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Conduct and Rules of Debate
The Legislative Assembly is governed by a collection of rules, customs and traditions. The rules covered in this section deal with scenarios that may happen frequently in the House. For a full listing of rules that govern debate and conduct of members please consult the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. Questions on the rules can be directed to the Clerk or Clerks Assistant.
Quorum is the minimum number of members that need to be present in the House for proceedings to occur. The present quorum is 10 members, including the Speaker. Should a quorum appear not to exist at the start of a sitting day, the Speaker will adjourn until enough members appear. During the sitting, any member may draw the Speaker’s attention to a lack of a quorum, and the bells may be rung to summon members to the Chamber.
Attending the sittings of the House is an important responsibility for members. As there may be circumstances when a leave of absence is required, Rule 29 allows for members to seek permission of the Speaker for extended time away.
Ensuring attendance is seen to be a function of party leadership through party whips. Because scheduling conflicts may occur with other parliamentary or official commitments, reference to the absence of individual members in the Chamber is discouraged. If reference is made to an absent member, the Speaker may ask the member to retract and refrain from further mention of the absence.
When a member wishes to speak during proceedings in the House they must stand at their desk and address the Speaker. Standing and being at the desk bearing the member’s district name or portfolio helps avoid difficulties for the Speaker in recognizing members. Members are required to address the Speaker, not each other, in the House. This helps discourage direct attacks or heated exchanges from one member to another.
While in the Chamber, members and staff move around the Chamber in a certain manner, to preserve a fitting degree of ceremonial order. Additionally, these rules preserve the symbolic importance of the role of the Speaker (Rule 30):
- When entering, leaving or crossing the chamber, members shall bow to the chair;
- When the Speaker rises at any time, any member speaking shall sit down and the Speaker shall be heard without interruption;
- When a member is speaking, no member shall pass between that member and the chair;
- When the House adjourns, the members shall keep their places until the Speaker has left the chamber.
Convention requires that members refer to each other by title, position or district name, rather than by personal name (this includes referring to themselves in the third person!). Breaches of this convention do occur occasionally, and the Speaker may intervene or members may object through points of order. Examples of appropriate titles to use in debate include positions such as Premier or Leader of the Opposition, portfolios such as Minister of Health and Wellness, or district titles, such as Member for Souris - Elmira.
Under Rule 113 members may use electronic devices in the Chamber (and in committee) except during formal occasions and other occasions the Speaker (or Chair) deems inappropriate for their use. Sound must be off at all times, and use of the devices must not interrupt proceedings. They may not be used as a telephone, recording device, camera or pager.
All decisions of the House are made by the votes of the assembled members. The formal term for the vote process is a division. Every proposed decision is considered a question which the members answer with their vote.
A member proposes a form of House action by moving a motion, phrased as “I move, seconded by [another member] that [action]”. A motion may relate simply to procedure or to the next item of business, such as moving that a certain order of the day be read or that the House adjourn. These types of motions typically proceed directly to a vote without debate. Seeking permission to introduce a bill or table a document (phrased as “I beg leave to introduce/table [bill/document]”) is similar. After such non-debatable motions are made, the Speaker says “Shall it carry?” and members respond with “yes” or “no”. The Speaker judges whether the affirmative or negative answer has the greatest number of voices, and the House proceeds accordingly.
Other types of motions are debatable and require notice, such as a motion to amend the current question under debate.
Finally, some motions are substantive, i.e. they stand alone, and require one clear sitting day’s notice before they may be debated. These motions are proposals for the House to express an opinion, take an action, or call for something to be done. They must be in writing and must contain an operative clause (phrased as “Therefore be it resolved that [opinion be expressed/action be done]”), possibly preceded by one or more statements relevant to the operative clause (phrased as “Whereas, [statement]"). These motions are debated during the Government motions or Motions other than government items of the order of business.
Members are encouraged to consult Chapter 12 of the Rules for the types of motions that do or do not require notice and are or are not debatable.
When a debatable motion is moved, the mover of the motion has the first opportunity to speak to it, followed by the seconder. Then every other member has the opportunity to speak to it once. When all members desiring to speak have done so, the mover is given the opportunity to speak a second time to close debate. Following this, the Speaker puts the question, in a form such as “All those in favour of the motion, say ‘aye’”, followed by “All those opposed to the motion, say ‘nay’.”
Each member may vote only once, or may abstain from voting. The position with the most votes forms the House’s decision. It is the Speaker’s responsibility to determine whether the affirmative or negative position has the most voices, and to announce the motion “carried” or “defeated”. The Speaker does not vote, except to break a tie.
Any member may request a recorded division (also known as a standing vote), either before the question is put or after voice votes have been given. A recorded division involves each member standing at his or her place to express a vote opposed to or in favour of the question. The Speaker asks those opposed to stand first, and then those in favour. Each member is named in turn by a clerk, and is listed as voting opposed or in favour in the Journal. Members may abstain by remaining seated or leaving the Chamber. Recorded divisions are preceded by a ringing of the bells for up to five minutes to summon members to the Chamber. The procedure for votes and recorded divisions is detailed in Chapter 10 of the Rules.
During a vote, whether by voice or standing, no debate is permitted, nor may points of order or privilege be raised. Recorded divisions are not permitted in Committee of the Whole House.
During debate, there are certain actions that are always deemed out of order. These are listed in rules 34 and 35:
|1) No member shall speak disrespectfully of the Queen, any member of the Royal Family, the Governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor or the Administrator of Prince Edward Island.||By virtue of their rank and position, these persons are entitled to respect from members.|
|2) No member shall use language or words offensive toward the House or any member.||Speakers have consistently ruled that language used in the House should be temperate and worthy of the place in which it is spoken.|
|1) No member shall speak beside the question in debate.||This prohibits members from straying off topic and protects the right of the House to reach a decision on the question before it.|
|2) No member shall reflect upon any vote of the House.||A decision, whether in the affirmative or the negative, cannot be questioned again during the session. Should a member wish to propose that the House reverse one of its previous decisions, he or she may move “That the resolution (or order) adopted by the House on [date] as follows … be rescinded.”|
|3) When a member is speaking, no member shall interrupt except to raise a point of order or privilege.||Debate does not always occur in complete silence, but members who interrupt excessively will be called to order by the Speaker.|
|4) When a matter is being debated, if a member rises to speak on a subject not at the time under discussion, or interrupts a member who is speaking except to raise a point of order or privilege, or transgresses any rule, any member may, and the Speaker shall, call that member to order.||This rule lists situations in which the Speaker will call a member to order or other members may seek to have another member called to order.|
Language or words offensive toward the House or any member is considered unparliamentary. There is no exhaustive list of words or expressions that are automatically unparliamentary; what is unacceptable depends largely on the circumstances or context in which it used. However, personal attacks, insults and obscene language are out of order. Questioning a member’s integrity, honesty or character is also unparliamentary, and terms such as “mislead”, “lie”, “deceive” and “hypocrisy” (or any version of them) are generally deemed unparliamentary. Members using unparliamentary language will be directed by the Speaker to retract the unparliamentary language and/or apologize.
If there is a departure from the Rules members may object by raising a point of order. The Speaker may also intervene without a point of order being raised. Points of order can be raised at any time during proceedings, except:
- During Questions by members; points of order relevant to rule violations during question period may be raised at the conclusion of the 40-minute question period
- During a vote; when the House is engaged in a vote, whether by voice or recorded division, points of order may not be raised
Otherwise, points of order should be raised as soon as possible after the rule violation occurs. Members raising points of order should explain the nature of the violation. The Speaker will then consider the matter, and may allow debate on the point of order at his or her discretion. The Speaker may issue a ruling immediately or may take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling at a later time. Once made, the Speaker’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed.
Privileges are the rights and immunities held by the House collectively and the members individually that are necessary for them to fulfill their functions. Privileges are conferred by the Legislative Assembly Act or other statutes or by practice, precedent, usage and custom. They include:
|Collective Privileges of the House||Individual Privileges of Members|
|To discipline persons guilty of breaches of privilege or contempt||Freedom of speech|
|To expel members guilty of disgraceful conduct||Freedom from arrest in civil actions|
|To regulate its internal affairs||Exemption from jury duty|
|To maintain the attendance and service of its members||Exemption from attendance as a witness|
|To institute inquiries, call witnesses and demand papers||Freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation and molestation|
|To administer oaths to witnesses|
|To publish papers containing defamatory material|
Any claim that privilege has been infringed is a very serious matter. It is raised in the House by means of a question of privilege. A member raising a question of privilege should explain the matter and why it is believed to entail an infringement of privilege, and propose a motion calling on the House to take action on it or for the matter to be referred to the Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges.
Privilege is a matter for the House to determine. However, upon a question of privilege being raised, the Speaker must first determine:
- Is the matter a prima facie question of privilege? In other words, at first impression, does the matter raised have to do with the collective or individual rights and immunities of the House and its members? Violations of the rules, for example, should not be objected to as privilege matters, but as points of order.
- Has the matter been raised as soon as it could have been? Privilege matters are serious and must be brought to the attention of the House without delay. This is why “Matters of privilege” is the first item of the public portion of the ordinary daily routine. However, privilege matters can be raised at any other point in proceedings, except during Question Period or while a vote is underway.
The Speaker may immediately decide whether the matter meets these criteria or take it under advisement for a decision at a later time. If the Speaker is satisfied that the question of privilege meets the above criteria, the House shall immediately consider the motion proposed in the question of privilege. It is the House that decides whether a breach of privilege has been committed, and what the remedy or reparation shall be.
Not all of the practices of the Legislative Assembly are contained in the formal rules of procedure. As an institution that has existed for centuries, there are unwritten customs that have accumulated over the years and continue to apply to proceedings.
- Members must be attired in standard business dress, i.e. a jacket and tie for male members and the equivalent level of formality for female members.
- Members may speak only from their individual desks, except during Committee of the Whole House.
- Under the Rules, English and French are considered the official languages in debate; convention holds that members speaking in French should follow their remarks with an English translation (French remarks are also followed by an English translation in Hansard)
- In Committee of the Whole House, members may ask questions and debate from desks other than their own. They may also remain seated while speaking.
- When the Speaker is standing or putting a question, no member shall enter or cross the Assembly, or make any noise or disturbance.
- When the Assembly has adjourned, members shall remain at their places until the Speaker has left the Chamber.
- Food is not permitted in the Chamber. Drinks are permitted when brought in by a Page.
- Members signify a request for the services of a Page by raising their hand.
- The public is not allowed on the floor of the Chamber. The public and media sit in galleries located outside the rail of the Chamber.