The Senate

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--Motion in Amendment--Debate Continued

June 18, 2020


Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond
[16:04]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the amendment that Senator Saint-Germain proposed yesterday to my motion to fill any vacancy in the position of the Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot by all senators.

I remind you that this motion establishes an important principle that the next Speaker pro tempore should be elected by all of us through a secret ballot. It will make us all equal and allow us the opportunity to decide who should be the next Speaker pro tempore.

I am speaking now to the amendment. First, I would like to thank Senators Saint-Germain and Omidvar, two members of the ISG leadership, for having expressed their strong support for the motion and principles that the next Speaker pro tempore should be elected by a secret vote of all senators. I think this is an important point, and this is the main point of my motion.

My motion also calls for the process for selecting the next Speaker pro tempore to be established by the Speaker of the Senate, a neutral person, in consultation with the leaders and facilitators of all Senate groups, which naturally includes Senator Saint-Germain, who is a co-facilitator of the Independent Senators Group. It could be done during the summer break, which would allow us to hold this election when we come back in September.

In my speech, I referred to the House of Commons’ current practice for electing its Speaker, which is set out in the House of Commons Standing Order 7. That process could easily be adapted for September’s election.

The other place’s Standing Order 7(2) states, and I quote:

The member elected to serve as Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole shall be required to possess the full and practical knowledge of the official language which is not that of the Speaker for the time being.

In other words, the rules in effect in the House of Commons, which we would be well advised to emulate, outline a procedure that recognizes both official languages, or at least the ability to understand both official languages.

This is, I admit, one way to implement the principle and the election of the Speaker pro tempore by senators using secret ballot voting, and I’m sure the leaders of the various groups, including the progressives, won’t hesitate to make suggestions to the Speaker of the Senate. Senator Saint-Germain will therefore also be able to make her position clear to the Speaker of the Senate as part of the consultations.

I have no doubt that the Speaker would have considered this important aspect of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

That said, and assuming that the proposed amendment isn’t intended to prevent us from adopting the principle of electing the next Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot and therefore rejecting the agreement reached in favour of the Independent Senators Group that allowed us to designate a Speaker pro tempore, I’m prepared to say that this amendment shouldn’t pass. We should leave it up to the Speaker to make the temporary rules.

When the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament meets to establish the permanent rules, we can then draft the appropriate rule. At this point, however, time is of the essence, and we need to make sure that we create a flexible rule that will allow us to select the Speaker pro tempore in September. In the interim, our facilitators and leaders can discuss and come up with the rules.

I invite all my colleagues to reject the amendment and then adopt the motion in the few hours that remain today or on Monday so that in September we will be able to participate in the first reform to our rules, an important reform, that of the election of the Speaker pro tempore. This is an important issue for the progressive group and for all those who believe in Senate reform. I am certain that Senator Tannas shares my opinion, and I understand that Senator Plett also agrees with the principle of electing the Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot. We must seize this opportunity. Thank you.

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain
[16:10]

Senator Dalphond, I reiterate my support for your motion on a secret ballot and I would like to ask you the following question: Did you perceive in the substance of my amendment, which is modelled after the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the desire to include people who are neither anglophone nor francophone, that is, Indigenous peoples whose mother tongue is neither French nor English and allophones whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, and do you still consider this to be a procedural issue?

Senator Dalphond
[16:10]

If I understand correctly, the proposal reads as follows:

“2. the senator elected to serve as Speaker pro tempore shall be required to possess the full and practical knowledge of the official language which is not that of the Speaker for the time being;”

The question that I asked myself — and you gave an excellent example, Senator St-Germain — is this: If, and I hope that this will happen one day, the person who is elected to serve as Speaker is a member of the First Nations whose mother tongue is not French or English, how would this provision be applied, since the person must have a full and practical knowledge of the official language that is not that of the Speaker at that time? I don’t know. Would the person have to undergo language testing to find out which official language he or she learned first, French or English? I think we need to discuss how this principle would be applied. It is not a bad principle in and of itself, but applying it is another thing. Will the Speaker make the potential candidates undergo language testing in September? I don’t know. I understand that this is essentially a technical issue and that it is not the principle of the motion. The principle of the motion is that the Senate will elect its Speaker pro tempore by secret ballot. That will not work if we start deciding on terms and conditions with 104 or 96 people. Thank you.