942 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2019
role with respect to inter-parliamentary associations and representatives of
foreign governments; and, of course, in my case, to meet the obligations
that continue as the elected Member for Vancouver South.
The Speaker’s most visible role is to preside over debate in the House and
to apply the rules from time to time in the interest of order and decorum.
But the task is much more than just a rigid adherence to the rules of the
place. It is important to sense and measure the mood of the House, to know
when to intervene effectively and to know when to let something go.
Ultimately, the maintenance of order depends on the collective self-
discipline of the Members because the authority of the Speaker derives
from the support and cooperation of the whole House. As much as possible,
I try to anticipate in advance what issues are likely to cause intense differences
or, at times, disorder. I try to maintain reasonable order in the Chamber
because, without that, there can be no freedom of speech.
The House of Commons has never been a tea party. It consists of strongminded,
often very idealistic people, who, for the most part, are trying to
accomplish something for our country. We are the inheritors of an adversarial
system and that, in itself, fosters conflict. Thus, it is the Speaker’s task to
contain vigorous differences within the bounds of civility, and at the same
time to permit the often emotional expression of feelings which reflect the
intensity of some issues.
While the accumulation of well over 100 years of traditions, rules and
practices provide a solid base of jurisprudence upon which the Speaker can
rely, there are many grey areas. As such, the application of rules according
to a strict compliance with precedent is not always appropriate. There are
times to be very firm, and other times to be flexible. Of course, there are
times when there is very little by way of guidance for the Speaker. Consider
the amusing story of a new British Speaker faced with a difficult situation
who wrote a note to his clerk asking: “What do I do now?” The clerk’s reply:
“If I were you, Mr. Speaker, I should proceed with caution!”
The modern Speaker must abstain from party politics. I do not attend
caucus. I cannot speak on partisan issues in the House, nor do I attend committee
meetings. Outside the House, I do not comment on issues that divide
the Members. It has been said that the Speaker’s task is a lonely one, and
that he must withdraw into a state of splendid isolation whence he observes
from a distance the tumult of the political fray. This may have been true in
the past. However, while I cannot be partisan, my role remains intensely
political because the House is a political arena. It is my practice to be in
daily contact with the House leaders of all parties, and I maintain an open
door policy for all Members.