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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Pierre-François Casgrain
P.C. (1936–1940)

Pierre-François Casgrain’s nomination as Speaker in February 1936 was blighted even before he was eventually elected by the House of Commons to the Speakership. Prime Minister Mackenzie King had made public his choice of Casgrain some six weeks earlier, and before the House met Casgrain took it upon himself to fire 127 parliamentary staff arbitrarily. He apparently regarded the forthcoming election in the House as a mere formality.

In a highly unusual debate that took place without a Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, former Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, pointed out that Casgrain’s action was both contrary to statute law and an invasion of the privileges of members. He told the House that on those grounds he was opposed to the election of Casgrain. Bennett was supported by James Woodsworth, leader of the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). A rare occurrence for the election of a Speaker: the nomination was carried on division, a voice vote intended to show that a motion is not decided unanimously, but the names of those voting for and against the motion are not recorded. King’s defence of Casgrain was muted, and he later countermanded the dismissals.

Described as mild, quiet-spoken and bland, Casgrain was a successful lawyer who had been elected to the House five times. He was the Liberal party whip for 11 years, and served as Chief Government Whip for three years before his election as Speaker. Observers at the time were also aware of his good fortune in marriage: his wife was Thérèse Casgrain, a pioneer in women’s rights, the first woman to head a Canadian political party (the Quebec wing of the CCF, the Parti social démocratique du Québec), and late in life an Independent Canadian senator.

Casgrain resigned as Speaker in 1940 to be appointed Secretary of State in King’s wartime government.

Casgrain resigned as Speaker to become Secretary of State in the wartime Liberal government, a position with enormous emergency powers under the War Measures Act.

Next Speaker: Hon. James Allison Glen

Previous Speaker: Hon. James Langstaff Bowman

Artist: Kenneth Keith Forbes
Date: circa 1940

Born: Montréal, Quebec, 1886

Died: Westmount, Quebec, 1950

Professional Background: Law

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: