THE ADVOCATE 941
VOL. 77 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2019
In fact, that is just what happened in the United States of America. The
Americans asserted their independence at a time when the British Speaker
was anything but impartial. Also, they had years of experience with a similar
style of Speakers in their own colonial legislatures. When the House of
Representatives met for the first time in 1789, the Members, therefore, gave
their Speaker powers and duties, including partisan responsibilities, similar
to other Speakers of the time.
Interestingly, the American Speaker was given the responsibility to protect
the minorities and to ensure that all sides could participate in debate.
Prior to 1986, all Canadian Speakers were nominated by the Prime Minister,
albeit, in contemporary times, after consultation with the opposition
leaders. A pro forma election then ensued in the House without debate or
The McGrath Committee on Parliamentary Reform recommended,
among other reforms aimed at raising the profile and significance of private
Members, that future Speakers be elected by secret ballot by all the Members
of the House.
Following Speaker Bosley’s resignation in September 1986, I became the
first truly elected Speaker in a voting process that started at 3:00 o’clock one
afternoon and ended at 2:30 the next morning after eleven ballots. It was
indeed a great honour to be chosen by one’s peers, but in political terms, it
was hardly a landslide!
Although I am the first Speaker from British Columbia and the first to be
elected by secret ballot, I am not, as may be expected, the first lawyer to
preside over the House of Commons. In fact, of the 32 Speakers since Confederation,
22 have been members of the legal profession. (The remainder
have come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including medicine, journalism,
business, newspaper publishing, farming and dentistry.)
This statistic is perhaps indicative of the advantage of legal training in
what is, in many respects, a quasi-judicial function. Yet, to claim that a thorough
knowledge of the law is necessary or indeed the only qualification for
the office would not be accurate, because a Speaker’s responsibilities and
activities span a much wider spectrum than those primarily connected with
questions of parliamentary procedure and privilege. Oddly, the Speaker is
by practice forbidden from ruling on points of law.
Briefly, the Speaker has a wide range of responsibilities: to represent the
House, not the Government, as its spokesperson; as presiding officer, to
manage the conduct of debates according to the rules established by the
House; as chairman of the Board of Internal Economy, to administer a
budget of $190 million and 3,000 employees; to fulfill a quasi-diplomatic