Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Beauchesne, the first duty of the Commons at the beginning of a 47696-1
new parliament is to ascertain the reasons why His Excellency the Governor General, the king's representative, has summoned its members to meet with him in parliament. As hon. members have just been made aware, His Excellency is not prepared to impart those reasons until the Commons have elected a Speaker. As a matter of fact the house itself will not be duly constituted until a Speaker has been elected; therefore our first duty this morning is to choose a Speaker.
In matters of parliamentary procedure our parliament largely follows the procedure at Westminster; there are certain differences, however, that, in the past, have been observed in reference to the selection of a Speaker. The first difference is that at Westminster the Speaker of one parliament, if he proves to be acceptable, is frequently reelected from parliament to parliament. I recall quite well the occasion when Mr. Speaker Lowther of the House of Commons in London visited Canada some years ago and presented to this House the Speaker's chair which is in place here. It is a replica of the one at Westminster. Mr. Speaker Lowther informed our members that for sixteen years he had occupied that seat while the Commons was in session, and that, during that period of time, he had never left the precincts of parliament while either the Commons or the Lords were in session. Since Mr. Speaker Lowther's day three or four other speakers have been appointed. The latest selection was made a few days ago when Mr. Speaker Brown, who had been the Speaker in the last parliament in the United Kingdom, was again chosen Speaker. At that time this action was commented upon as being in accord with the best tradition of recognizing that where a Speaker has shown himself to be impartial, a change of government should not necessarily mean that there would be a change in the position of Speaker. The fact that Mr. REVISED EDITION
Election of Speaker
Brown had served under a Coalition government which was largely Conservative, and was now under a Labour administration, selected
as Speaker was commented on very favourably on all sides.
For reasons of our own, however, we have for the most part found it desirable to have a Speaker chosen at the beginning of one parliament, and a new Speaker chosen at the beginning of the following parliament. That has not always been the case; there have been three exceptions. Mr. Speaker Cockburn, Mr. Speaker Rhodes, and Mr. Speaker Lemieux were, as I recall, elected for more than one parliament. However, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. We have thought that, at this time, we should follow the general practice of choosing a new Speaker at the beginning of a new parliament.
The reason why this difference prevails between the custom in our country and that in the United Kingdom, is that it is felt desirable in this as in many other respects to give recognition to the two races that laid the foundations of our country. That recognition is given, after a Speaker whose mother tongue is English has occupied the chair, by choosing at the next parliament a Speaker whose mother tongue is French. If the Commons is agreeable we propose to have that practice carried out at this time. The Commons itself is, of course, complete master of the situation.
May I point out a further difference in procedure. In the United Kingdom the Speaker is usually nominated by a private member and the nomination is seconded by a private member. That is done in order to make it perfectly clear that so far as the government is concerned, or any other authority, there is no authority greater than that of the members of the Commons themselves; and that, among the members, there is equality in the matter of their rights and privileges. In Canada it has been the custom to have the Speaker nominated by a member of the government, and, I believe, in each case the nomination has been by the Prime Minister.
I should like to make it clear that the Commons is not obliged in any way to accept the nomination of the Prime Minister. Any member is free to nominate and to support the candidature as Speaker of any other hon. member. I am hopeful, however, that the name I intend to propose to the house is one which will prove to be generally acceptable, and that the Speaker who is to occupy the chair throughout this parliament will be elected unanimously.
I have noticed from the press that there appears to be doubt in some quarters as to
the correct procedure in the selection of the Speaker both in the Commons and in the Senate. I have made it abundantly clear, that so far as the Commons is concerned the government is not in any way seeking to impose a Speaker on the house. We are simply carrying out the custom that has prevailed in the past.
In regard to the Senate, I give the following to the members of the house for purposes of information. From section 34 of the British North America Act it will be seen that the Speaker is appointed by the government. He is not chosen in the same manner as in the Commons. Section 34 reads:
The Governor General may from time to time, by instrument under the great seal of Canada, appoint a senator to be Speaker of the Senate, and may remove him and appoint another in his stead.
The section of the British North America Act which governs the selection of a Speaker in the Commons is section 44. It reads as follows:
The House of Commons, on its first assembling after a general election, shall proceed with all practicable speed to elect one of its members to be Speaker.
That then is the position in which we are at the moment, namely, we are about to elect a Speaker with all practicable speed.
Perhaps I may be permitted, before placing before the house the name of the hon. member I intend to nominate, to say just a word about the position of Speaker and the qualities expected in the occupant of that position.
The position of Speaker is the highest office in the gift of the Commons, it is also the most honourable. The Speaker is the first commoner, he is also the presiding officer of this house and is the custodian of its honour, its rights, its privileges and its prerogatives. The Speaker must possess qualities of good judgment and a judicial temperament, also many other qualities that I would not say are too rare, but, found in combination, are often rare enough. He should in his occupancy of the chair be wholly impartial in his manner and in his preferences as between members of the house. Impartiality between the two sides of the house and towards all members in the house is a first requisite in the fulfilment of the office of Speaker. Hon. members who have been in previous parliaments will agree that a great deal of patience is required, a certain sense of humour, together with as much as possible of a conciliatory attitude. I noticed in reading some remarks made recently in the British
Election of Speaker
house, it was said the Speaker must be possessed of a capacity to sit still for a long time. A Speaker, of course, should be a person of quick perceptions, firm, tactful and wholly familiar with the rules of the house and with the procedure of parliament.
As I have said, this is a remarkable combination to find in any one person, but I do believe the hon. member of this house whom I am about to nominate does possess all these qualities to an exceptional degree. The hon. gentleman whose name I wish to place in nomination is Mr. Gaspard Fauteux, the member for St. Mary, Montreal. Doctor Fauteux, I believe, has the character and ability which eminently fit him for this high position. He is a young man, which is all to the good, though he is not too young to be a veteran of the first world war, during which he served in the ranks, nor is he too young to have had considerable parliamentary experience. For some time he wras a member of the Quebec legislature and, as hon. members are aware, he has been a member also of this parliament for some time past. Doctor Fauteux comes of a family that has contributed much to our public life. He is a grandson of Hon. Honore Mercier, a former very distinguished! Premier of Quebec, and is a nephew of another premier. I refer to the Hon. Sir Lomer Gouin, who not only was also a distinguished Premier of Quebec but for some time Minister of Justice of Canada.
Those who know Doctor Fauteux will say that they recognize, in his abilities and public service an inherited strain that is all to the good both for him and for our country. And I may say that Docteur Fauteux possesses a good deal in the way of political prowess in his own right, as is evident from what we have seen on his part in political campaigns. However, now that he is being nominated for the Chair, if he is elected to that office, he will be expected to leave behind him the controversies of party and to be wholly impartial.
In nominating Doctor Fauteux, I have much in mind that he recognizes that the great problems of to-day relate themselves not merely to our own country, but to the countries of the world in general. During this period of transition from the terrors of a world war that has been unequalled in its frightfulness, unequalled in history, it is fortunate that we may have in this office of Speaker one who, for years past, has given very special study to international questions, has spoken upon many occasions in this and in other countries of the world situation, and has done much to educate others on the importance of a wide outlook in international affairs.
I may repeat that Doctor Fauteux has, I believe, the qualities of quick perception, keen discernment, patience and impartiality; and if elected by the hon. members of this house, he will, I believe, fill the high office of Speaker with dignity, with honour and distinction to himself and to parliament and with credit to the traditions established by his predecessors.
May I be permitted to add a single word. The ability of a Speaker to preside over the house in a manner which will commend itself generally is dependent even more upon the attitude of hon. members themselves than upon the one who may occupy the Chair. This is certain to be a difficult parliament. The questions which will have to be considered here will be much more difficult of solution than those which have had to be faced by any previous parliament. For this reason, if for no other we should recognize that the Speaker may have upon occasions an exceptionally difficult time. In some parliaments there has been I think a tendency to question far too often, the decisions of the Speaker. I am not in any way trying to lecture the house; I am seeking to emphasize what has been stressed very strongly at Westminster, namely, that the more the Speaker can be supported by the house, the better it will prove in the long run for the dispatch of business and also for the reputation of parliament itself in all parts of the world. I hope hon. members will not think I am unduly anticipating possibilities of that kind. I would only say that the more hon. members strengthen the hands of the Speaker, in his decisions, and in his maintenance of order and decorum in the house, the more rapidly and effectively will it be possible to proceed with the dispatch of the business of the house.
Mr. Beauohesne, I would move, seconded by Mr. St. Laurent:
That Gaspard Fauteux, Esquire, member for the electoral district of St. Mary, do take the chair of this house as Speaker.