New Speaker in Newfoundland and Labrador
On November 17, 2014, Lewisporte MHA Wade Verge was acclaimed as Speaker of Newfoundland and Labrador’s House of Assembly.
Having served as acting Speaker since the resignation of former Speaker Ross Wiseman in September, Verge said he was very happy to assume the role and there would be no need for his colleagues to follow the tradition of dragging him into the Speaker’s Chair as he “would have been willing to run to the chair.” First elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2011 as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, Verge previously worked as a teacher and school principal for 22 years.
New Speaker of the Senate
Pierre Claude Nolin was appointed Speaker of the Senate by Governor General David Johnston on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on November 26, 2014. Nolin, who had served as Speaker pro tempore for a year, replaced former Speaker Noël Kinsella who resigned from the Chamber two days before mandatory retirement provisions were set to take effect.
A lawyer by training, Nolin was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1993 for senatorial division of De Salaberry, Québec. He chairs the Senate committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration and is a member of the committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament.
32nd Annual Presiding Officers’ Conference
From January 29 to February 1, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba hosted more than 50 delegates and accompanying persons at the 32nd Annual Presiding Officers’ Conference.
The first day’s business sessions focused around the theme of parliamentary privilege. In a session chaired by Prince Edward Island Speaker Carolyn Bertram, Rob Reynolds, a law clerk and Director of Interparliamentary Relations at the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, spoke about the essentials of parliamentary privilege in a modern context. In addition to defining privilege, Reynolds outlined its categories, internal controls and external recognition of parliament’s jurisdiction and the concept of contempt of parliament before concluding with a review of debates about whether or not to codify parliamentary privilege.
Neil Ferguson, Chief Clerk of Nova Scotia’s House of Assembly, offered a retrospective on an important court case dealing with parliamentary privilege that went before the Supreme Court of Canada. Chaired by Manitoba’s Deputy Speaker Tom Nevakshonoff, the session explored the legacy of Donahoe v. the CBC (or New Brunswick Broadcasting Co v. Nova Scotia (Speaker of the House of Assembly)) which tested a parliament’s power to restrict strangers from entering the House.
Yukon Speaker David Laxton chaired a panel discussion on privilege and the courts featuring presentations by André Gagnon, Acting Deputy Clerk of the House of Commons, Deborah Deller, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and Tim Mercer, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. The session explored the experiences of these jurisdictions when invoking protection of parliamentary privilege before the courts.
The day’s final session, chaired by New Brunswick Speaker Chris Collins, provided an opportunity for jurisdictional updates on privilege and other issues.
The second day of the conference began with a presentation by British Columbia Speaker Linda Reid on e-petitions and citizen engagement. The session, chaired by Ontario Speaker Dave Levac, explored the use of new technology as a practical and cost-effective method of involving more citizens in the activities of the legislatures. A version of this presentation was previously published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review Vol. 37, No. 4.
The sixth conference session, chaired by Newfoundland and Labrador Speaker Wade Verge, dealt with presiding over Oral Questions. Saskatchewan Speaker Dan D’Autremont reflected on situations and techniques used during Question Periods and the perennial challenge of non-relevant answers to questions. This session prompted a healthy discussion among attendees of the varying lengths of Question Periods among jurisdictions across Canada and their structure and order.
A final session, chaired by Alberta Speaker Gene Zwozdesky, featured a presentation by National Assembly President Jacques Chagnon which explored how parliamentary privileges relate to safety and security considerations. A subsequent Speakers’ meeting continued to explore issues relating to this topic.