Sun, Jun
20
2004

Ahem... Who's Speaker?

Speaker's Chair

In crafting my vote for the second phase of my election pool, I put together briefly an interesting set of numbers. With the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 32%, and the NDP surging to 26% in Ontario, consider for a moment this outcome:

Liberals - 107
Conservatives - 99
Bloc Quebecois - 55
New Democrats - 47

What makes this interesting is if you consider the voting strength of the two most mused-upon voting blocs that could arise from such a house:

Liberals/NDP - 154
Conservatives/Bloc - 154

That's right: a tie, with neither combination able to achieve a majority. The Liberals and the Bloc would have to set aside their differences on Canadian versus Quebec nationalism in order to forge a stable coalition, or the Liberals would have to work with the Conservatives.

But then another thought hit me: who gets to be Speaker in this house?

The current Speaker of the House of Commons is the Honourable Peter Milliken. He is a common member of parliament, elected in the riding of Kingston and the Islands under the Liberal banner. He was elected to his post of Speaker by a free vote of the House (previously, the Speaker was hand-picked by the Prime Minister) and presides over the House whenever it is in session. He recognizes members of parliament in turn to ensure that people get a chance to speak at the proper time. He is responsible for maintaining order and civility in debate.

He is also not allowed to vote except in the case of a tie.

So, you see the problem that faces the competing blocs in the event of an electoral tie. If a member of parliament on their side gets to be the speaker, they immediately concede a one-seat advantage to their opposition. If the Speaker was still appointed by the Prime Minister, I'd bet that he'd beg, plead and attempt to bribe an opposition member into the chair. As the matter is now left to a free vote, I can see both sides going "I don't want to be Speaker, YOU be Speaker!" "I don't want to be Speaker!" "Don't you sit me in the Speaker's chair!" "Hey, let go!" "Miss Clarkson, he's pushing me!"

I bet you the people who gave this house an even number of seats are rueing their mistake right this minute.

Even if this impasse is resolved, then there is the matter of what the Speaker will do in the event a vote is tied. This could happen, as both sides lose and gain members day to day due to illness, constituency business, travel delays and a host of other items. If a vote of confidence ends in a tie, how does a speaker vote?

When the contentious issue of gay marriage looked like it would come down to a tie vote, the Honourable Peter Milliken gave us a window on what goes through a Speaker's mind. Despite his or her opinions on the matter, he said, the Speaker was bound by precident to vote for the status quo. Thus, he argued, he would have been forced to vote against the gay marriage resolution if he came under such an obligation.

If a Liberal Speaker holds the balance of power in a tied vote of confidence deciding the fate of a Conservative/Bloc coalition, does he vote with his party, or does precident force him to vote with the government in order to maintain the stability of parliament?

This is the stuff civic teachers' dreams are made of.


Oh, and my second round prediction?

Liberals - 102
Conservatives - 98
Bloc Quebecois - 60
New Democrats - 47
Independent - 1

I suspect that independent member Chuck Cadman would end up in the Speaker's chair in such a house...


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