That the 21st Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Friday, October 3, 2014, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.
The subject matter of the 21st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is Motion No. 489, a private member's motion I introduced in the House in early 2014. This motion would amend Standing Order 4, which governs the election of Speakers of the House. If the 21st report is concurred in, Motion No. 489 will be deemed to be approved by the House, and the next Speaker will be elected, as the new text lays out, by preferential ballot rather than by the current system of what is known as exhaustive ballot, which is to say one first-past-the-post vote followed by another until one candidate has achieved 50% of the total votes. I will get back to this in a second.
First, let me deal with the legislative history of Motion No. 489. It proposes:
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:
There then follows the proposed electoral process, which I will not read, as it is available to the House. The motion concludes by stating that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should:
report its findings to the House no later than six months following the adoption of this order.
If I had known in early 2014 what I know now, I would have added a few words to that. I would have said, “and that the report come back in the time designated for private members' business”, but that was not done. This has had the odd result of causing this report on an issue of private members' business to come into the time designated for government business, or if it were a supply day, for opposition business. This is unfortunate, but it is the way it has worked out.
The first hour of debate on the private member's business took place during the private members' hour on February 24, 2014. The second hour of debate was on April 7, 2014. The committee dealt with this matter at a couple of hearings in September and October 2014, reporting back to the House in early October.
Since April of this year, I have been seeking unanimous consent to get this debate moved from the time set for government business to the time set aside for private members' business, or alternatively, to the hour after private members' business has been concluded. We have sought unanimous consent and have been unsuccessful after about two months of working at this. Thus, it has been necessary to start this debate in the time normally reserved for government business.
Let me turn now to the substance of Motion No. 489. It would make three meaningful changes to Standing Order 4.
First, it would change the electoral system by which Speakers are elected from the exhaustive ballot used at present to a preferential ballot, similar to the one used by the House of Lords to elect its Speaker, a process that was adopted by the House of Lords in the early 2000s during the significant reforms of that body and a process that has been used twice, so far, with considerable success. Commentators to the committee indicated that, having looked at that system versus the system used to elect the Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain, which is similar to our own, the preferential ballot seemed superior.
Second, this system would remove the embarrassment that can result if a candidate for the speakership has had virtually no support from his or her colleagues, less than 5%. At present, this embarrassing fact is revealed, in practice if not in form, by the method of striking members off the second ballot. That would cease to be a problem under the new proposal.
Third, it would create a mechanism for resolving tie votes. This is no mere theoretical advantage. In 1994, there was a tie vote on the fifth ballot between the two remaining candidates for the speakership: Gib Parent and Jean-Robert Gauthier. The solution, which was frankly jury-rigged at the time, was to have the whole ballot held over again. When this was done, someone changed his or her vote, and the result was that Gib Parent became the Speaker. This would not happen under this system in the future. There would in fact be a formal tie-breaking process, which would be a significant advantage.
Now let me turn to a contrast between the status quo and a preferential ballot. Here is how the exhaustive ballot, our current system, works. Each MP casts a single ballot for his or her preferred candidate. The candidate who has the smallest number of votes is dropped from the ballot and a new round of voting takes place. Candidates are dropped from the ballot, one per round of voting, until a single candidate gets 50% of the vote.
To those of us who are serving today, this may seem to have existed since time immemorial, but that is not correct. It was first used in 1986. Prior to that, speakers were elected by an open show of hands in the House of Commons. Votes took place along partisan lines, and the speaker was chosen, in practice, by the prime minister of the day. From 1953 until the eighties, the speaker was chosen in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, although the sense I get is that this was sometimes pro forma consultation.
Therefore, we have a system that is really 30 years old, and while it is an improvement on what existed previously, it could be improved upon considerably.
Most obviously, there are the time constraints. The rules require at least an hour to pass between ballots, and the process of balloting takes some additional time. This consumes an entire day. In 1986, the first time that the system was used, Speaker Fraser was elected in an 11 ballot process. There were six ballots in 1994, four in 1997, five in 2001, five in 2008, and six in 2011.
On average, seven hours have been consumed in electing a speaker in each of the Parliaments since the procedure was introduced. That includes the easy ones, where there was only one ballot because there was only one candidate. A little math means that 7 hours times 308 members is 2,156 hours. However, if it were 11 ballots, as it was on one occasion which took 12 hours, times 330 members, as we will have in the next Parliament, we are looking at something like 4,000 hours worth of balloting. That is the equivalent of two work years. This is not an ideal system.
More significant than that is perhaps the fact that we now have evidence from a senior body within the Commonwealth, the House of Lords, operating under the preferential ballot system. What we can see from that experience and the comparisons made between the two systems, sometimes by individuals who have served in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, is that a more consensual approach emerges, as is typical with preferential balloting. This is the system that is now used by parties to elect their leaders. It is a system under which many of us were nominated. It is in fact the system under which I was nominated.
As anyone who has gone through a preferential ballot knows, the secret to getting elected is to be everyone's second choice. We need to have enough first choices that we survive the initial counts, but if we are acceptable to everyone, we are likely to ultimately succeed.
The proof of that comes from the 2006 and 2011 elections of the speakers in the House of Lords. One difference between its system and what is proposed here is that it makes public the results of each round of balloting. It is clear that the more consensual, less partisan candidate in both elections moved up the ranks over the course of balloting. That is to say, those who were more partisan may have come in with strong support; those who were the best representatives at simply following the rules and of demonstrating impartiality were the most likely to progress through the ballots and get elected with time.
I suggest that producing someone who is concerned simply with following the rules as best as possible, and embodying those rules, is the ideal candidate for speaker. Such an individual is likely to be the kind of person who would be elected under the preferential ballot proposed under Motion No. 489. For that reason, I ask that all members of the House vote in favour of concurrence in the report of the standing committee, and therefore in favour of Motion No. 489.