THE EDITOR: During the sitting of the House of Representatives on September 8, the parliamentary chamber was faced with a rather rare situation where both the Government and Opposition had the same number of members present, resulting in deadlocked votes. This subsequently led the Speaker of the House having, on three occasions, to use her casting vote to break the tie.
This is not the first time a presiding officer in our Parliament has been called upon to execute a casting vote and many times presiding officer voted with the Government. Therefore, the question arises: what is the proper protocol in executing a casting vote?
In Friday’s sitting the Speaker voted three times with the Government and without casting aspersions one must examine if this measures up with what is considered proper parliamentary procedure.
Our nation has adopted the Westminster system of government and, as the name suggests, most of the protocols and procedures which we follow are derived from the UK’s Parliament, located at Westminster Palace. When one reviews the procedure of the Speaker’s casting vote as stated in the UK House of Commons Practice and Procedure guidelines, one would note the following:
“...certain conventions have developed as a guide to Speakers (and chairs in a committee of the whole) in the infrequent exercise of the casting vote. Concisely put, the Speaker normally votes to maintain the status quo. This entails voting in the following fashion:
“ * Whenever possible, leaving the matter open for future consideration and allowing for further discussion by the House;
“ * Whenever no further discussion is possible, preserving the possibility that the matter might somehow be brought back in the future and be decided by a majority of the House; and
“ * Leaving a bill in its existing form rather than causing it to be amended.”
In 1863, these conventions were acknowledged in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada when the Speaker was called upon to give a casting vote, and gave as his reason “that in the case of an equal division, the practice was that the Speaker should keep the question as long as possible before the House in order to afford a further opportunity to the House of expressing an opinion upon it.
As one reflects on what transpired at Friday’s sitting, one could see this was very far from the suggested protocol which our Westminster system of government dictates, given that the Speaker choose to vote against the status quo and have the two motions before the House as well as the sitting of the House adjourned.
It is clear to see that the Speaker’s casting vote in support of the three Government motions were contrary to the Westminster form of Government Practice and Procedure.