Author Archives: peterwestphoto

The Chair Gets Away With What The Chair Gets Away With

You’ve heard this said before often by the evening’s Parliamentarian commenting on a decision made by the chair during the business session: “The chair gets away with what the chair gets away with.”

So what does this mean? john-bercow-1

Today we can thank the British House of Commons and more specifically the present day Speaker, John Bercow who has against parliamentary advice allowed for an amendment to a motion regarding Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) that some say puts even democracy in danger. Here’s a link to the story in today’s National Post.

You see, the Speaker got away with what he got away with and that was the unprecedented decision to allow an amendment to a government business motion concerning Brexit. You see history and precedent (the foundation of democratic decision-making) did not allow for amendments to such motions (at least that was the view of the government and senior advisors to the Speaker.)

The amendment requires Prime Minister May to return to Parliament within three days, rather than 21, to debate the implications of not having a Brexit deal, if the Prime Minister’s proposals are voted down next week.

Despite furious opposition, Speaker Bercow was defended by Labour MPs and even some Tories and the amendment was passed by 308 votes to 297. The vote allows for the potential of alternatives to the Prime Minister May’s plans to Brexit including the possibility of a managed no-deal or even another (second) referendum.

But for now, regardless of what happens in the future, the Speaker appears to have gotten away with what the Speaker gets away with and democracy itself may suffer.


Be A Winner

First Oakville Toastmasters Club’s Humorous and Table Topics Contests are schedued for Thursday, September 27 at our meeting being held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1494 Wallace Road in Oakville, Ontario. (Guests are always welcome.)

If you’re a paid up member of First Oakville Toastmasters you are eligible to be a contestant!33282101026_c0e93c5024_k

For the Humorous Contest you need to present a speech that’s five to seven minutes in length, of essentially original material and it helps if it’s funny.

But being funny, is a funny thing. Some presentations that don’t sound funny can be hilarioius when delivered. Some speakers are funnier than others regardless of the content of their speech. Some speakers use props that help while others don’t.

My point is you can’t predict what will work until you try it.

Last year I won the club level Humorous Speech Contest with a speech about a near-fatal car-bus crash out on the QEW that almost killed Marion and myself (I ended up with a fractured spine and a week in hospital.) so there’s no telling what some people will find funny.

The Table Topics Contest, which requires zero preparation, has always been one of my favourites and back a few years ago I won the District Table Topics Contest which is as far as you can go in this event.

Everyone who is a member in good-standing (in other words paid up) in First Oakville who isn’t a judge, chair, timer or counter should be a contestant. The idea is not to win (although in Table Topics you’ve got as good a chance as the next person) but to compete so as to build your experience as a contest participant. Participation helps to less anxiety and fear of speaking and it’s fun to do.

If you’re interested in participating in either contest let either chair know right away. I’m chairing the Table Topics Contest and Marion is charing the Humorous Contest and we’ll both be at this week’s meeting.


What Was That All About?

Last night the members at First Oakville Toastmasters were treated to a two-hour workshop by Dennis Bartel, DTM on parliamentary procedure. For those of us who have struggled to understand parliamentary procedure, Dennis’s workshop was fabulous.Dennis-Bartel2

Dennis has been giving this workshop at District conferences so we were very fortunate to have had this private session.

One thing I think we should remember is not all of our members come from western nations with a history that includes a heritage of western democratic processes.

So where does parliamentary process come from?

Back in 1215 King John of England was facing a rebellion by his barons who were the wealthy landowners of the day. They didn’t want to pay for any more of the king’s costly wars in Europe.

Drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an effort to make peace between the barons and the king a document called Magna Carta (or Great Charter) was signed at Runnymede, England on June 15.220px-King_John_from_De_Rege_Johanne

Among other protections including church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, it also limited the king’s ability to demand feudal payments from the barons.

While the charter was annulled (which resulted in a war), it was reinstated by John’s son Henry III and over the centuries to follow it began to be considered as the basis of English Common law from which Parliament itself finds its origins.

Essentially the Great Charter made it clear that the king and his agents are not above the law.

So what does this mean for our business sessions at Toastmasters?e21a5820e52bf3f7c880c4d6c55bffde

It means that the business session and indeed the entire meeting as reflected by the agenda does not belong to the chair of the evening or even the president of the club. It belongs to all of us at the meeting. (And perhaps we should accept the agenda as presented at the start of the meeting as suggested last night.)

It also means that as a club member you have the right to be heard and to vote on matters of interest to the club. How you do that is by using parliamentary procedure.

Our leaders in Toastmasters serve the club and they do not govern. And while they are responsible for the smooth running of the meetings, they only do so with the express approval of the members.

Parliamentary procedure also includes the concept that every member should be treated with respect and every member must have the opportunity to express their opinion. It also holds that the majority opinion should rule but the minority opinion should always be heard.Centre_Block_-_Parliament_Hill

The actual rules of parliamentary procedure aren’t all that complicated.

Essentially everything begins with the chair recognizing a member who moves a motion that is expressed as “I move that…”.

Most, but not all, motions require somebody else to agree that the motion should be debated and this person is called the seconder (who doesn’t necessarily agree with the motion but thinks it is in the club interest to hold a debate even if they plan to vote against).

Once a motion is moved and seconded, the chair usually invites the mover to speak to their motion. From there on any member who is recognized by the chair can stand and then state whether they are for or against the motion and why. Each member gets to speak once and may speak again if all the other members of the club have been given an opportunity to speak.

Sooner or later someone may “call the question” which is an informal request to the chair, which they can ignore, to go to a vote. The chair can ask at any time whether or not the members are ready to vote.DSCF5000

During the debate, any member may amend a motion but the amendment must not change the main motion in any substantive way. In other words, a motion to buy a new gavel might be amended to include the word “black” gavel.

Motions can have a second amendment and no more and again the second amendment can not substantially change the newly amended motion “to buy a new black gavel” so adding “at a cost not to exceed $50” would likely be considered okay.

There are a whole bunch of other procedural motions but newcomers only need to know a couple more to join in the fun.

The next one I’d recommend is to rise to a point of parliamentary inquiry.

Closely associated with rising to a point of order (where you’re offering an opinion that something is not being done correctly), rising to a point of parliamentary inquiry allows you ask the chair a question. Perhaps you might wish to ask if now is the time to add an amendment?

The other motion I think every member should know and practice is how to appeal a decision made by the chair. Remember the chair doesn’t make rulings that can’t be appealed.11174246

If the chair does something (say declaring the end of debate), any member can rise immediate and state: “I appeal from the decision of the chair” and this forces an immediate vote by the assembly.

Any chair who ignores the wishes and will of the assembly will quickly discover that folly of that decision.

Every member will someday get to chair a meeting and conduct the business session. Every member will also get the opportunity to be the parliamentarian.

We learn these roles by doing them. The good news is everyone is eager to see you succeed.

As a new parliamentarian, it’s not a bad idea to sit beside a member who is experienced in parliamentary procedure and allow them to whisper in your ear. (That’s how I learned from one of our club’s great members the late George Pay. His whisper in my ear was called “the voice of God” which would precede any opinion I would offer to the chair.)

As a new chair it’s a good idea to speak with your mentor beforehand and use your parliamentarian anytime you’re not certain what to do next. Take your time and ask for help and all will go well.DDC-Ramban-MH-Malik-chairing-SBI-RSETI-meeting-on-tuesday21

Parliamentary procedure is used to get things done in Toastmasters; in local, provincial and national government; in public companies; by boards of directors, in non-profit and charitable agencies; by school boards; and anywhere were groups of individuals want to work together for the betterment of them all.

Also, it’s another opportunity to hear your own voice during your Toastmaster meeting.

First Oakville First Again Twice!

Fei Sun won the Toastmasters International Area 87 International Speech Contest! Competing against a formidable group of competitors from area clubs, Fei, a relative newcomer to Toastmasters won the day with her personal story about getting and giving “virtual hugs”.Fei

Using excellent gestures that emphasized the highlights of her speech, Fei reached out to the crowd and allowed her voice to ring out. Obviously the judges liked what they heard and saw in her dramatic performance.

Marion West, also from First Oakville Toastmasters took first place in the Toastmasters International Area 87 Evaluation Contest. A perennial winner of evaluation contests Marion had close competition with our own MarionSharon Jenkins taking third place.

Both winners now go onto the Division D contests on March 21 at the South Common Community Centre in Mississauga.Sharon




A win there will see them compete at the District 86 contests at the Spring conference in April at the Hilton Meadowvale Mississauga.

First Oakville Toastmasters has been producing winning competitors for over 60 years. Learning how to be a speech winner takes time and effort but at First Oakville our members know they have a supportive club behind them all the way.

Cheryl Etherinton, from First Oakville, also competed in the International Speech Contest. First Oakville members worked as judges, timers, ballot collectors and our own club president Rebecca Valero was Evaluation Speech contest chair.


Everything Is In Our Favour

There’s a wonderful article in today’s National Post about a 33-year-old rancher from Alberta who led one of the last great calvary charges at the Battle of Cambria in WW I.strachan-h

After assuming command of the Fort Garry Horse upon the death of the troop’s captain Lieutenant Harcus Strachan led his mounted B Squadron, swords drawn, toward a German artillery post.strachan-at-head-of-fgh-copy1

Successful in their endeavour, their bravery left them “utterly alone” kilometres behind enemy lines with only 50 men out of an original complement of 133 fit to fight. Strachan found not a horse left unwounded so he gathered his men and said:

“Everything is in our favour!”

Returning with his men on foot to friendly territory Strachan would be later be awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. In the months to follow a new weapon of war, the armoured tank, would replace the calvary of previous wars and warfare would be changed forever.

So what does an archaic wild calvary charge, one of the last of World War I, have to do with giving a speech in Toastmasters?

Ask yourself this:

When you’ve completed your speech what are the first thoughts that go through your head? What do you tell yourself? Are you optimistic and excited?

Do you say something like that was great – I did it – I learned so much?

Or do you do, as so many do, immediately start to pick apart your speech searching for every little flaw? Do you say to yourself that your speech was a failure? Do you agonize over every little slip?

This hyper-critical thinking is epidemic in society today. It sniffles creativity and makes giving a speech an experience to be dreaded.

This is not the way Toastmasters works.

After you give your next speech tell yourself that you did a great job. If you’re not up to giving yourself praise then go find your mentor and let them do it for you.

Remember all the little things you think went wrong likely weren’t even noticed by your audience. The stuff you think needs fixing will fix itself over time as you continue speaking. There’s no need to be harsh with yourself.

Everything is not lost.

Remember the Alberta rancher who went faced with insurmountable odds turned to his men and reassured them that all was going to end well….and it did.

Be optimistic. Be unafraid. Keep calm and keep speaking!

Big Wins At Area Contest

First Oakville Toastmasters walked away with some impressive wins at last night’s Area D-87 Table Topics and Humorous Speech Contests. Our own Cheryl Etherington took first place in the hotly contested Humorous Speech and Samantha Tam took second in Table Topics. Peter West took third in both.


Fiat justicia*

Sometimes our business sessions can seem overly pedantic and technical. This is especially true when we’re debating a contentious or even provocative motion.

So why do we practice parliamentary procedure?GavelClub.gif

Right now, two school boards in the GTA (Peel and York) are embroiled in heated controversy and meetings of the boards have been chaotic with disorderly protests resulting in police being called.

The disruption of public meetings (or private meetings of company boards, clubs and organizations) by unruly protestors doesn’t just affect the contentious matters at hand but are an affront to the democratic process itself.

In other words somebody thinks that outshouting or threatening people with whom they disagree is an okay thing to do. It isn’t at least it isn’t in a democratic society.

Why should you care? And, what does this have to do with Toastmasters? 

As a member of a club you have a duty to participate in the business of the club. You’ll find the rules for parliamentary process in a book called Robert’s Rules of Order.200px-Roberts_Rules_1st

Certainly we vote in an executive (a topic I will return to soon) to serve the club and is trained by District to handle the day-to-day work of keeping our club running but the executive isn’t empowered to be a decision-making group. Decision-making is up to you, the individual club member.

Your vote in club issues is of vital importance to the health of your club. 

Past president Adrian Scott got me thinking about due process after he sent me an email with an attachment from Food Allergy Canada that outlines the organization’s concerns with a forthcoming decision by Toronto City Council that affects its members.

Here’s a link to the statement on the group’s website.

You’ll notice that Food Allergy Canada is advocating action to help influence the Toronto  city council vote on the adoption to stock epinephrine in Toronto restaurants and other public places. In the email the author describes the process of how this particular motion was deferred to a committee and then returned to council with a recommendation and now is ready for a vote.

This is politics at its best.

First, you convince an elected member of a decision-making body to make a motion that supports your interests. (At our club any member can make a motion.) Then, as the issue requires input from a technically informed committee, the motion is sent to them for a specific period of time.

As the report from the committee is returned and the issue is scheduled to be debated again, you and your organization reach out to the committee members asking them to support your point of view.

The motion is again brought forward for debate which will now include the report from committee and it will be either adopted or lost depending on the vote of all members of council.

The alternative is either anarchy or rule by imperial fiat neither of which are desirable or fair.

A chairperson who neglects to court the assembly’s support of any decision (If there be no objection I declare…) will find themselves unable to proceed as calls of “objection to consideration” will force immediate votes of confidence by the members.

While it is true “a chair gets away with what a chair gets away with” there is a limit to the goodwill and willingness of any assembly to go along with decisions they have not been invited to debate and vote upon.

The minority have a right to be heard (and heard fully) while the majority have the right to rule. You may not like it but it is fair and applies to when it be the king (or chair) or the lowest, most aggrieved and humble citizen.

*Let right be done.