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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Thomas Bain

News reached the House of Commons slightly before 7:00 p.m. on July 31, 1899, that Sir James Edgar, Speaker of the House since August 1896, had died unexpectedly. Deputy Speaker Louis-Philippe Brodeur took the Chair. The situation was unprecedented in Canada’s post-Confederation history, reported Sir John Bourinot, author of Parliamentary Procedure and Practice and former Clerk of the House of Commons, but a precedent in the U.K. suggested the appropriate procedure for a new Speaker’s election.

Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier nominated Thomas Bain, a faithful Liberal MP of 27 years, to replace Edgar as Speaker. Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper commended him as “independent, able and impartial.” Bain became the first farmer to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons. It was understood that his would be a partial term, lasting only until the day before the House met after the next general election.

Bain acknowledged the difficulty of being unilingual in a bilingual House, but his colleagues appear to have treated him leniently. His mild manner and hesitation to make firm rulings meant, nonetheless, that order in the House suffered. One of the most tumultuous days in the House took place when the Conservative MP Frederick Monk accused the government of accepting fraudulently prepared emergency rations for troops in the field. Bain appeared to exercise minimal control over the debate. It was also reported that on one occasion, members of the Opposition set out to confuse the 65-year-old Speaker with points of order. They succeeded, tying up debate for an hour, until the Speaker rose, spread his arms, and like a Methodist preacher declared “Will the brethren please come to order.” Members roared with laughter.

Bain’s declining eyesight led him to announce without warning that he would not stand in the 1900 election, and his term as Speaker ended as expected. He received no honours from Laurier’s returning government.

Bain wrote an article on “The Speaker and the House of Commons” in 1901.

Next Speaker: Hon. Louis-Philippe Brodeur

Previous Speaker: Hon. Sir James David Edgar

Artist: John Colin Forbes
Date: circa 1900

Born: Denny, Scotland, 1834

Died: Dundas, Ontario, 1915

Professional Background: Agriculture

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: