, namely the telephone calls
and correspondence with constituents, I do not believe that my relations have changed.
I continue to answer my mail and deal with my telephone calls, I believe, as
effectively as before.
The third aspect gives me most concern,
namely my, ability to publicly serve my constituents in the same that I have in
previous years. My inability, as Deputy Speaker, to speak in debate and
participate in politically partisan discussions is definitely restrictive. The
Deputy Speaker may or may not vote. When he was Deputy Speaker Mr. Lucien
Lamoureux did not attend caucus, did not vote, and did not participate in any
partisan activity. Mr. Hugh Faulkner adopted the same approach. Other Deputy
Speakers have differed with this point of view.
When I first assumed my present post, I
intended to be a faithful attendant at the Liberal Caucus and to vote regularly
in the House of Commons. I attended a Convention of the Liberal Party in
Winnipeg. More recently, however, I have cut back my voting record. I did not
vote on the application of closure or time allocation. I have not voted on
controversial bills over whose sittings I presided. It is not my intention to
attend any more conferences of the Liberal Party or to participate in
by-elections or similar events.
These matters are not spelled out in the
rules. They involve the good judgment of the incumbent of the office. In my
opinion good judgment implies that the Deputy Speaker must refrain from acts
that would encourage opposition members of the House of' Commons to regard him
as politically partisan and therefore not a fit and proper person to preside
over the proceedings. Confidence of members of the House is an indispensable
prerequisite for presiding officers.
Is it possible to maintain the confidence of
MPs in the House of Commons and also of voters when one is elected on a
politically partisan ticket? Time will tell.