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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons

 

Hon. James Alexander Jerome
P.C., B.A., LL.D. (1974–1980)

During his second term as a Liberal MP, James Jerome had impressed many members of the House with his fair-minded chairing of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs (1973–1974). When Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau nominated him to be Speaker in 1974, however, contrary to the usual practice the Prime Minister failed to consult the Leader of the Opposition (Robert Stanfield) or representatives of the other political parties. Deeply disappointed, Stanfield explained to the House why he declined to second the motion for Jerome’s election, although he pledged the full co-operation of the Progressive Conservative party. The unspoken implication was that the Prime Minister was treating the Speakership as just another government appointment.

Despite this lack of bipartisan approval, Jerome soon earned the general respect of the House, especially among opposition members. In his first major ruling he halted the government’s use of parliamentary secretaries to ask questions during Question Period. The government’s attempts to have him reconsider his ruling were taken by opposition members to show a lack of respect for the Speaker.

Jerome felt that the much-discussed issue of live radio and television coverage in the House was an important aspect of open democracy. Following a resolution of the House in January 1977, he chaired a Special Committee on TV and Radio Broadcasting of Proceedings of the House; nine months later, on October 17, 1977, gavel-to-gavel coverage began — the first of any legislature in the world.

Shortly after the Liberal government was defeated in the general election of 1979, the new Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, Joe Clark, nominated Jerome to be Speaker. Jerome had contested the election as a Liberal, and thus he became the first opposition MP ever to be elected Speaker.

After Clark’s minority government fell in 1980, Jerome announced that he would not run in the next election; Clark then appointed him Associate Chief Justice of the Federal Court.

Jerome’s memoirs, Mr. Speaker, marked the first time a Canadian Speaker had written about his experiences in the post.

Next Speaker: Right Hon. Jeanne Sauvé

Previous Speaker: Hon. Lucien Lamoureux


Artist: Robert Stewart Hyndman
Date: 1979

Born: Kingston, Ontario, 1933

Died: Ottawa, Ontario, 2005

Professional Background: Law

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Ministers During Speakership: