The Legislative Assembly makes decisions by way of a vote, as a formal expression of the Assembly of its will on the matter contained in a motion. Motions are examined in detail in Chapter 9 (Motions). Once debate on a motion has concluded, the Speaker will put the question contained in the motion to the Legislative Assembly, with Members expressing whether or not they support the question contained in the motion. Each Member is entitled to a single vote, and abstentions are not permitted.
The method of voting can take place in a number of ways, further addressed in this chapter. A majority of the Members present determine whether the question is adopted or defeated.
The provisions of the Constitution Act, 1867 (previously known as the British North America Act, 1867) with respect to questions arising in the House of Commons of Canada needing to be decided by a majority of votes also extends to the Legislative Assemblies of the provinces (s. 87). In British Columbia, the requirement for a decision of the Legislative Assembly to be made by majority vote is further referenced in the provincial Constitution Act (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 66, s. 43), which states: “All questions must be determined by a majority of votes of the members present, other than the Speaker.” There are, however, certain statutory provisions that require a greater threshold of Members to support a motion in order for it to be adopted, addressed further in this chapter, in section 8.9.
The Legislative Assembly makes decisions by way of a vote, as a formal expression of the Assembly of its will on the matter contained in a motion.
The provincial Constitution Act further states in section 44: “If a vote in the Legislative Assembly is tied, the Speaker has a casting vote.” The Speaker’s casting vote is also provided for in Standing Order 10, and is outlined in greater detail in Chapter 4 (The Speaker).186
8.2No Dissenting Voice
Once the question on a motion is put by the Speaker, if there are no dissenting voices expressed, the Speaker will declare the motion carried (adopted).
In a voice vote, the Speaker tries to determine whether the “yea” or “nay” votes are in the majority. If the Speaker is uncertain regarding the will of the Legislative Assembly, the question can be repeated for a second voice vote.
The Speaker will determine whether the yeas or nays have it, usually on the basis of probability, and not necessarily on the basis of which voices are loudest. The Speaker will state: “In my opinion, the [yeas/nays] have it,” and will then declare whether the question is carried or defeated.
In 1985, a parliamentary committee mandated to examine the Standing Orders included in its report a recommendation to have the official record of proceedings show that the vote on a motion did not pass unanimously, without actually calling for a formal division.
PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION 1
In any voice vote a Member may ask the Chair to announce to the House or Committee that the motion in question was “carried (or defeated) on division” without an actual division being taken under Standing Order 16. Upon the Chair so announcing, the Votes and Proceedings should record the fact accordingly.
It is the prerogative of any Member to request that the Votes and Proceedings show that any motion was carried (or defeated) on division by stating “on division.” Upon the Chair so announcing, the Votes and Proceedings record that the motion was carried (or defeated) on division.
Once a question contained in a motion is put to the Legislative Assembly by the Speaker for a decision, it is the prerogative of any Member to request that a formal division take place. In such instances, Members will be summoned to the Chamber (or a committee room, if concurrent proceedings of a Committee of the Whole or the Committee of Supply are taking place in different meeting locations) for a formal, recorded vote, as called by a Clerk at the Table. The Speaker will state, “Division has been called,” and ring 187 the division bells. The Speaker remains in the chair, waiting for Members to assemble for the vote. Formal divisions unfold in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 16.
STANDING ORDER 16
(1) When the Speaker rings the bells for a division, no further debate shall be permitted.
(2) When a division has been called, the division bells shall be rung forthwith. Not sooner than 2, nor longer than 5 minutes thereafter, the Speaker shall again state the question. No Member shall enter or leave the House or Committee of the Whole after the final statement of the question until the division has been fully taken, and every Member present shall vote.
(3) On a division in the House or Committee of the Whole, the Yeas and Nays shall be entered in the Votes and Proceedings.
The stages leading to a formal division are as follows:
1. The Speaker puts the question.
2. A voice vote is taken.
3. The result as determined by the Speaker is announced: “In my opinion, the yeas have it” or “In my opinion, the nays have it.”
4. A formal division is requested by a Member by simply stating “division.”
5. The division bells are rung by the Speaker.
6. At least two, but not more than five, minutes elapse — or such shorter time as the House, by unanimous consent, may agree to.
7. At the five-minute mark, or such shorter time as may have been agreed to, the doors to the Chamber are locked.
8. The question, as put, is stated again by the Speaker.
9. The Speaker asks those voting in favour of the motion to rise and be counted (Members remain standing until advised to resume their seats by the Speaker). The same process is repeated for those voting against the motion.
10. At the Speaker’s direction, a Clerk at the Table reads the results of the division, announcing the number of yeas and nays.
11. The Speaker announces whether the motion is carried or defeated.
12. The Chamber doors are unlocked.188
At times, Legislative Assembly proceedings are designated to take place concurrently in up to three locations within the Parliament Buildings, particularly during the consideration of the Estimates in the Committee of Supply. Divisions called in the Chamber (Section B) are signalled by the ringing of the division bells three times. When proceedings of the Legislative Assembly are authorized to take place in the Douglas Fir Committee Room (Section A), the division bells are rung four times, and in the Birch Committee Room (Section C), the bells are rung five times.
With respect to stage 6, as previously outlined, Members present in the Chamber at the time of a division may unanimously agree to waive the time requirements. However, shortening the five-minute period may give rise to certain difficulties. While Members may wish to proceed promptly with a division count, Members absent from the vicinity of the Chamber have objected to the shortening of the five minutes provided for attending a vote after the division bells have been rung. Notwithstanding the expressed wish of some Members to proceed with a division before the five minutes provided in Standing Order 16 have expired, the Speaker typically proceeds with caution. The best practice is to allow the full five minutes to expire before the vote is taken. Shortening most often takes place in the event of back-to-back votes.
The Committee of Supply, Sections A and C, as well as any parliamentary committees that have been authorized to meet, suspend their meetings when a division is called in the Chamber so that all Members may participate in the vote.
When in the Chamber, Members must remain seated after the vote until the result is announced by the Speaker or Chair. Once taken, a division stands as a decision of the Legislative Assembly or the committee. At the conclusion of the vote and the announcement of the division by a Clerk at the Table, the Speaker declares the motion carried or defeated. A Member whose name has been missed or incorrectly called may raise a point of order to note the error immediately after the vote is taken.
On occasion, when a division is taken, there are no dissenting votes. In such instances, the Clerk at the Table announces the unanimous result of the division as nemine contradicente, a Latin term meaning “without a dissenting vote” or “no one opposes” (see B.C. Journals, November 5, 2018, p. 132).
8.5.1Requirement to Proceed with Division
Once a division has been called, it must be proceeded with unless the Legislative Assembly gives leave to have the division call withdrawn (see B.C. Journals, May 12, 2003, p. 97).189
8.5.2Requirement to Vote
In the Australian House of Representatives, it has been ruled that it is out of order for a Member who has called a division to leave the Chamber while the bells are ringing (see House of Representatives (Australia) Hansard, November 21, 1935, vol. 148, p. 1863).
Once the prescribed time after the division call has lapsed, the Chamber doors are locked, and Standing Order 16(2) states: “No Member shall enter or leave the House or Committee of the Whole after the final statement of the question until the division has been fully taken, and every Member present shall vote.”
8.5.3Points of Order During a Division
Speaker Irwin provided the following guidance with regard to raising a point of order in the Legislative Assembly during a division (B.C. Journals, March 30, 1954, pp. 87-8):
A point of order may be raised during a division but it must be done by a member seated in his place. This is the only occasion upon which a member may speak while seated, but it is obviously necessary during a division, as many of the members may already be seated.
However, on a subsequent occasion in B.C., Speaker Smith ruled that he would not consider a point of order during the taking of a division (see B.C. Journals, June 22, 1978, p. 139). This ruling is predicated on the British Columbia practice which permits routine business (in this instance, completion of a division) to be completed after the hour of interruption by the clock, rather than indicating that a point of order itself could not be made during a division.
The better practice is for a point of order that may relate to the result of the division to be raised immediately after the Clerk at the Table announces the result of the division and before the Speaker declares the motion carried or defeated. Otherwise, the point of order would best be raised immediately after the Speaker announces the result of the division.
8.5.4Questions of Privilege During a Division
Standing Order 26 permits Members to interrupt almost any business before the Legislative Assembly in order to raise a question of privilege. However, a Member cannot do so during a division (see House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 3rd ed., pp. 588-9). A Member wanting to reserve their right to raise a question of privilege or to outline the issue of concern in a question of privilege should do so at the earliest opportunity, such as immediately following the Speaker’s announcement of the result of the division.190
8.6Divisions in the Committee of Supply
Since 1992, the Legislative Assembly has adopted a Sessional Order giving the Assembly authority to divide the Committee of Supply into two or three sections for the purpose of considering the estimates or bills at committee stage. Information on the Committee of Supply is further outlined in Chapter 12 (Financial Procedures).
While such Sessional Orders have not in the past specifically prohibited divisions being called simultaneously in Sections A, B and C, they typically provide that Section B shall be composed of all Members of the Legislative Assembly. It follows from this that all Members are entitled to vote in Section B, thereby causing proceedings in Sections A and C to be suspended to enable all Members to vote in Section B. However, a division in Section B cannot be called when a division is underway in Sections A or C. In such instances, the division bells are rung in Section B immediately upon completion of the division in Sections A or C. Proceedings in Section B are not suspended if a division is called in Sections A or C (see B.C. Hansard, July 29, 1996, p. 1091).
8.7Deferral of a Division
Standing Order 16(4) permits a deferral, or the postponement, of a division in the Legislative Assembly.
STANDING ORDER 16
(4) Divisions on debatable motions in the House or Committee of the Whole may be deferred to a time fixed by motion, without notice. The motion shall be a Government motion and decided without amendment or debate.
The best approach is to obtain a consensus as to the time to which a specific vote may be deferred (see B.C. Journals, May 30, 2012, p. 150). The spirit of consensus and consultation between the recognized caucuses is contained throughout the Practice Recommendations adopted in 1985, and consultation prior to moving a motion contemplated in Standing Order 16(4) is reflected in Practice Recommendation 6. Such arrangements should be proposed before a division is called. If, however, a consensus cannot be obtained, the matter is subject to a government motion without notice, decided without amendment or debate. The motion must set the date and time for the division to occur.
Pursuant to Standing Order 25, if a division is requested during Private Members’ Time in a Monday morning sitting, it is automatically deferred until 30 minutes prior to the ordinary adjournment time of the House on the afternoon sitting of the same Monday.191
8.8Divisions in Parliamentary Committees
Divisions in parliamentary committees may unfold in the same manner outlined above — that is to say, by voice vote; noted as “on division”; or by way of a formal division. Decisions in parliamentary committees are also made by majority vote of the Members present. The casting vote of a Committee Chair is outlined in Chapter 14 (Parliamentary Committees).
8.9Votes Where Supermajority Support Is Required
The provincial Constitution Act provides that questions placed before the Legislative Assembly must be determined by a majority of votes of the Members present at the time of the division. There are also certain statutory provisions that require a two-thirds threshold of Members present during a vote to support a motion in order for it to be adopted.
This higher threshold applies to the appointment of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, an officer of the Legislative Assembly (Members’ Conflict of Interest Act (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 287, s. 14(2)), and to the suspension or removal of some statutory officers. The latter relates to the Auditor General (Auditor General Act (S.B.C. 2003, c. 2, s. 6(2)); the Human Rights Commissioner (Human Rights Code (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 210, s. 47.02(3)); the Information and Privacy Commissioner (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 165, s. 38(1)); the Police Complaint Commissioner (Police Act (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 367, s. 48(2)); and the Representative for Children and Youth (Representative for Children and Youth Act (S.B.C. 2006, c. 29, s. 4(2)).
8.10Rescinding a Decision
The Standing Orders include limited provisions that allow the Legislative Assembly to maintain certain flexibility to rescind a decision that it has made, in very rare circumstances, and with the limitations set out in the Standing Orders.
STANDING ORDER 40
(4) No Member shall reflect upon any vote of the House passed during the current Session, except for the purpose of moving that the vote be rescinded.
STANDING ORDER 52
A motion negatived in Committee of the Whole may be made again in the House.
STANDING ORDER 54
A motion being once made, and carried in the affirmative or negative, cannot be put again in the same Session, but must stand as a judgment of the House; provided always that a vote in the affirmative may be rescinded and an Order of the House discharged on a motion to that effect.
STANDING ORDER 77
A Bill having been negatived shall not be again introduced in the same Session.
A motion to rescind a previous vote, of which two days’ notice is required, is debatable and amendable, as per Standing Order 45(1)(c) (see B.C. Journals, May 19, 1992, p. 90; March 26, 1976, p. 20; February 29, 1972, p. 96). Further commentary on Standing Order 40(4) is provided in Chapter 7 (Rules of Debate); on Standing Orders 52 and 54 in Chapter 9 (Motions); and on Standing Order 77 in Chapter 10 (Legislative Process).