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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons

 

Hon. Napoléon Antoine Belcourt
P.C. (1904–1905)

Napoléon Belcourt, a fluently bilingual lawyer and journalist, was Speaker for only 10 months in 1904–1905 — not the briefest period on record (both Marcel Lambert and Lloyd Francis would serve shorter terms), but the most short-lived since Confederation. Louis-Philippe Brodeur, elected Speaker in February 1901, had resigned his post to become Minister of Inland Revenue in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Cabinet, and a new Speaker was required for the remainder of the 9th Parliament.

The former Speaker’s dignity and impartiality had been eminently satisfactory, Laurier said on nominating Belcourt, and he anticipated that the new Speaker would display the same qualities. Conservative Leader of the Opposition Robert Borden concurred. At the end of Belcourt’s term, every staff member of the House of Commons (“without a single exception”) appeared at his farewell reception, and the Clerk’s toast to him prompted “cheers and vocal honours.” Similarly, the toast by the Mayor of Ottawa at a non-partisan banquet in Belcourt’s honour was received with “tremendous cheers and musical honours.”

Although Belcourt retained his seat in the 1904 election, Prime Minister Laurier did not nominate him again for Speaker (he appointed Belcourt a Senator in 1907). Given the constant tension between English-speaking and French-speaking Speakers that pervaded the political atmosphere, Laurier realized that he needed a primarily English-speaking Speaker after the French-speaking Brodeur from Quebec and the Franco-Ontarian Belcourt. Since Confederation the practice of alternating between English- and French-speaking Speakers had been generally observed, but not always.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King summed up the practice in 1922: “It has been more or less a tradition in this House that in successive parliaments the speakers should be chosen alternately from representatives of English and French origin.” On the same day, Conservative Leader of the Opposition Arthur Meighen referred to another Canadian custom: “the practice to promote him who has occupied the post of Deputy Speaker, if he is so fortunate as to be returned, to the position of Speaker in the succeeding Parliament.”  Both traditions had been and would be raised frequently in House discussions of electing a Speaker.

In 1925, Belcourt chaired a Senate special committee that chastised the commercialization of paper poppies worn on Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day).

Next Speaker: Hon. Robert Franklin Sutherland

Previous Speaker: Hon. Louis-Philippe Brodeur


Artist: Charles Ignace Adélard Gill
Date: circa 1905

Born: Toronto, Canada West, 1860

Died: Blue Sea Lake, Quebec, 1932

Professional Background:
Law, Journalism

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: