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The Speaker of the House


The Speaker in Action


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The office of Speaker is almost as old as Parliament itself. In the House of Commons the Speaker is elected y the members from among their own number. The Speaker is the representative of the House of Commons. the guardian of its privileges, and its presiding officer. he is the servant of the House, but one whose authority and prestige confer upon that person the role of leadership in upholding the integrity of Parliament. The official order of precedence recognizes the Speakers status  by according him fifth place after the Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice and Speaker of the Senate. The Speaker of the Senate is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The Speaker presides over the debates of the Hose with complete impartiality. The Speaker does not participate in debate and votes only if there is a tie. He/she maintains order, interprets the rules or procedure, and calls on Members to speak in such a way as to ensure a fair representation of opinion. While protecting the rights of all Members, he has a particular concern for the protection of the rights of the minorities. The Speakers rulings are based upon good procedure and the interests of Parliament as a whole in accordance with the Standing Orders and the practice of the House.

The Speakers function is not that of a policeman on the look-out for offenders, but rather that of a judge to whom an appeal can be made and who will intervene only to ensure order and fair play. It is the Speaker's responsibility to protect the privilege of freedom of speech. A member cannot be sued for defamation on account of any words uttered in Parliament, because it is important in the national interest that a Member should not be inhibited from speaking their mind fully and frankly. This privilege is jealously guarded, and the Speaker, while protecting it, also does his best to see that it is not abused.

The Speaker emerged in the Middle Ages as the spokesman of the Commons of England in their dealings with the King. He spoke to the King on their behalf - hence the name "speaker" - expressing their grievances and conveying their petitions. It was not a job which was greatly sought after in those days, and this recollection still survives in the token show of reluctance assumed by a Speaker-elect when, having been chosen by their colleagues, the mover and seconded of their nomination come to escort them to the chair.

The Speaker in Canada was for many years the nominee of the party in power, although care was taken to ensure that the candidate was acceptable to the House as a whole. On only two occasions in Canadian Parliamentary history, in 1878 and in 1936, was the election of the Speaker contested. Until recently it was also the custom. although not invariably observed, for the Speaker to change with each Parliament, a Speaker of the French language alternating with a Speaker of the English language.

In recent years these practices have given way to the continuity principle. In 1965, 1968, and 1972 the same Speaker was elected by three Parliaments in succession, and in the general elections of 1968 and 1972 he presented himself to his electors as an independent  candidate without party associations. His re-election to the Chair on both occasions was supported by all parties and he was proposed and seconded by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition respectively.

Some people would like to see the continuity principle guaranteed by the provision of a special seat for the Speaker so that he would not be obliged to submit himself to the hazards of a general election. Those opposed to this course of action argue that the strength and prestige of the Speaker's office lie in the fact that the Speaker is a Member of Parliament who reaches the Hose of Commons by the same route as all of their colleagues.

Click here for list of Speakers

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