Inside Politics

UPDATED - House Watch: With Denise Savoie leaving the Commons, who will be the next deputy speaker?

As most readers are likely already aware, in a surprise move earlier today, NDP MP Denise Savoie has resigned her seat in Parliament for health reasons -- and, by doing so, plunged Victoria voters into the same electoral limbo as their fellow citizens in Calgary Centre and Durham -- and, depending on that much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling, possibly Etobicoke Centre as well -- namely, waiting to find out when, exactly, they'll be heading back to the polls.

(Although the Elections Act  gives the PM up to six months to call a by-election, past history will suggest he'll want to call all three (or four) at once, which gives him until December 7th to do so, as that's when the deadline runs out for Calgary Centre.)

Back on the Hill, however, the timeline for replacing Savoie will be considerably tighter, as her departure will leave the House of Commons short one deputy speaker and chair of committee of the whole -- an often overlooked, but occasionally critical post.

Here's what Standing Order 7(1) has to say about the process: 

7. (1) At the commencement of every Parliament or whenever there is a vacancy, the Speaker of the House, after consultation with the leaders of each of the officially recognized parties, shall announce to the House the name of a Member he or she considers to be qualified for the position of Chair of Committees of the Whole who, upon his or her election to that post, shall also be Deputy Speaker of the House.

And that's where it could get interesting, as there's no rule that requires a potential deputy speaker to be drawn from the opposition ranks -- in fact, recent tradition has been to appoint (well, technically 'elect', although the pre-nomination consultation between the parties tends to make the vote a pro forma affair) a runner-up in the election of the speaker, which is likely how Savoie got the nod last year.

There's also a different dynamic at play in a majority House -- since the government no longer has to stress over the numbers, sacrificing the vote of a backbencher by adding him or her the speakers' roster is a far less dicey proposition than was the case during the minority era.

Given that, the Conservatives could propose that one of the two (Conservative) associate deputy speakers be made Scheer's second in Commons command, and offer one of the associate spots to the opposition, thus ensuring that it will be one of their own in the chair when the House reverts to Committee of the Whole. 

It's also not clear whether there are any New Democrats -- or, for that matter, Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, Independents or Elizabeth May -- with a hankering to take the robe, as it were, which would, of course, mean giving up any critic portfolio, and adopting a distinctly low profile -- and nonpartisan -- role in the House even when not actually occupying the Throne. Savoie was, after all, the only opposition candidate during the most recent speaker's election. 

In any case, it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds. Stay tuned! 

UPDATE: It's worth noting that silent though the Standing Orders may be on the party membership of an eligible candidate for the deputy speaker gig, SO 7(2) does require that he or she "possess the full and practical knowledge of the official language which is not that of the Speaker for the time being." 

While the wording is frustratingly ambiguous -- does that "full and practical knowledge" have to be superior to that of the speaker himself -- that could eliminate the aforementioned Conservative associate speakers, Barry Devolin and Bruce Stanton, from consideration if the unwritten rule obliges Scheer to choose a Francophone for the job. 

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