Better know a Canadian functionary: the Clerk of the House of Commons

If you’ve ever seen footage of a session of the House of Commons, you’ll have noticed a table in the middle of the room with people writing things down. Those are the clerks, and at the head of the table is the Clerk of the House of Commons, who wears a black frock coat and a wing collar with barristers’ tabs like the Speaker’s. The Clerk is the head expert on procedure for the House of Commons, and is responsible for recording everything that happens during the session. (If you watch a vote in the House, you’ll hear somebody calling out each MP’s name as they stand up. That’s the Clerk doing that.) The Clerk is also in charge of the House’s administration, and in the event of a vacancy the Clerk becomes the acting Sergeant-at-Arms for the House.

The Clerks of the House of Commons have been:

1867-72: William Burns Lindsay, Jr. Lindsay had been the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the United Province of Canada since 1862, succeeding his father, William Burns Lindsay Sr., Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, and then Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of the United Province of Canada, continuously from 1834 to 1862. He had succeeded his father, William Lindsay Jr., who was Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1809 to 1834.

1873-80: Alfred P. Patrick. He was previously Assistant Clerk under Lindsay.

1880-1902: Sir John George Bourinot, the Younger, KCMG. Burinot the Elder, his father, was one of Canada’s first senators. Bourinot the Younger was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada, and wrote a textbook of parliamentary procedure in Canada, Bourinot’s Rules of Order.

1902-18: Thomas Barnard Flint. Flint was the MP for Yarmouth, NS, from 1878 to 1902.

1918-24: William Barton Northrup. Northrup was MP for Hastings East, ON, from 1892 to 1896 and from 1900 to 1917.

1924-49: Arthur Beauchesne, CMG. Beauchesne had been Deputy Clerk since 1916. He also wrote Beauchesne’s Parliamentary Rules and Forms, which eventually supplanted Bourinot’s Rules of Order as the standard for parliamentary procedure in Canada.

1949-67: Léon-Joseph Raymond. Raymond was the MP for Wright County, QC, from 1945 to 1949.

1967-79: Alistair Fraser, Jr. Alistair Sr. was an aide-de-camp to Gen. Currie at Vimy Ridge, vice-president of traffic for Canadian National Railways, and Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. Alistair Jr. was executive assistant to Jack Pickersgill, the Minister of Transport, before being appointed Clerk.

1980-87: Dr. Charles Beverley “Bev” Koester, OC. Koester served in the Navy in WWII and was a veteran of the liberation of Oslo and Copenhagen in 1945. He clerked for the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan and served to short spells as senior clerk of the British House of Commons in 1967 and 1969 before becoming a Clerk Assistant of the house of Commons in 1975.

1987-2000: Robert Marleau. Marleau co-wrote The House of Commons Procedure and Practice with his senior advisor, Camille Montpetit, in an effort to update Beauchesne’s Rules. He later served as Information Commissioner from 2006 to 2009.

2000-05: William C. Corbett. Corbett was a Clerk Assistant of the House from 1997 to 1999.

2005-present: Audrey Elizabeth O’Brien. O’Brien, the first woman Clerk, had been Deputy Clerk under Corbett, and was interim Sergeant-at-Arms in 2005 after the death of Maj.-Gen. C.G. Cloutier.


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