House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken was reading up on parliamentary precedent only minutes before he cast the deciding vote to keep the government alive, an official in his office revealed yesterday.
Although the stakes appeared monumental -- never before in Canada has a Speaker been called on to break the tie in a confidence vote -- the weight of history made the decision easy for Mr. Milliken, a veteran Liberal MP from Kingston.
Knowing that precedent obliged him to support the government, he kept close the easy wit he uses daily in the fractious Commons.
"I don't know why honourable members keep doing this to me," he said as he rose in the House.
It was the second time in two weeks that he'd been called upon to break a tie.
Following the protocol that governs these occasions, the clerk had officially told him the result and he had then prepared to vote.
But first he would explain his decision.
"The clerk has announced that there is an equality of votes for and against the motion," he said. "In these circumstances, it is the duty of the Speaker to break the tie."
Carrying on in French, he argued the Speaker's vote depends not on political allegiance but on parliamentary precedent.
According to the staffer in his office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Mr. Milliken had been scanning House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the weighty tome by Marleau and Montpetit, only moments earlier.
"Parliamentary precedents are clear: the Speaker should vote, whenever possible, for continuation of debate on a question that cannot be decided by the House," he said. "Since the House cannot make a decision, I cast my vote for second reading . . . to allow the House time for further debate so it can make its own decision at some future time."
Mr. Milliken, who has been Speaker since 2001, noted yesterday that he has never had to step into such a tense situation. A lawyer, he has had to manoeuvre through procedural minefields in recent weeks, as the Commons grew more fractious by the day and the Opposition and government jousted over technicalities.