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The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons

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Right Hon. Jeanne Sauvé
P.C., C.C., C.M.M., C.D. (1980–1984)

Jeanne Sauvé assumed the Speaker’s Chair in 1980 — the first woman in the post — with a reputation for strong partisanship, following more than six years as a Liberal cabinet minister. Her nominator, Prime Minister Trudeau, called her “a fighter,” while former Prime Minister Clark felt moved to second her nomination by noting the most fundamental requirement for a Speaker: “rigorous and scrupulous impartiality.” “The Speaker is the servant of the whole House, not just the governing party, and is duty bound to abandon all traces of normal party affiliation.”

Rumours began that the Prime Minister had nominated Sauvé as a consolation prize for excluding her from his 1980 Cabinet. She had in fact already turned down the Speakership once. Her early days in the Chair were marred somewhat by her not knowing the faces, names and ridings of MPs, not recognizing certain MPs during Question Period, and making a few questionable rulings.

Sauvé presided over a newly televised House, which may have affected the behaviour of some members. For example, at one point all 32 New Democratic Party MPs walked out of the House to protest the Speaker’s allowing more questions from Liberals than from members of other parties, and there were numerous points of order and a week-long filibuster on the government’s proposed constitutional legislation. The House came to a standstill in March 1982 when the Progressive Conservatives refused to show up for a vote on the government’s proposed energy legislation, leading to an infamous bell-ringing episode that lasted for 15 days.

In a sweeping overhaul of the House’s finances and administration, Sauvé eliminated inefficient practices, reduced House employment by 305 positions, streamlined human resources, and cut excessively bureaucratic processes.

At the conclusion of Ed Schreyer’s five-year tenure as Governor General, the Prime Minister nominated Sauvé to succeed him. On January 28, 1984, the Queen appointed Jeanne Sauvé as Canada’s Governor General — the first woman ever to hold that position. Following her recovery from an illness, Sauvé was sworn in on May 14, 1984.

Sauvé established the first daycare centre for the children of parliamentary staff, MPs and senators.

Next Speaker: Hon. Cyril Lloyd Francis

Previous Speaker: Hon. James Alexander Jerome


Artist: Brenda Bury
Date: 1984

Born: Howell, Saskatchewan, 1922

Died: Montréal, Quebec, 1993

Professional Background: Journalism

Political Affiliation: Liberal

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: