That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to consider the advisability of instituting a single, preferential ballot for the election of the Speaker by replacing Standing Order 4 with the following:
“4. The election of a Speaker shall be conducted by secret ballot as follows:
(1) Any Member who does not wish to be considered for election to the Office of Speaker shall, not later than 6:00 p.m. on the day preceding the day on which the election of a Speaker is expected to take place, in writing, so inform the Clerk of the House who shall prepare a list of such Members’ names together with a list of all Ministers of the Crown and party leaders, and shall provide the same to the Member presiding prior to the taking of the ballot.
(2) Members present in the Chamber shall be provided by the Clerk of the House with ballot papers, on which shall be listed, in alphabetical order, the names of all the Members whose names have not been placed on the list provided pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order.
(3) The Member presiding shall announce from the Chair that the list provided pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order is available for consultation at the Table.
(4) Members wishing to indicate their choice for the Office of Speaker shall rank each candidate listed on the ballot in the Member’s order of preference by marking the number “1” in the space adjacent to the name of the candidate who is the Member’s first preference, the number “2” in the space adjacent to the name of the Member’s second preference and so on until the Member has completed the ranking of all the candidates for whom the Member wishes to vote.
(5) A ballot on which a Member has ranked one or more, but not all, of the candidates is valid only in respect of the candidate or candidates whom the member has ranked.
(6) Members shall deposit their completed ballot papers in a box provided for that purpose on the Table.
(7) The Clerk of the House shall, once all Members wishing to do so have deposited their ballot papers, count the number of first preferences recorded on the ballots for each candidate, and, if a candidate has received a majority of first preferences, provide the Member presiding with the name of that candidate, whereupon the Member presiding shall announce the name of the new Speaker.
(8) If, after the count referred to in section (7) of this Standing Order, no candidate has received a majority of first preferences, the Clerk of the House shall
(a) eliminate the candidate who received the least number of first preferences from any subsequent counts and, in the event that, at the conclusion of a count, there is an equality of votes between two or more candidates, both or all of whom have the fewest first preferences, eliminate all of the candidates for whom there is an equality of first preferences;
(b) in all subsequent counts, treat each second or lower preference as if it were a first preference for the next highest candidate in the order of preference who is not eliminated; and
(c) repeat the process of vote counting described in paragraphs (a) and (b) until one candidate has received a majority of first preferences, at which point the Clerk of the House shall provide the Member presiding with the name of that candidate, whereupon the Member presiding shall announce the name of the new Speaker.
(9) Every ballot shall be considered in every count, unless it is exhausted in accordance with section (10) of this Standing Order.
(10) A ballot is exhausted when all the candidates on that ballot in respect of which a preference has been made are eliminated.
(11) In the event that, after all other candidates have been eliminated, the process of vote counting has resulted in an equality of largest number of first preferences between two or more candidates, Members present in the Chamber shall be provided by the Clerk of the House with ballot papers, on which shall be listed, in alphabetical order, the names of all candidates who have not been eliminated, and the vote shall proceed in like manner as the first vote.
(12) After a Speaker has been declared elected, the Clerk of the House shall destroy the ballots together with all records of the number of preferences marked for each candidate and the Clerk of the House shall in no way divulge the number of preferences marked for any candidate.
(13) During the election of a Speaker there shall be no debate and the Member presiding shall not be permitted to entertain any question of privilege.”;
and report its finding to the House no later than six months following the adoption of this order.
Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 489 proposes to change Standing Order 4, which governs the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons. If this motion is adopted by the House, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will be asked to review a proposed new method for electing Speakers, details of which are contained in the text of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, while you offered to read the entire motion for the benefit of the House, I think members would be happy to consult with the written copy that is available on today's order paper.
The committee would be required to report back to the House within six months, but it is free to do the following: (a), accept the new proposed voting method; (b), reject the proposed new method; or, (c), make amendments to the recommendation and report back to the House with the recommended amended version in place of the original. As things stand, the Speaker is currently elected by what is known technically as an exhaustive ballot. Each MP casts a single ballot for his or her preferred candidate. The candidate who has secured the smallest number of votes is dropped from the ballot. Then, new rounds of voting take place with candidates being dropped from the ballot, one per round of voting, until a single candidate finally secures 50% of the vote.
To those of us serving today, this system of voting may seem to have existed since “time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary”. In fact, the system was introduced in 1986 during the first term of the Mulroney government. It was based, in large measure, on the recommendations of the Lefebvre committee, which had reported on suggested changes to the Standing Orders in 1982, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.
Prior to that, Speakers were elected by an open show of hands; votes took place along partisan lines; and the Speaker was chosen, in practice, by the prime minister of the day. From 1953 until the 1980s, the Speaker had been chosen in consultation with the leader of the opposition, and one gets the impression that this was sometimes a perfunctory consultation. However, before the 1950s, even that did not happen. The Speaker was nominated in an entirely partisan manner, with the prime minister nominating the Speaker, and a senior minister seconding the nomination. Nominations were done by motion, which precluded a meaningful contest for the post, even in times of minority governments.
What we now have is clearly an improvement on the system that existed as recently as 20 years ago, but it is capable of being improved on, in several respects. For starters, it can be an interminably long process. Following the 2011 general election, six ballots were necessary to finally produce a majority for the winning candidate. As the rules require at least an hour to pass between ballots and the process of balloting takes some additional time, this consumed an entire day. It was not quite as long as the election of a Pope, but, at the time, the similarities did not escape some of the wittier members participating in the process.
We, in the 41st Parliament, were lucky. In 1986, Speaker Fraser was elected in an epic eleven-ballot process. Other highlights have been six ballots, in 1994; four ballots, in 1997; five ballots. in 2001; and five ballots, in 2008.
A second problem is that the current system can produce tie votes and there is no mechanism for resolving such ties. In 1994, there was a tie vote on the fifth ballot between the two remaining candidates, Gib Parent and Jean-Robert Gauthier. The solution that was jury-rigged at the time was to simply conduct the ballot all over again, with everybody voting as they had done before. Someone changed his or her vote, so it worked. However, such changes of heart cannot be regarded as being guaranteed to happen every time, as demonstrated, for example, by the 35 successive tie votes when the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to break a tie in 1800, between presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Therefore, formalized tie-breaking rules would be an improvement.
A third consideration, which is a problem from my point of view, although not perhaps in the eyes of all members, stems from the fact that the current system discreetly calls for all ballot papers to be destroyed and for the results of each ballot to remain a secret. That is in order, one assumes, to prevent MPs from casting their ballots strategically rather than on the more austere considerations of the competence and character of the candidates who ought, in the eyes of those who wrote the rules, to more properly guide our votes. This is fair enough, but it obviates the chief merit of the exhaustive balloting system at party leadership conventions.
Where exhaustive balloting is used, knowledge as to which candidate has received what number of votes is key to the deal making that allows one candidate to supercede another. Some people regard this deal making as a key advantage, which is why the system survives in the constitutions of some parties, and also in the rules that govern the election of the Speaker in the British House of Commons, where vote totals are known. In fact, anybody can look up the Wikipedia article on the 2010 election of the Speaker there, to see how the balloting went.
Having experienced the divisiveness of the final ballot in party leadership runoff elections—and many of us have certainly experienced that, whether at a convention or whether the party membership is casting the ballots—I do not personally share this particular enthusiasm for deal making. I do share the austere preference expressed by those who have designed our rules and kept the results secret.
However, once the decision to keep the results secret has been written into the rules, I am at a loss to determine what advantage is served by dragging out the process through multiple ballots. They are being conducted in the presence of an information vacuum, and therefore cannot serve any purpose whatsoever, other than to take up time.
Why not allow MPs to simply indicate all of their preferences at once, on a single piece of paper, by ranking each of the candidates and placing a number beside that candidate's name on the ballot paper, and then have the clerks total up the preferences?
There is a final problem with the current system. One additional advantage of not revealing the vote totals for any of the candidates is to allow individuals to drop off the ballot with their egos relatively intact, since nobody can be certain whether the individual being dropped has finished in close contention to the next lowest-scoring candidate.
However, under the current rules, which were put in place after the eleven-ballot extravaganza in 1986, any candidate who receives fewer than 5% of the votes is removed from the ballot. In 2011, more than one candidate dropped off the ballot following the first vote, indicating that at least one person had received less than 5% of the vote, and making it pretty clear who had suffered this particular stigma. A preferential ballot would perhaps eliminate this minor problem.
I want to talk a little about consideration of timing. Although I did not plan it this way, the timing of this motion is perhaps fortuitous. The same committee, during the same time period, will be studying Motion No. 431, proposed by our colleague from Saskatoon—Humboldt. That deals with the related issue of how to elect committee chairs. Likewise, the committee on procedure and House affairs will be in a position to continue the review that was started earlier in the 41st Parliament, on the Standing Orders as a whole.
These subjects could perhaps be studied at the same time, thereby allowing a more efficient use of the committee's time than would be possible if they were dealt with discreetly over the four-year life of a Parliament.
Let me talk now about why the motion is structured as it is. In preparing this motion, I had two options. The first, which I did not choose, would have been to refer the subject matter to the committee, but only with a general instruction as to the outcome that I would have preferred.
This is the approach adopted by my colleague for Saskatoon—Humboldt. That motion, no. 431, states:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to:
(a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees....
The motion gives no further instructions regarding the actual wording of the standing order that would result. Alternatively, I could have laid out a motion consisting of the finalized version of the Standing Orders and voting system. If I had done that, a vote in the House in favour of the motion would have resulted in a change to the Standing Orders to take place immediately, without any oversight or potential amendment taking place at the procedure and House affairs committee.
Both approaches seem to have drawbacks. In my view, the former approach would not lay out a clear enough instruction. The proposal might have been seen as impractical, if an actual formula were not in front of the committee. On the other hand, a specific formula might have put us in the position of adopting a suboptimal solution, or potentially even a very problematic solution that I simply have not recognized and that could have been identified and corrected in committee.
Let me talk a little about the substantive side of Motion No. 489. It makes three meaningful changes to Standing Order 4, which governs the election of Speaker. First and most significantly, it changes the electoral system by which Speakers are elected. Second, it creates a method of resolving tie votes. Just as our current system has on one occasion produced a tie vote, it is entirely possible that the process of counting and reassigning the second and third preferences of MPs could result in a situation in which the two remaining candidates would have an identical number of preferences.
In such an event, proposed rule 4(11) will apply, and a runoff election between the two remaining candidates would take place. Members will recognize that this is, in practice, a holdover of the existing system. Likewise, proposed rule 4(8)(a) provides that if two or more candidates are tied for the least number of votes in a given round of counting, they will both, or all, be dropped from the ballot, and their votes will be redistributed among the remaining candidates.
Third, the embarrassment that might occur if one or more candidates for the speakership are revealed to have had virtually no support will no longer be an issue, as it will no longer be evident which candidates dropped off the ballot and in which order.
An obvious question to ask when dealing with a proposal like this is whether it has been tried in any other jurisdiction or we are engaging in an experiment which has no precedent. In answering this question, I have turned to the parliaments of the Westminster model, that is to say, the parliaments of countries, which, like Canada, have drawn their model directly from the United Kingdom.
The mother of parliaments at Westminster is by far the most widely emulated legislative institution on the planet. The Commonwealth of Nations furnishes the world's largest laboratory of democracy. The British Parliament has spawned literally hundreds of imitations, on every continent and in islands of every ocean.
In addition to the countries of the Commonwealth, there is a legislature, often with two chambers, each of which has its own rules for electing its presiding officer. These are in every British colony, and in sub-national jurisdictions, such as Scotland and Wales, Canada's provinces, and the states of Australia and India.
I have not done a complete review of all the rules governing the election of the Speaker in each chamber of each parliament in every one of these jurisdictions. Some have been easier to locate than others. The researchers at the Library of Parliament are still trying to assist me in locating the rules used in some of the jurisdictions that are less easy to locate. The states of India, which in some cases seem not to have translated their rules into English or French, are proving at the moment to be the greatest challenge.
However, many other parliaments do have rules that are readily available. I would encourage any member, who has the interest, to consult with me prior to the vote on Motion No. 489 in order to see the list, by which time it may well be close to being exhaustive.
Based on the nearly 80 models with which I have been able to consult so far, I can say this. With regard to number one, the most common model, Commonwealth-wide, is the one used in Canada's House of Commons. The Speaker is elected by means of an exhaustive vote, which is a system similar to the one we use.
Number two, some jurisdictions, including New Zealand's House of Representatives, continue to elect the Speaker in the traditional way: by means of an open vote on a motion that x be named as Speaker, or by an election conducted by a show of hands.
Three, in some jurisdictions, the process of balloting is sped up by accepting that if balloting continues for multiple rounds, the winner need not have more than a plurality of the vote. For example, in Cyprus, nobody can win on the first ballot with less than half the votes cast. On the second ballot, 40% will do, and on the third ballot, simply having more votes than anyone else will suffice. This means that, in practice, these jurisdictions have adopted a first past the post system for the third ballot. That is similar to the one that let me take my own seat in the 37th Parliament with only 38% of the votes cast by the electors of Lanark Carleton.
Finally, there is a single major jurisdiction in which a single preferential ballot is used. The chair of India's upper house, the Rajya Sabha, or Council of States, is elected by all members of both the upper and lower houses using a single transferrable vote. The chair is also the vice president of India, which explains why both houses participate in the vote. I do not recommend that we copy this aspect of the model, but I want to make it clear that the system has functioned well for over half a century in the largest democracy on earth.
On a final note regarding the merits of preferential ballots, the system of using preferential ballots in elections where only one candidate can win is known as the alternative ballot. A record of this system in producing winners who represent the consensus of the electorate is impressive. It has been employed at the federal level in Australia since the 1940s, and it is so well loved in that country that every Australian state and territory has adopted the model for its own elections. Some Canadian parties, including my own, have adopted this model for electing their leaders. Likewise, many local nominations are now conducted this way. It was through this system that I was first nominated, in October 2000, and dozens of other members here today have had the same experience.
Mr. Speaker, I will not go through the merits beyond this.
However, I do ask for your support when this motion comes to a vote, so that it may go to the committee for further debate and analysis.