Liberal MP Greg Fergus elected new House of Commons Speaker

fergus

Liberal MP Greg Fergus has been elected as the new Speaker of the House of Commons following a secret ranked ballot election on Tuesday.

It is a day for the Canadian political history books as Fergus becomes Canada's 38th Speaker and the first Black Canadian to hold the prestigious role. Fergus takes on the job as MPs' impartial adjudicator after a time of international headline-grabbing acrimony.

"Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect, that we show Canadians the example, because there can be no dialogue unless there's a mutual understanding of respect," Fergus said in his first remarks from the Speaker's chair, following an hours-long election process.

"There can be no ability to pursue the arguments, to make your points be heard, unless we all agree to extend to each other that sense of respect and decorum," Fergus continued. "So I'm going to be working hard on this, and I need all of your help to make this happen. Because this is the place where hard debates will happen."

Fergus was first elected to the House in 2015, representing the National Capital Region riding of Hull-Aylmer, Que. Though, his experience in the Commons dates back decades, coming first in 1988 to work as a parliamentary page.

The extremely rare mid-session Speaker election occurred on account of Anthony Rota's resignation last week over his errant and embarrassing invitation and recognition of a man who fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's address to Parliament.

Fergus was one of seven MPs who were seeking the Speakership. The other contenders were Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes, Liberal MP Sean Casey, Liberal MP Peter Schiefke, Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, NDP MP Carol Hughes and Green MP Elizabeth May.

Just as the House began sitting on Tuesday, Liberal MP Stephane Lauzon, who had been on the list of candidates as of Monday evening, took himself out of the running. His decision followed a Liberal caucus meeting early Tuesday during which the vote was discussed.

7 CANDIDATES WANTED ROLE

With Dean of the House Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon presiding for his sixth time on Tuesday morning, voting got underway after an hour of speeches from the candidates and a recognition of Rota's service.

"Before we begin I would like to say to Mr. Rota who proceeded me, that I have great admiration for all of the excellent work he accomplished during his two terms as Speaker. He was an excellent Speaker, let us commend him for the great work he did," Plamondon said in French, to applause.

The need for a reset and reprioritizing decorum were recurring themes expressed by Speaker-hopefuls as they took turns making one last pitch to their peers.

"We can do better, and we must. If individual members are willing to be part of a collective effort to restore public confidence in the way we treat each other and the rules of Parliament, then I would be honoured to lead that cause. If, on the other hand, members are comfortable with the current state of decorum and level of respect for the office of the Speaker, please don't vote for me," Casey said.

Conservative MP and deputy Speaker leading into this special election, d'Entremont spoke about the difficult circumstances that led to this occasion, as well as how his two years of experience have confirmed his "deep desire" to take on the top job. He pitched his experience, "calm French Acadian demeanor," and personal relationships with his colleagues, as assets.

Appearing virtually due to her current inability to board an airplane after experiencing a stroke this summer, May spoke about how all candidates were "more than qualified to be good Speakers" and acknowledged her chances were slim.

"I pledge my support to the next Speaker. Whoever is brave enough, go back to following our rules," May said.

It took MPs just under an hour to take their turns casting their ballots in the polling booths set up on the House floor.

The House administration was responsible for tallying the results. MPs who were present to vote in-person — a requirement for this election — were asked to rank their choices, but didn't have to include all seven contenders on their ballot.

Under this process, it will not be revealed how many ballots it took for Fergus to receive the absolute majority needed, nor by how many votes he won.

WHAT IS SPEAKER'S ROLE?

The duties of the House of Commons Speaker extend beyond the role Canadians most often see them play, as the impartial adjudicator of House proceedings, maintaining order and decorum while interpreting parliamentary rules.

Fergus, as a very recent parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, may have an uphill battle to convince his opposition colleagues of his neutrality in his decisions.

As Speaker, he will no longer participate in Liberal caucus meetings nor in debates, and will only vote in the case of a tie.


The Speakers chair is seen before the House of Commons begins session, Tuesday, September 26, 2023 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Fergus will also take on key administrative and managerial functions, as well as ceremonial and diplomatic responsibilities when he acts as a representative of the Canadian Parliament.

The Speaker job comes with a $92,800 salary top-up on the base $194,600 MP salary — the same amount a minister receives. It also comes with an official residence called The Farm in the community of Kingsmere in Chelsea, Que., as well as a modest apartment in West Block for what can often be late nights in the big chair.

Typically, the deputy and assistant deputy Speakers are named in subsequent days and generally are decided upon by consensus amongst the parties.