Suspending The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick


New Brunswick sports the handsomest legislative assembly chamber in Canada, the walls adorned with portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte and the floor covered with that blue-green carpet

New Brunswick provides an interesting case study in novel interpretations of how parliamentary government works and now in matters of the separation of powers between the executive and legislature. Liberal Premier Brian Gallant recently announced that he, as Liberal leader, had suspended fellow Liberal MLA Chris Collins from the parliamentary party, an authority which he certainly possesses. However, Chris Collins also serves as the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Premier has called for his “suspension” from that post as well; whatever that means — perhaps a censure, or outright removal — remains unclear.

The government will ask the Legislative Administration Committee, also known as LAC, to suspend the speaker from his administrative position pending an investigation,” said Premier Gallant.

As Lyle Skinner, a Canadian political historian and expert on parliamentary procedure, pointed out:

Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald also pointed out that very committee which Premier Gallant cited is chaired by the Speaker himself and so is unlikely to rule against him.

 

The Legislative Assembly currently stands adjourned, rather than prorogued, which means that assembly itself would determine when it can next meet, as Macdonald rightly points out.

Since the legislative assembly itself elects the Speaker, then, under the principles of collective parliamentary privilege, it stands to reason that only the legislative assembly itself, as a whole, can censure or remove the Speaker, and not a legislative committee. A committee could investigate allegations against an MLA, including the Speaker, and report on its findings and make a recommendation — but the assembly itself would have to act and censure or remove the speaker and elect another. Committees are creatures of the assembly and therefore derive their authority from the assembly.

The two precedents (one leading to the removal of the Speaker and one failing to do so) in Canadian history support this claim in principle: in each case, the assembly voted on a motion for the removal of the speaker, and their results were definitive. Skinner recounts the precedent where the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia removed its Speaker in 1875:

Formal motions of censure against Speakers are rare in Canada. The only instance of a Speaker being successfully removed from office via a substantive vote occurred in 1875 in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia House of Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that Speaker Dickie resign. Of interest was that the resolution noted that his 36 conduct in office demonstrated that he did not have the ‘requisite qualifications to satisfactorily discharge’ the duties of the Office of Speaker. Upon passage of the House’s resolution, Speaker Dickie resigned, and another Speaker was promptly elected.[1]

The Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick also once voted on removing its Speaker, Michael  “Tanker” Malley, in 2006. As Skinner explains, “The motion of censure was defeated by a vote of 27 to 25 allowing Malley to remain as presiding officer for the duration of the Legislative Assembly.” [2]

All of this will amount to nothing unless the Legislative Assembly reconvenes. Alternatively, Collins might choose to resign amidst the controversy, but the Premier cannot force his resignation as Speaker. Gallant could only play a role by casting his vote, in his capacity as an MLA, on a motion for Collins’s removal.

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[1] Lyle Skinner, “Impartiality of the Speaker: Politics Versus Convention in New Brunswick’s 55th Legislature,”  Honours Thesis (Fredericton: University of New Brunswick, September 2008), 35-37.

[2] Ibid., 37.

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2 Responses to Suspending The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick

  1. In 2012 a similar imbroglio took place in Australia’s House of Representatives. The Speaker – Peter Slipper – stood accused of sexual harassment of an employee. The situation was tense as the government of the day had only a minority, with four cross bench MPs holding the balance of power. The Government had induced Slipper – an Opposition MP – to be elected to the chair the previous year, enhancing their voting position slightly. Slipper was the object of bitter recriminations, and did not have a strong foundation of support and respect to fall back on when the allegations became public. The Opposition were delighted at the prospect of seeing their former colleague removed.

    Slipper’s position looked indefensible at the time, and a motion of no-confidence was imminent. The Government were hardly delighted to find themselves as his supporters. Options for him standing aside, rather than being removed, were floated.

    Slipper did resign by the end of the day, resolving the matter. The record strongly suggests that a motion to remove him would have been passed, had he not resigned. Accounts of the day indicate that cross-bench members visited him in his chambers and urged him to resign, being unable to assure him of their support.

    (For completeness in the story, legal action by slipper’s accuser followed, but the latter’s claims were ultimately rejected by a court.)

    Like

  2. Rand Dyck says:

    Another worthy contribution, James!

    Like

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