A37. It is surprisingly difficult to know for sure how your MLA voted on a matter before the House.
Most modern assemblies have an electronic voting system. The MLA presses a button (yes, no or abstain) and the results are tabulated. The Nova Scotia House of Assembly does not work that way.
In Nova Scotia there are two ways to vote: a voice vote or a standing vote.
The vast majority of votes in the House of Assembly are done by voice vote. The Speaker says “Would all those in favour please say Aye?” and then “Would all those opposed please say Nay?” The Speaker judges which side has more voices, and says either “The motion is carried” or “the motion is defeated”.
If you’re in the public gallery, you can generally tell which caucus voted which way. Otherwise, you can’t. There is no record of how your MLA voted, or whether your MLA was even there.
A standing vote may be requested by any two MLAs. There are three reasons why a standing vote might be requested:
- There is genuine doubt about the result of a voice vote.
- One caucus believes there is political advantage in having a permanent record of how each MLA voted.
- To cause delay, especially by “ringing the bells” for up to an hour before the vote.
In a standing vote, the clerk reads the names of MLAs one-by-one in the order in which they are seated, starting on the government side. When their name is called, each MLA rises and states their vote. If they are in favour, they may say Yes, Aye or Oui. If they are opposed, they may say No, Nay or Non. If the MLA gives any other answer, their vote is not counted. An MLA may also remain seated without saying anything, but that hardly ever happens. If they want to abstain, it’s more common to leave the chamber while the vote is happening.
The clerk then announces the vote totals, and the Speaker says either “The motion is carried” or “the motion is defeated”. The House then resumes its business, or moves on to the next item of business.
When there is a standing vote, the names of the MLAs voting Yes and No are recorded in Hansard. Unless you actually watch a vote as it happens, that is the only way to know how your MLA voted. It’s not very user-friendly, because you have to know on what day the vote was held, then search through Hansard for that day. If you dig, it’s there.