Tuesday, June 12, 2012

History of Speaker Scheer

An obscure corner of the history of this Parliament:  watching how the new Speaker, Andrew Scheer, the youngest to hold the office, is handling the job.  A Speaker's reputation tends to be built more in marathons than sprints. It takes a while to determine whether the new occupant is up to the job.

Someone who has been watching is Aaron Wherry of Maclean's. He has been interested (where much of the press and perhaps much of the House has not) in Elizabeth May's recent point of order, in which she asked Speaker Scheer to rule that c-38, the omnibus bill that is supposed to implement the budget but which does many things not proposed in the budget and does not do many that are in it, is not "in proper form" and therefore must, by the rules of the House, be broken up and debated in its constituent parts. On his blog, Wherry gives May's lengthy point of order here.  He gives "a rough guide" to Bill C-38 here.

And yesterday he gave a blow-by blow (and the full text) of Speaker Scheer's rejection of May's point of order, in which Scheer found that an omnibus bill has always been pretty much anything a government wants it to be and if the House wants to change that, it's up to the House, not to him.

I can't help feeling this is a defeat for Speaker Scheer and his reputation and standing. It is true that a speaker is the House's servant, not its master. And it is true that the House makes the rules. But a speaker interprets and enforces the rules. When a speaker declares there is no rule worth enforcing, in the face of a pretty cogent argument that there is, he looks like a weak speaker. By making an interpretation of the rules that authorizes the majority to do as it wishes, he seems to be rewarding abuse of executive power rather than restraining it.

I don't mean the Speaker alone could prevent abuses of power.  Had the Speaker ruled against the government's omnibus bill, it could have used its majority to appeal against him and to restate the House rules in its own favour. But when the rules are at least ambiguous and he rules in favour of the majority -- and then tells the house it has the right to overrule him if it chooses, he seems to be merely deferring to the victorious majority, even mocking the impotence of the opposition in telling it to overrule him if it can.

In the long run, a Speaker who gives the impression he can be pushed around by the majority does not prosper.  Scheer's marathon is not over, but he has ground to make up.

One more thing from Aaron Wherry's blog: a rather admiring profile of Speaker Andrew Scheer, published just as this storm was breaking.  Nice work altogether.
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