Newly elected House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota urged MPs to set a positive and respectful tone as the 43rd Parliament began after a heated and divisive campaign that reduced the Liberal government to minority status.
Electing a new Speaker was the first order of business Thursday as the House of Commons resumed for the first time since June, when Parliament rose ahead of the October election.
Five MPs opted to leave their names on the private, ranked ballot and each were given five minutes to persuade their colleagues that they deserved the job.
In the end, MPs voted to replace incumbent Geoff Regan with Mr. Rota, a Liberal MP for the Northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming. The other candidates were Conservative MPs Bruce Stanton and Joël Godin and NDP MP Carol Hughes.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Rota fought back emotion as he noted it was the first time a Canadian of Italian descent was elected Speaker. His campaign pitch included a pledge to hold more small, informal gatherings of MPs from all parties as a way of easing some of the partisanship and name-calling that is commonplace in Ottawa, particularly during the daily Question Period.
Mr. Rota reminded MPs that their children, family and friends are watching the House of Commons from time to time.
“I promised that I will be fair, to the best of my abilities, and try to make sure that everything runs smoothly,” he said. “I ask one favour of all of you: Just think, every time you get up, let’s make sure that our friends, family and children, parents, are proud of us when we’re in this House. That’s all I ask.”
In offering their congratulations to Mr. Rota, party leaders also had their first opportunity to address Parliament since the election.
Given that the first day is taken up by the Speaker’s election and the Speech From the Throne, there was no Question Period Thursday. Instead, all parties spoke of working together constructively.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that he is a third-generation parliamentarian. (His maternal grandfather, James Sinclair, was a cabinet minister and his father, Pierre, was prime minister.)
“We get to occupy these seats for a blink in time in the life of this country,” he said. “While I know, though, that every member will strive to ensure constructive, and therefore productive debates, there will be times where our differences will get the best of us and have us get carried away. And we will then look to you, Mr. Speaker, Parliament’s referee, to keep us in line. I know you to be uniquely qualified to assume this role, a belief obviously many of our colleagues in this House share as well.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is a former Speaker, noted the job also includes a diplomatic role.
“You will represent the collective rights and responsibilities of members while you are in the chair, but you will also represent our Parliament in several ways around the world and I have great confidence that you will do so with the dignity and professionalism that being the Speaker of a G7 country warrants,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Speaker’s role is particularly important in a minority Parliament, while Green Party parliamentary caucus leader Elizabeth May urged all MPs to push for the right to speak their minds, rather than delivering “pre-prepared” messages written by party organizers.