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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. Thomas Simpson Sproule

Dr. Thomas Sproule was 68 when Prime Minister Robert Borden nominated him as Speaker in 1911. A physician and 33-year veteran of the House, he was well known for his lifelong commitment to the Protestant Orange Order (a benefit to the Conservative party, Borden thought at the time).

In seconding his nomination somewhat less than enthusiastically, Leader of the Opposition Sir Wilfrid Laurier said he found Sproule’s only weakness “is that he is a Tory, a Tory of the Tories, the very quintessence of Toryism.” Immediately after, Borden rebuked Laurier for his “ill temper.” Borden was aware that Sproule spoke no French, and later recalled that “he was very conscientious and upon his selection as Speaker he felt himself constrained to study this language, of which he was absolutely ignorant, in order that he might be able to read the prayers in French.” On his first attempt, William White, the Minister of Finance, mentioned to his seatmate Frederick Monk, Minister of Public Works, that Sproule had done fairly well. Monk responded “I have no doubt that Almighty God would understand it.”  However, Sproule tended to pronounce “ciel” (heaven) as “seau” (bucket).

Sproule’s impartiality in the Chair would be sorely tried in 1913 by the tumultuous Naval Bill debates (about whether Canada should maintain a navy or instead contribute to the Royal Navy). During an opposition filibuster, the Chair of Committees of the Whole (the Deputy Speaker), Pierre-Édouard Blondin, lost control of the proceedings on two occasions; Sproule assumed the Chair both times. He too was unable to calm the debate, and had to “name” Liberal Michael Clark (Red Deer) — the step before expulsion from the House, and the first time since Confederation that a Speaker had been forced to name an MP. Laurier refused Borden’s offer of unimpeded time for debate, and Borden introduced a new standing order allowing closure — a procedure to curtail debate and bring on a vote.

Sproule resigned as Speaker because of his deteriorating health in December 1915, and was appointed Senator; he died two years later.

In 1902 Sproule became Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge; within two decades Canada and Newfoundland would account for 60 per cent of the world’s Orangemen.

Next Speaker: Hon. Albert Sévigny

Previous Speaker: Hon. Charles Marcil

Artist: John Colin Forbes
Date: circa 1913

Born: King Township, Canada West, 1843

Died: Markdale, Ontario, 1917

Professional Background:
Medicine, Business, Agriculture

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: