PARLIAMENT of CANADA
House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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4. The House of Commons and Its Members

Vacancies in Representation

Once elected, Members are expected to serve for the duration of a parliament. Nonetheless, vacancies in representation may, and often do, occur. A person ceases to be a Member of the House of Commons when:

  • that person dies;
  • that person resigns his or her seat;
  • that person has accepted an office of profit or emolument under the Crown;
  • that person has been elected to sit in a provincial legislative assembly;
  • the Member’s election has been overturned in accordance with the Dominion Controverted Elections Act;
  • the House has, by order, declared that the Member’s seat is vacant and has ordered the Speaker to address a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ of election for a new Member. [341] 

Death of a Member

Should a Member die while in office, the Speaker is informed of the vacancy in one of two ways. A Member may rise in his or her place and advise the House of the death; [342]  alternatively, two Members may notify the Speaker in writing. [343]  Typically at the beginning of the sitting, the Speaker informs the House that a communication has been received giving notice of a vacancy in representation and that a warrant has been addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election. [344] 

In the absence of the Speaker, or if there is no Speaker, or if the seat vacated is that of the Speaker, two Members may alert the Chief Electoral Officer in writing of the death of the Member. The Chief Electoral Officer is then authorized to issue a new writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [345] 

Death of a Member Following a General Election

If, following a general election but before the first session of the new Parliament and before the election of a Speaker, a vacancy occurs in the representation of the House because of the death of a Member, any Member may alert the Chief Electoral Officer in writing of this vacancy. [346] The Chief Electoral Officer is then authorized to issue a new writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. On the opening day of the first session, after the election of a Speaker and after the House has returned from hearing the Speech from the Throne in the Senate, the House is advised of the vacancy at some point during the day’s proceedings. [347] 

Resignation of a Member

A Member may give notice of his or her intention to resign by making a statement on the floor of the House. [348]  Immediately upon the recording of this notice in the Journals of the House, the Speaker addresses a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [349]  A Member may also resign his or her seat by delivering to the Speaker a written declaration of intention to resign signed before two witnesses. On receiving the declaration, the Speaker addresses a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [350] 

A Member who wishes to resign when there is no Speaker or when the Speaker is absent from Canada may deliver to any two Members his or her signed declaration of intention to resign. The same applies when a Speaker wishes to resign as a Member. [351]  On receiving the declaration, these two Members address a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [352] 

Once a Member has tendered his or her resignation, the seat is deemed to be vacated and the individual ceases to be a Member of Parliament. [353]  No Member, however, may tender his or her resignation while his or her election is being contested or until after the expiration of the time during which the election may be contested on grounds other than corruption or bribery. [354] 

Acceptance of an Office of Profit or Emolument Under the Crown

No person may hold an office of profit or of emolument under the Crown and become or remain a Member of Parliament. Thus, the seat of a Member who has accepted an appointment to the Senate, the office of the Governor General, a judgeship or any other such public office is automatically vacated. [355]  This provision does not apply to Members who occupy positions as Ministers or who are appointed to the Ministry in the course of a session. [356]  A Member must also resign if he or she becomes a member of a provincial legislature. [357]  In the event a Member accepts an office after a general election but before Parliament first meets, any other Member may notify the Chief Electoral Officer of the vacancy. The Chief Electoral Officer will then issue a writ for an election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [358] 

Controverted Election Result

A vacancy in the representation of the House may occur as a result of a controverted election. As discussed earlier in this chapter, a judicial decision concerning a controverted election may void the election result, depriving the person first declared elected of his or her seat. In this case, the Speaker informs the House of the decision and then addresses a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer to issue a writ for the election of a Member to fill the vacancy. [359] 

Expulsion

Once a person is elected to the House of Commons, there are no constitutional provisions and few statutory provisions for removal of that Member from office. The statutory provisions rendering a Member ineligible to sit or vote do not automatically cause the seat of that Member to become vacant. [360]  Indeed, the laying of a criminal charge against a Member has no effect on his or her eligibility to remain in office. By virtue of parliamentary privilege, the House has the inherent right to decide matters affecting its own membership: the House decides for itself if a Member should be permitted to sit on committees, receive a salary or even be allowed to keep his or her seat. [361]  The power of the House to expel one of its Members derives from its traditional authority to determine whether Members are qualified to sit. A criminal conviction is not necessary for the House to expel a Member; the House may judge a Member unworthy to sit in the Chamber for any conduct unbecoming the character of a Member. Even if convicted of an indictable offence, a formal resolution of the House is still required to unseat a Member. [362]  Expulsion terminates the Member’s mandate: the House of Commons declares a seat vacant and orders the Speaker to address a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ of election. [363] 

The determination of whether a Member is ineligible to sit and vote is a matter initiated without notice and would be given precedence by its very nature. [364]  When there has been a criminal conviction, the House of Commons has acted only when sufficient evidence against a Member has been tabled (i.e., judgements sentencing the Member and appeals confirming the sentence). [365]  Any Member may move to examine the conduct of another Member, and the Member whose conduct is in question is permitted to make a statement and then withdraw from the Chamber while the motion to expel him or her is being debated. [366] 

Since Confederation, there have been four cases where Members of the House of Commons were expelled for having committed serious offences. [367] Three cases involved criminal convictions: Louis Riel (Provencher) was expelled twice, in 1874 [368]  and in 1875, [369]  for being a fugitive from justice; and Fred Rose (Cartier) was expelled in 1947 after having been found guilty of conspiracy under the Official Secrets Act[370]  In 1891, Thomas McGreevy (Quebec West) was expelled after having been found guilty of contempt of the authority of the House. [371] 

Expulsion does not disqualify a Member from standing for re-election, unless the cause of the expulsion constitutes in itself a disqualification to sit and vote in the House (for example, such as being convicted of an illegal or corrupt election practice). [372]  Indeed, on two occasions a Member who had been expelled from the House sought re-election: following his first expulsion from the House in April 1874, Louis Riel was re-elected in a by-election in September 1874; Thomas McGreevy was re-elected to the House in a by-election on April 17, 1895. [373]


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