Motion to Fill Any Vacancy in the Position of the Speaker Pro Tempore by Secret Ballot for the Remainder of the Current Session and to Discharge the First Report of the Committee of Selection from the Order Paper

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, I rise to ask for your support for this motion to elect the Speaker pro tempore of the Senate — that is, our deputy speaker — by a fair process that includes the participation of all senators. Specifically, this motion would authorize the Speaker to design and carry out a process for the election of the Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot following consultation with the leadership of all groups.

I would first like to acknowledge that our country is currently facing many challenges. The pandemic has caused personal and economic turmoil in households across the nation and has shown the inequalities of our health system. Recent events have also brought to the forefront issues relating to systemic racism, which demand important changes in our institutions and programs. While we must give these matters all due consideration and attention, we should not sideline discussions around genuine reform of the Senate. Reforming our institution, including the Senate, is part of the post-COVID steps that must be achieved. The motion I am proposing will be a step forward towards reform of the Senate.

Establishing a process for the election of the Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot would afford all senators the fair and equal opportunity to be considered for the role. Such a process would also respect the independent judgment of all senators to express, by secret ballot, who among their colleagues should occupy this position of trust and service to all senators.

What I am proposing today is not new. For example, Senator Ringuette, a leader in attempts to reform the process for selecting both the Senate Speaker and Speaker pro tempore positions, moved a motion in March 2014 to consider developing a way to elect both our Speaker and Speaker pro tempore.

Senator Ringuette said:

We, as a chamber of sober second thought, are able to analyze legislation in great detail as to how it will affect Canadians, and we engage in the study of complex issues of concern to citizens. Why are we mute to fully reviewing our operations in response to citizens’ discontent?

In 2016, the Special Senate Committee on Senate Modernization further developed Senator Ringuette’s proposal. In its sixth report, the committee recommended:

That the Senate direct the Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to develop a process within the Rules of the Senate by which senators may express their preference for a Speaker by nominating up to five senators as nominees for consideration by the Prime Minister to recommend to the Governor General for appointment, and
That this process takes place at the beginning of each Parliament.

And the committee further said:

That the Senate direct the Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to recommend changes to the Rules of the Senate to permit the Speaker pro tempore to be elected by senators by secret ballot.

On November 2, 2016, Senator Tannas moved that the report be adopted. He said:

These more democratic approaches to the selection of the Speaker and the Speaker pro tempore make this an important set of recommendations.

I’ve been here for three and a half years, and we’ve seen a number of Speakers pro tempore, all who have been exceptional, including our current one, but I don’t have a first hot clue how that job got assigned.

I think it would be better if it was transparent and clear and all those who wanted the job and were capable of the job stepped forward and were elected by senators.

This is still a very valid argument, and I certainly support it.

Unfortunately, during the remaining two and a half years of the Forty-second Parliament, this chamber did not have the opportunity to vote on this non-government committee report. But I still share the comments of Senator Ringuette, Senator Tannas, and all the other senators who were on the Modernization Committee, that we must make that improvement.

A position of trust and institutional confidence, such as Speaker pro tempore, should not be allocated through bargaining and secret mechanisms of selection internal to a specific group. All senators should have a fair opportunity for consideration and a fair say in the matter of who is going to direct our proceedings. My motion would achieve that result until formal amendments are made to the Rules of the Senate. In the meantime, adopting my motion will send a signal to Canadians that we are all committed to internal reforms to enhance public trust in the Senate and its work.

In support of this approach to choosing our Speaker pro tempore, I would like to say that in the House of Lords in the U.K., the Lord Speaker, who chairs proceedings, has been an elected position since 2006. Before then, as in Canada, the Prime Minister appointed the chair of proceedings for the House of Lords. This change was made through the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. You will remember that a bill to that effect has been proposed by my colleague Senator Mercer, and is now before the Senate for consideration — Bill S-205.

In Canada, the House of Commons selects its Speaker by secret ballot. The House of Commons selects its Deputy Speaker after the Speaker announces a candidate, following consultation with house leaderships.

Here in the Senate of Canada, our current Speaker continues to do a superb job during this period of institutional change and challenges. For sure he has been doing a tremendous amount of work, especially in the last few months, to try and accommodate our need to be here, but also the need to protect the health of not only ourselves, but our staff and the people working and helping us to achieve our important functions. We owe him our gratitude and trust for his devoted service.

However, I do see merit in the ideal of an elected Speaker eventually, if we have an amendment to our Parliament of Canada Act. I would also like us to look at an idea, promoted by Senator Ringuette and Senator Tannas, to elect our Deputy Speaker, and also to eventually consider the bill of my colleague Senator Mercer.

I refer again to Senator Mercer when he introduced his bill at second reading:

In all the provinces and territories in Canada, the Speakers are elected by the members of those legislatures. Of course, the House of Commons elects its Speaker. According to the research I had completed, the data contained information on the structure of 267 parliamentary chambers in all 191 countries where a national legislature exists. Of those, only the bicameral legislatures in Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Bahrain appoint their presiding officers.

So we seem to be a species that is disappearing. However, in selecting the Speaker of this institution, it is important to bear in mind constitutional considerations specific to the Canadian context.

This is not the case for the position of Speaker pro tempore. Only our Rules apply and only these Rules may be amended.

As we have seen on numerous occasions, it’s easy to amend our Rules or to put them aside. When there’s a will, there’s a way to do it.

With the motion before us today, we have the opportunity right now to act in the spirit of true reform and move in a tangible way toward the ideal that Senator Mercer has described. If we adopt this motion, this new process will represent important progress in how we do business in this chamber — as senators who are equal in all respects.

By moving in this direction, we should adopt a process that brings more legitimacy to a position of trust. We could then look at formalizing this change in the Rules of the Senate at a later date, as with some other needed rule changes put in place through sessional orders, such as the minister’s Question Period.

While I have you here, we may also consider changing the title to “deputy speaker” rather than “Speaker pro tempore.” I did my Latin, but I don’t think many people are still doing it. It is no longer part of the curriculum at school. I’m not sure people understand when we refer to the position of “Speaker pro tempore.”

In closing, colleagues, let us show that we are truly committed to reforms. Today we have an opportunity to move away from the traditional bargaining process between groups for paid positions, and to put a process in place that is wanted by all those who sincerely believe in equality among all senators and the need for reform.

I have great trust in the ability of our current Speaker, assisted by the leaders of all the groups, to develop a fair process, in due course, in order to elect our Speaker pro tempore before we resume our normal duties sometime in September.

Thank you very much for your attention. Meegwetch.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Saint-Germain, do you have a question? Senator Omidvar, a question?

Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Senator Dalphond, I agree with your proposal. I would love to hear more about it from my colleagues.

Not long ago you were a member of the independents, before you chose to move sideways to the Progressive Senate Group. I, for one, wish you all the best.

While you were a member of the ISG, you participated in a secret ballot election of the ISG’s nomination of the Speaker pro tempore, to the Selection Committee. I wonder if you are basing your proposal in some small part on the positive experience of the election of the ISG nominee through the Selection Committee.

Senator Dalphond: Thank you, Senator Omidvar, for this question. As you know, I attended the last Selection Committee meeting on May 1. When the first report was introduced there in the absence of opposition parties — at least official opposition — it was to nominate a Speaker pro tempore. I said, and it’s in the record, that I felt this position should be a position elected by all senators.

So, no, I don’t agree with what was done. I think bargaining between groups to select who becomes the Speaker pro tempore, and for it to be part of a negotiation process, is no longer advisable for this place. I believe that trust belongs to all senators and not to a group.

As for the internal discussions we had at ISG; my recollection is that I never saw the results of the election. There was more than one candidate: There were three. We never heard who had how many votes. This was not a transparent process. This was clearly a process that was done without any result being communicated.

We never received the results of how many votes were for Senator Ringuette or the other two candidates. I also remember the process was changed about two times before we were called to vote, because it was a preferential system, changed for another system, and everything else.

We have to come to some rules which are transparent and provide accountability.

The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Dalphond, your time has expired. There are three senators who would like to ask a question. Are you asking for five more minutes to answer questions?

Senator Dalphond: Yes, Your Honour.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Some Hon. Senators: Yes.

Some Hon. Senators: No.

The Hon. the Speaker: I’m sorry, but leave is not granted.

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