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End of an era

Peter Milliken takes his last stand as Speaker Add to ...

The House of Commons' longest-serving Speaker has ended a 10-year reign with a bang.

Peter Milliken, 64, wrapped up his lengthy career as referee and judge for Canada's often-unruly members of Parliament by presiding over the historic defeat of a minority government.

The Conservatives fell at the hands of their rivals Friday - only the third time in 31 years that a minority government has been toppled in the Commons.

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Mr. Milliken began his 3,707th day as Speaker the same way he always has while the House is sitting. He had coffee and juice with key advisers in a first-floor room of Parliament's Centre Block, where they discussed the affairs of the day.

But as Mr. Milliken began the last procession to the House, through the Hall of Honour, he found his route lined with MPs and political staffers.

The Kingston MP's last walk to the Commons chamber was far from the quiet affair that's normally watched by tourists and security guards.

The Speaker found himself striding past fellow politicos who cheered and applauded a referee all parties had grown to respect. He was, after all, a Liberal presiding over a Commons where the Conservatives are the lead. His peers last re-elected Mr. Milliken to the job in April, 2006, after the Tories' ascent to power. This made him only the second MP chosen as Speaker from an opposition party in the history of the House.

The first order of business for Mr. Milliken was a last ruling on a question of privilege, clearing his blotter of outstanding housekeeping.

He wrapped this up by chiding NDP MP Niki Ashton for leading a delegation of protesters to demonstrate in Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan's office earlier this month.

When Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff rose to begin the debate destined to lead to Friday's no-confidence vote that would bring down the Conservatives, he began with a tribute to Mr. Milliken.

"You have taught us all - sometimes with modest rebuke, sometimes with stern force of argument - to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that alone all Canadians will be grateful to you," the Liberal Leader said.

Conservative Government House Leader John Baird also paid homage to Mr. Milliken's career, recalling a meeting he'd had with the Speaker of the British House of Commons in London.

"The Speaker of the Commons there said that he and Speakers from all around the Commonwealth look to you as their leader and their inspiration as someone who has conducted himself very professionally."

Mr. Baird continued: "For a Canadian to hear that from a British Speaker is a pretty remarkable … assessment of your role as Speaker." He predicted Mr. Milliken would "go down in history as, if not one of the best Speakers, the best Speaker the House of Commons has ever had."

Mr. Baird recalled he first met Mr. Milliken, a Liberal MP, when he was running against former Conservative cabinet minister Flora MacDonald for the Kingston seat in 1988.

The House Leader, a Conservative, smiled at this recollection because he had been charged with trespassing that day after trying to question Ontario premier David Peterson during a campaign stop at a shopping mall in Kingston.

"All judicial matters were cleared up a few months after that first encounter,' Mr. Baird said to laughter in the Commons.

Mr. Milliken won that 1988 race and he's been elected to the Commons for Kingston every election since.

He's retiring from federal politics as of the 2011 election.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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