What to Expect When You’re Electing (a Speaker)

3 minute read

The House of Commons will hold its first mid-session speaker election since 1986 on Tuesday, with MPs set to gather in Ottawa for the event. The new speaker, regardless of their party affiliation, will have the responsibility of acting as an impartial adjudicator of parliamentary business, ruling on matters of privilege, points of order and procedure, keeping debate running smoothly, and imparting confidence by demonstrating a deep understanding of the rules (oh, and of course recalling everyone’s riding name, which is no small feat). We have a detailed account of what to expect on Tuesday and the potential impact on regular business of this unanticipated parliamentary tangent.

What to expect on Tuesday

Parliamentary business will begin as usual at 10:00 am on Tuesday. But, instead of kicking the day off with routine proceedings, the Dean of the House Louis Plamondon (BQ) will give a brief speech from the Speaker’s Chair before turning it over to the candidates for speaker who will be granted time for a five-minute speech to promote their candidacy. 

After speeches, members will cast secret ranked ballots to elect the new speaker. They will rank speaker candidates in order of preference and if a majority result isn’t found on the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes will be struck from the contest and the second choice for ballots supporting their bid will be added to the tally until a winner is elected. Members will then head to the Senate for inaugural proceedings to make the new speaker’s position official. 

If the regular business of the House resumes between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, the chamber will proceed directly to Statements by Members, Question Period, and then Routine Proceedings. With the potential to start as late as just before 4:00 pm, those activities could run well into the evening. And then it’s back to normal … at least, on paper. 

Disruptions to other business

First, it’s important to think through possible day-of disruptions to the election itself. Members of Parliament could potentially be required in the chamber from 10:00 am until the end of Question Period, which could end around 5:15 pm if Statements by Members start right before 4:00. The uncertainty around the timeframe for the day’s events and the requirement for members to be present to elect a new speaker could bar members from booking new or carrying out scheduled meetings or other business.

Committee work may also be up in the air for Tuesday, with many committees’ usual meeting times scheduled throughout the morning and afternoon. Depending on timing, those regular meetings could be cancelled Tuesday or rescheduled for later in the day, but that’s the prerogative of individual committees.

The government will have to push to get its legislative agenda back on track after delays from the speaker’s election and debate around the former speaker’s resignation

The biggest and most long-term outcome of this speaker election could occur if the House elects a new speaker from an opposition party. While the speaker is meant to (and historically does) act impartially, this government is arguably against the ropes, facing dogged critiques from the Official Opposition. The election of a speaker from the Conservative side of the aisle could result in a more lenient approach from the Speaker in adjudicating raucous debate aimed at the government in the House. Conversely, it could mean CPC MPs are a little more likely to observe the rules of the House when it is their caucus colleague enforcing them. It could end up being a little of both, depending on the day. 

Whatever the outcome of the speaker election, process nerds can take some solace in being privy to this rare parliamentary event.

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