Motion to Fill the Position of Speaker Pro Tempore by Means of a Secret Ballot for the Remainder of the Session

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond, pursuant to notice of September 30, 2020, moved:

That, notwithstanding any provision of the Rules or usual practice:

1.for the remainder of the session, the position of Speaker pro tempore be filled by means of a secret ballot by all senators to be held before the end of this year, using a process to be established by the Speaker after consulting with the Leader of the Government, the Leader of the Opposition, and the leader or facilitator of any other recognized party or recognized parliamentary group; and the period preceding the secret ballot decision provided for under the first paragraph, any vacancy in the office of Speaker pro tempore be filled on an interim basis in accordance with the Rules.

He said: Honourable senators, today I am inviting you to support a significant change to our practices by adopting a motion to elect our Speaker pro tempore or, if you prefer, our Deputy Speaker.

Specifically, this motion would authorize the Speaker to design and carry out a process for the election of the Deputy Speaker by secret ballot of all senators before the end of this year. The process is to be designed by the Speaker following consultation with the leadership of all groups. Finally, until we make a decision by secret ballot before the end of the year, a senator chosen in accordance with the current Rules may fill the office of Speaker pro tempore on an interim basis.

As you may recall, on June 18, 2020, I moved a similar motion without setting a date for the first election of the individual to serve as Deputy Speaker, and also without providing for the appointment of a senator to serve as Acting Speaker pro tempore. The abrupt ending of the previous session means that we now have to revisit this motion.

It wasn’t my idea to elect a deputy speaker through a secret ballot of all senators. I am simply repeating previous proposals from 2016, including one brought forward by the Special Committee on Senate Modernization, which was chaired at the time by Senator Greene, and one brought forward in 2014 by Senator Ringuette. The idea gained momentum after that, and, in June 2020, many of you spoke in support of the proposal, including Senator Saint-Germain and Senator Omidvar.

We also know that Senator Mercer is a strong advocate for the election of not only the Deputy Speaker but also of the Speaker.

Establishing a process for the election of the Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot will afford all senators the fair and equal opportunity to be considered for the role and for all of us to choose among those willing to serve as Deputy Speaker of the Senate. This position of trust and institutional confidence would no longer be left to discrete negotiation or to the internal selection mechanisms of a group. All senators will have a voice in the selection of this important position.

In 2016, the Senate Modernization Committee, then chaired by Senator Greene, recommended in its sixth report:

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 report for adoption. Senator Tannas then said:

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

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.

Like many of you, I share these comments of all the senators who were on the Modernization Committee.

The motion before us today gives us the opportunity, right now, to act upon the 2016 recommendations. The adoption of this motion, like the motion on the new audit and oversight committee, will represent another improvement in how we run our business. In addition, it will further the principle of equality between senators.

Once a process for the selection of the Speaker pro tempore has been established and tried, we could look at formalizing this change in the Rules of the Senate. But for now, considering that this session may be short, let us trust the Speaker to develop a fair process as he has done for the hybrid sessions of this chamber, all the while in collaboration with the leadership of all the groups in the Senate.

Since hybrid sessions will most likely last until the end of December, considering the current circumstances related to COVID-19, the conducting of a secret ballot may raise some challenges. But, as with the hybrid sitting motion, we should trust the Speaker to consult with the leadership and the administration in designing innovative solutions befitting our unique and temporary situation.

Perhaps we can look at a virtual voting system involving members of our administration sworn to secrecy, or a mail-in ballot option, like the one available in the House of Lords for the election of the Lord Speaker.

In conclusion, honourable senators, I believe we now have an opportunity to take concrete action on years of discussions and suggestions all aimed at recognizing that it is time we implemented a process that will enable us to elect a Deputy Speaker of the Senate who has the confidence of the majority in this chamber.

I therefore invite you to support this motion as we prepare to convene the Selection Committee to produce reports on the Speaker pro tempore and committee membership.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

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