12. THE PROCESS OF DEBATE
DECISIONS OF THE HOUSE
The will of the House is ascertained by means of a vote. Once debate on a motion has concluded, the Speaker puts the question and the House pronounces itself on the motion.  A simple majority of the Members present and voting is required to adopt or defeat a question. The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that:
Questions arising in the House of Commons shall be decided by a Majority of Voices other than that of the Speaker, and when the Voices are equal, but not otherwise, the Speaker shall have a Vote. 
A decision on a motion before the House can be made with no dissenting voices, in which case the motion is adopted and no division is taken.  When there are dissenting voices, a vote (or division) is taken. This can be either a voice vote or a recorded vote  where the House is called on to divide into the “yeas” and the “nays”. 
TERMINATION OF DEBATE
When debate on a motion appears to be finished (i.e., when no Member rises to be recognized for debate), the Speaker asks if the House is ready for the question — that is, if the House is ready to come to a decision. If no Member rises to speak, the Speaker puts the question to the House for a decision.
Some Standing Orders provide for deadlines within which the Speaker can or must proceed with putting the question on specific matters, unless debate on the motion has already collapsed or unless there is no provision for debate. For instance:
- motions to extend the sitting hours during the last 10 sitting days in June; 
- sub-amendments, amendments and the main motion for an Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne; 
- closured motions; 
- when the motion for the previous question is adopted, the question on the main motion must be decided immediately without debate or amendment; 
- motions for time allocation; 
- opposition motions and Supply motions on the last allotted day of each Supply period; 
- the main Budget motion and any amendment or sub-amendment; 
- votable items of Private Members’ Business;  and
- motions for the production of papers. 
In addition, special orders may also contain provisions for the Speaker to put a question at a specific time.
PUTTING THE QUESTION
When the House appears ready to come to a decision, the Speaker will ask, “Is the House ready for the question?” If no Member rises to speak, the Speaker is then satisfied that the debate has concluded and puts the question to dispose of the motion. If debate terminates pursuant to a predetermined deadline, the Speaker interrupts the proceedings to put the question, in accordance with the terms of the Standing Order or the special order.
“Putting the question” means that the Speaker reads the main motion, followed by any proposed amendment or sub-amendment in order.  The Speaker then asks, “Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?” In the absence of any dissenting voice, he or she will declare the motion carried; in this way, a question can be decided without resorting to a vote. If the Speaker hears a dissenting voice, he or she may first verify whether the House wishes to have the motion declared carried or negatived simply “on division”. Alternatively, the Speaker will proceed to conduct a voice vote and then, if it is demanded, a recorded vote. (See Figure 12.3, Putting the Question.)
When a motion, an amendment, and a sub-amendment have been proposed, the question is put first on the sub-amendment:
- If the sub-amendment is negatived, debate may then resume on the amendment, another sub-amendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the amendment;
- If the sub-amendment is adopted, debate may then resume on the amendment as amended, another sub-amendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the amendment as amended.
The question is then put on the amendment (or the amendment as amended):
- If the amendment (or the amendment as amended) is negatived, debate may then resume on the main motion and a new amendment and sub-amendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the main motion;
- If the amendment (or the amendment as amended) is adopted, debate may then resume on the main motion as amended, and a new amendment and sub-amendment may be moved and debated, or the question is put on the main motion as amended.
When all sub-amendments and amendments are disposed of and debate on the main motion (or the main motion as amended) concludes, the question is put on the main motion.
Members who do not wish a motion to be carried or lost unanimously, but who do not want a recorded division, may indicate their position by simply stating “on division” after the Speaker has asked if it is the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion. The Speaker will then declare the motion carried or lost on division.
When it is obvious that the House wishes to divide on the question (i.e., dissent is expressed when the Speaker asks if it is the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion), the Speaker will take a voice vote. He or she will ask for the decision of the House by saying, “All those in favour of the motion will please say ‘yea’”; and then, “All those opposed will please say ‘nay’”. The Speaker listens to both responses, judges the voices and the sense of the House, and states his or her opinion as to the result: “In my opinion, the yeas (nays) have it”. If there is no objection, the Speaker then declares the motion carried or lost, as the case may be; however, if five or more Members rise to signal a demand for a recorded vote, the Speaker will say, “Call in the Members”.  If fewer than five Members rise, the Speaker concludes that the initial assessment is correct and declares the motion carried or negatived on division. It sometimes happens that, after the yeas and nays have been called, Members have said “on division” to indicate that the question was not decided unanimously, without resorting to a recorded vote. 
Requirement to Vote
There is no rule requiring a Member to vote.  A Member may abstain from voting simply by remaining seated during the vote. Such abstentions are of an unofficial status and are not recorded although, on occasion, Members have risen following a vote to offer an explanation as to why they had abstained,  or how they would have voted had they been present when the question was put. 
Direct Pecuniary Interest
No Member is entitled to vote on any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and any vote cast in these circumstances is to be disallowed.  For a Member to be disqualified from voting, the monetary interest must be direct and personal. A Member’s personal interests would not be challenged on questions of public policy, which have a broad application. Even voting a pay increase to Members themselves does not amount to a case of direct monetary interest because it applies to all Members, rather than just one, or to certain Members but not to others. 
Where a Member has a direct pecuniary interest in a question, he or she simply abstains from voting.  If a Member’s vote is questioned, it is the practice to accept the Member’s word.  If the House wishes to pursue the issue, notice must be given of a substantive motion to disallow a Member’s vote.  While several Members have voluntarily abstained from voting, or have had their votes questioned, no Member’s vote has ever been disallowed on grounds of direct monetary interest.
Once the Speaker has ordered that the Members be called in for a recorded vote, the division bells are rung and the party Whips assemble their Members. The Sergeant-at-Arms is responsible for ensuring that the division bells are rung in all the buildings of the parliamentary precinct. While the division bells ring, a Presiding Officer remains in the Chair waiting for the Members to assemble for the vote. During this period, the proceedings of the House are effectively suspended; debate has ceased, and no Member can be recognized by the Chair for whatever reason. Committees may voluntarily suspend their meetings so that Members may respond to the bells. 
Length of Bells
Depending on the type of motion being debated and the conditions surrounding the taking of the vote, division bells can ring for a maximum of either 15 or 30 minutes: 
- 15-minute bells — Whenever the Speaker is obliged under the rules or by a special order to put a question or questions at a specific time and a recorded division has been requested, the division bells are rung for not more than 15 minutes; 
- 30-minute bells — The bells calling in the Members for a vote on a non-debatable motion or for an unscheduled vote on a debatable motion are rung for not more than 30 minutes. 
For example, the bells ring for 15 minutes for votes scheduled to be taken during the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and during the Budget debate and at the conclusion of debate on a motion subject to a time allocation order. The bells would also ring for up to 15 minutes for recorded divisions demanded on opposition motions on Supply days. If two or more recorded divisions are to be held successively without intervening debate, the division bells are sounded only once to call the Members in. 
Appearance of the Whips
When the Government and Opposition Whips conclude that their respective Members are ready to vote, the Whips make a ceremonial return to the House, and the bells stop ringing. They enter together, proceed up the aisle towards the Chair, bow to the Speaker and to each other and resume their seats. This convention provides a signal to the Speaker that the House is ready to proceed with the vote. Once the Whips have taken their seats, the Speaker calls the House to order and immediately puts the question.
The party Whips may return to the Chamber before the bells are due to stop ringing. On occasion, this has occurred with the prior knowledge and consent of the House;  at other times, the vote was taken before the bells had rung for the maximum period of time and Members voiced their objection by raising points of order.  The Speaker has ruled that the Standing Orders stipulate only that the bells ring for “not more than” 15 or 30 minutes, as the case may be, and that it is therefore possible for the division bells to ring for a shorter period of time.  In one case, a 15-minute bell lasted 30 minutes pending the arrival of the Whips and this became the subject of a point of order. On that occasion, the Chair stated that the House should maintain the delicate balance which respects the spirit of the Standing Orders with regard to the designated time of division bells, without infringing upon the traditional role of the Whips.  On occasion, a vote was taken even if one of the Whips had not appeared after the bells rang for the maximum prescribed length of time.  In each case, the Government Whip re-entered the Chamber but the Opposition Whip, as an act of protest, remained outside the Chamber (sometimes with the entire caucus).
The Speaker has also ruled that it is within the authority of the Chair to intervene during the ringing of division bells should the terms of the motion for which a recorded division has been demanded become inoperable or moot. For example, if a motion to adjourn the House, to adjourn the debate or to proceed to Orders of the Day has been moved and a recorded division demanded but not taken by the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, then the Speaker may order the bells silenced and adjourn the House since those motions are inoperable beyond the ordinary hour of adjournment. 
A recorded division on a debatable motion, if demanded, need not be held immediately; it may be deferred to a later time pursuant to various provisions in the Standing Orders or by a special order of the House.
A recorded division on a debatable motion may be deferred to a designated time at the request of the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip, either of whom is acting alone.  One of the Whips may approach the Speaker, after the question has been put and while the division bells are ringing, to ask that the vote be deferred. The Speaker stops the ringing of the bells and then informs the House that the recorded vote is deferred until the time requested by the Whip — later in the same sitting or to a specific time not later than the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day that is not a Friday.  If both Whips make a request for the deferral of a vote to different times, the Speaker makes the final decision. 
Alternatively, after a recorded division has been demanded and the division bells are ringing, the Chief Government Whip may, with the agreement of the Whips of all the recognized parties, approach the Chair and ask the Speaker to defer the division to an agreed-upon date and time that may even be beyond the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day.  If the vote is on an item of Private Members’ Business, the item’s sponsor must also agree. Likewise, recorded divisions already deferred to a specific date and time may further be deferred to any other date and time.
Recorded divisions on debatable motions demanded on a Friday are automatically deferred until the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the next sitting day; similarly, when on Thursday, a recorded division is deferred to Friday, it is automatically deferred further to the next sitting day — usually the following Monday — at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. 
On Supply days, a recorded division on a votable opposition motion by a Member of a recognized party other than the Official Opposition may also be deferred at the request of the Whip of that party.  However, recorded divisions on votable opposition motions on the last allotted day in a Supply period cannot be deferred,  except with the agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties.  Recorded divisions on opposition motions are deferred from a Friday to a Monday if Friday is not the last allotted day in the Supply period.  On one occasion, the House made an exception and adopted a special order providing for the deferral of divisions on the Business of Supply on the last allotted day in the Supply period which was a Friday. 
During the report stage of a bill, recorded divisions on motions in amendment may be deferred at the Speaker’s discretion, from sitting to sitting if necessary, until all motions or a certain number of them have been considered by the House.  When all report stage motions have been considered, the House then proceeds to the taking of the deferred divisions; either the Chief Government Whip or Chief Opposition Whip may further defer the vote to no later than the ordinary hour of adjournment on the next sitting day. On Friday only, a recorded division on the motion to concur in a bill at report stage, while being a non-debatable motion, is nonetheless automatically deferred. 
At the end of the time provided for the consideration of a votable item of Private Members’ Business, a recorded division may not be deferred except by agreement of the Whips of all recognized parties and the sponsor of the item.  If debate is concluded prior to the time provided in the Standing Orders, either the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip may defer the vote.
A recorded division on a bill which is under a time allocation order may be deferred by the Chief Government Whip or the Chief Opposition Whip only if debate collapses prior to the time set out in the time allocation order.
The rules of the House restrict the further deferral of a deferred division,  except with the agreement of the Whips of all the recognized parties.  After the deferral of a vote, the House continues with the business before it. 
When the time arrives to take one or more deferred divisions, the Speaker interrupts the proceedings at the time set down in the Standing Orders or ordered by the House, informs the House that the deferred vote or votes will now be held, and orders that Members be called in. The division bells are rung for not more than 15 minutes.  Once the Whips have appeared, the Speaker proceeds immediately to put the question. When there are several votes to be taken, the House may first agree to the sequence in which they will be taken; otherwise, the questions are put in the order in which they came before the House and were deferred. 
In recent practice, a large percentage of recorded divisions are deferred, tending to be clustered and taken seriatim on Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of the time provided for Government Orders or at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. 
CALLING THE VOTE AND ANNOUNCING THE RESULTS
When the Whips have returned to the Chamber and the division bells have stopped ringing, the Speaker calls the House to order, rises and reads the motion, adding, “The question is on the main motion (or amendment). All those in favour of the motion (or the amendment) will please rise”. The “yeas” are recorded first. As each Member rises and bows to the Speaker, his or her name is called by the Table Officers recording the votes. Members resume their seats after casting their votes. When the “yeas” have voted, the Speaker says, “All those opposed to the motion (or the amendment) will please rise”. The “nay” votes are taken in the same manner as the “yea” votes.
Recorded divisions may be conducted in one of two ways: as a party vote or as a row-by-row vote. Generally, a recorded division on government business is conducted as a party vote,  and a recorded division on Private Members’ Business is conducted as a row-by-row vote.
Conducting a Party Vote
In conducting a party vote, Members’ votes are taken by party, in order relative to each party’s strength in the House and in rows according to the party seating arrangements, starting with the party leaders. If a Member wishes to vote in a different fashion to his or her party, the Member must rise when the “yeas” (or “nays”, as the case may be) are called.
Conducting a Row-by-Row Vote
The calling of a recorded division row-by-row does not proceed by party but rather by the seating rows in the Chamber.  In conducting a row-by-row vote, the Speaker first calls for the “yeas”. Members in the first row to the right of the Speaker and who are in favour of a motion are requested to rise. After the Table Officers call their names, starting with the Member closest to the Chair, Members resume their seats. Members in the second row who are in favour of the motion then rise. After all Members to the right of the Chair who are in favour of the motion have risen and voted, Members to the left of the Chair who are in favour rise to vote in rows regardless of party affiliation. The same procedure is followed for those who oppose the motion (the “nays”). When a recorded division is taken on an item of Private Members’ Business, the vote of the Member sponsoring the bill or motion is recorded first, if he or she is present, followed by the votes of the other Members on the same side of the House, starting with the back row, who are in favour of the bill or motion and then the Members on the other side of the House, starting with the back row, who are in favour of the item. Votes against are recorded in the same order. 
There are no rules or Standing Orders defining what constitutes a free vote in the House of Commons. Simply defined, a free vote takes place when a party decides that, on a particular issue, its Members are not required to vote along party lines, or that the issue is not a matter of party policy and its Members are free to vote as they choose. A free vote may be allowed by one or more parties or it may be allowed by all parties.  Where all parties propose a free vote, the recorded division may be called as a row-by-row vote or in the normal manner of a party vote. The decisions taken by the parties (as to whether or not a matter should be decided in a free vote) are not issues on which the Speaker could be asked to rule.
In the Canadian system of responsible government, free votes have a special relationship to the confidence convention. The principle underlying this convention is simply that the government must enjoy the support of the majority of Members of the House of Commons and be responsible for its actions to this elected body. The confidence convention holds that where a motion does not contain an explicitly worded condemnation of the government, or where the government has not declared a particular vote to be a question of confidence, or where there is no implicit vote of non-confidence (such as in a motion to adopt the Budget, the Address in Reply or the granting of Supply), then the government is at liberty to interpret the result of the vote in any manner it wishes.  Consequently, when under such conditions the government declares that it will treat a matter as a free vote, the convention holds that the defeat of the item does not amount to a vote of non-confidence in the government. 
It is not clear when the first free vote was held in the House of Commons; however, since the 1946 free vote on milk subsidies,  there have been several free votes on government business. For example, free votes were held on the issues of the selection of a national flag,  capital punishment,  abortion,  the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation  and constitutional amendments. 
Announcing the Results
Regardless of how a recorded vote is conducted, the results are always announced in the same way. When the votes have been recorded and the “yeas” and “nays” counted, the Clerk rises and reports the result of the vote to the Speaker. The Speaker then declares the motion (or amendment) carried (or lost).
The Clerk of the House has the responsibility for taking and recording all votes. The Clerk sits at the head of the Table in preparation for a vote. A Table Officer stands to the right of the Clerk, facing the House, ready to call out the names of the Members as they rise and vote. Other Table Officers sit on either side of the Clerk recording the number of Members voting “yea” or “nay”. Any discrepancy between the tallies must be reconciled before the result of the vote is announced to the Chair by the Clerk.
During a recorded division, if the Speaker’s attention is drawn to the fact that the sum of the votes and the number of Members present who did not vote (including the Speaker) do not total at least 20, then the question remains undecided; the usual quorum procedure is then triggered.  If no objection is raised at the time the result of the vote is read to the House, the Speaker simply confirms the result and business proceeds as though there were a quorum. 
Votes Held Successively
Where Members are prepared to vote on more than one question, the House proceeds immediately to the next question after the taking of the first vote. This usually arises as a consequence of deferring votes to a particular time.  In recent years, an old practice has been revived whereby the results of one vote are applied to others.  Normally, the Chief Government Whip will request the unanimous consent of the House to have the results of one vote directly applied — or on occasion applied in reverse — to subsequent divisions and recorded separately.  The Whips of the other parties and Members without party affiliation usually rise to indicate their agreement. The Speaker then declares the motions as being either carried or lost. This manner of proceeding is considered to result in an appreciable saving of the time of the House. 
Since the beginning of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1994-97), another practice which has developed often occurs in concert with applied voting when there are several motions to vote on at one sitting. Following a recorded division which establishes the Members who are present and how they voted, the Chief Government Whip will rise to request that unanimous consent be given to record the names of Members who voted on the previous motion as having voted on the next motion with government Members being recorded under the “yeas” or “nays”. The Whips of the other parties then rise and declare how their parties wish to be recorded as having voted for the motion;  finally, Members without party affiliation indicate how they wish to be recorded. Any Member wishing to vote differently from his or her party may rise on a point of order to state how he or she wants to be recorded as voting. Once the new voting pattern has been tabulated by the Table Officers, the Clerk rises and reports the results to the Speaker who will then declare the motion carried or lost. Again, this manner of proceeding is considered to result in appreciable savings of the time of the House.
Pairing of Members
Pairing is a practice whereby the party Whips arrange for two Members from opposite sides of the House to agree that they will abstain from voting on a particular occasion to permit one or both to be absent from the House. In this way, their votes are effectively neutralized and the relative strength of their parties in the House maintains its balance.  Until recently, pairing had no official standing and was considered a private arrangement between Members. 
In 1991, these arrangements were somewhat formalized. The Standing Orders now provide for the establishment of a Register of Paired Members which is kept at the Table.  To indicate that they will not take part in any recorded divisions held on a particular date, Members have their names entered together in the Register by their respective Whips. Independent Members sign for themselves. The names of Members so paired are printed in the Debates and in the Journals immediately following the entry for any recorded division held on that day. 
The Standing Orders are silent on the question of a broken pair, which occurs when a paired Member votes. As Speaker Fraser noted in 1992, notwithstanding the newly formalized way of arranging pairs, agreements to pair still are private arrangements between Members and not matters in which the Speaker or the House can intervene.  Members who inadvertently vote when paired must seek the unanimous consent of the House to rescind their votes.
The Casting Vote
The Speaker may not participate in the debates of the House; but in the event of a tie vote, the Speaker has a deciding or casting vote.  When using the casting vote, the Speaker may briefly explain the reasons for voting in a given manner. The reasons are then entered in the Journals. For further details, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.
Decorum During the Taking of a Vote
When Members have been called in for a division, no further debate is permitted.  From the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced, Members are not to enter, leave or cross the House, or make any noise or disturbance. 
Members must be in their assigned seat in the Chamber and have heard the motion read in order for their votes to be recorded.  Any Member entering the Chamber while the question is being put or after it has been put cannot have his or her vote counted.  Members must remain seated until the result is announced by the Clerk.  Members’ votes have been questioned because they left the Chamber immediately after voting and before the results of the vote were announced, or because they did not remain seated throughout the process.  However, if a Member’s presence is disputed and the Member in question asserts that he or she was present when the motion was read, convention holds that the House accepts the Member’s word. 
When breaches of decorum have been drawn to the attention of the Chair, the Speaker has reminded Members of the need for order in the House while votes are being taken.  When there is disorder in the galleries during a division, the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings until the galleries are cleared, and then continue with the taking of the vote. 
Points of Order and Questions of Privilege
Although the Standing Orders do not expressly forbid the raising of points of order and questions of privilege during divisions, the general practice has been to proceed with the vote and to hear its result before bringing forward any points of order or questions of privilege.  There have been occasions when Members have attempted to bring some matter to the attention of the Speaker in the course of a vote (after the Members have been called in and before the result is declared), and the Chair has declined to interrupt the voting process in favour of hearing the point of order or question of privilege.  More recently, however, points of order related to the recording of the vote were heard and addressed during the voting process.  Immediately after the announcement of the result of a vote, Members who were unable to be in the Chamber for a vote sometimes rise on a point of order to explain how they would have voted had they been present. 
Corrections in a Vote
A vote once taken and recorded stands as a decision of the House; a Member’s vote cannot be changed. However, Members have risen after a vote to indicate an error or to request a change either because inadvertently they voted contrary to their intentions or voted when paired. In some instances, a vote was changed;  in others, the request was denied. 
A Member whose name has been missed or incorrectly called may correct the error either before the result of the vote is announced, if the error is noted at the time the vote is taken, or as soon thereafter as the error is noted.  If the correction is made after the Journals are printed, a corrigendum appears in the Journals of the next sitting.
A Decision Once Made Must Stand
A decision once made cannot be questioned again but must stand as the judgement of the House.  Thus, for example, if a bill or motion is rejected, it cannot be revived in the same session.  This is to prevent the time of the House from being used in the discussion of motions of the same nature with the possibility of contradictory decisions being arrived at in the course of the same session. It is not in order for Members to “reflect” on (i.e., to reconsider or go back upon) votes of the House, and when this has occurred, the Chair has been quick to call attention to it.  Members have also occasionally called attention to the rule. 
The House may reopen discussion on an earlier decision (i.e., a resolution or an order of the House) only if the intention is to revoke it;  this requires notice of a motion to rescind the resolution or discharge the order, as the case may be.  This allows the House to reconsider an earlier resolution or order and, if the original resolution or order is in fact rescinded or discharged, the way is then clear for the House to make a second decision on the same question. A number of instances of orders of the House discharged have concerned arrangements made by the House for the scheduling of its sittings,  or for the withdrawal of bills and motions. 
The Issue of Electronic Voting
The suggestion to install a system for electronic voting in the Chamber has been put forward over the years as a way to improve the management of the time of the House.  In 1985, the Second Report of the McGrath Committee recommended computerized electronic voting, which it felt would reduce the amount of time taken by the House for recorded votes.  In the government’s response to the report, there was agreement in principle to the recommendation; but the matter was not taken up by the House.  In 1995, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs noted that changes in the way that recorded votes are organized and arranged had significantly altered the context for consideration of electronic voting (this refers to the practices of deferring several votes to the same day and time, and of applying results or votes, which the Committee found to have “greatly speeded up the voting process”). The Committee’s recommendation was that the House not proceed at that time to a system of electronic voting.  In the First Session (1997-99) of the Thirty-Sixth Parliament, the Committee briefly considered the question of electronic voting, but did not report to the House.