Previously Assistant Deputy Speaker, now vying for big green chair
OTTAWA – Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes is vying for the job of Speaker of the House of Commons for the 43rd Parliament, along with at least five other MPs. Also in the running are Conservative MPs Joël Godin and Bruce Stanton, Liberal MP Anthony Rota and Green Party house leader Elizabeth May has also indicated an interest in the post. The speaker in the last session, Liberal Geoff Regan, is also hoping for the gig.
All MPs except cabinet ministers and party leaders are eligible to run for the post. Ms. May stepped down as leader of her party following the October election, although she remains house leader.
Ms. Hughes and Mr. Rota are both Northern MPs and both have some experience in the speaker’s role. Ms. Hughes and Mr. Rota were both assistant deputy speakers in the previous Parliamentary session, while Mr. Stanton was deputy speaker.
“It was an interesting post,” said Ms. Hughes about her time as an assistant deputy speaker. Ms. Hughes pointed to her considerable experience in the labour movement as assets should she be elected to the post by her fellow MPs. “I believe I have a lot to offer.”
The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House of Commons, the so-called Lower House of the Parliament of Canada. The Speaker is elected at the beginning of each new parliament by fellow MPs. The role is similar to that in other countries that use the Westminster system of government.
In Canada the Speaker’s responsibility includes managing the House of Commons and supervision of its staff. The Speaker also acts as a liaison with the Senate and the Crown. The Speaker’s responsibility is to rule over the House and have the government in power answer questions during Question Period as well as keep decorum in the house.
The Speaker’s gig comes with a salary bump of about $85,000, much like a cabinet minister and the post comes with the use of a small apartment in the House of Commons (its only residence) and an official residence usually refered to as “The Farm,” a four-acre estate located in Gatineau Park, across the river from Ottawa in Quebec.
The Speaker is also responsible for the management of the entire House of Commons infrastructure along with the 2,000 employees who work there. That budget runs to around $500 million. “You have to be very cognizant of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Ms. Hughes. “I do that with my budget as an MP as well. I cut corners where I can with expenses to try and be as cost effective as possible.”
“There are a lot of staff who help you to keep on track,” said Ms. Hughes, noting the supports that help bolster a Speaker in their administrative roles.
The term Speaker originates from the British parliamentary or Westminster tradition and, with Canada being a bilingual country, the francophone term for the position is now President.
Up until the mid-90s the position of Speaker was generally decided on through the nomination of the prime minister, but since 1986 the position has been selected by secret ballot among the sitting MPs. While the Speaker remains a sitting MP, they only vote on matters in order to break a tie.
Ms. Hughes noted that each of the Speakers who have presided over the House of Commons have brought their own unique set of skills to the position. “All speakers do their best,” she said. It is of imperative importance for the Speaker to deal with their position in a fair, impartial and non-partisan manner.
“The Speaker is called upon to fill all sorts of roles,” noted Ms. Hughes, including statesman. “The Speaker welcomes foreign deputations.” They also provide a connection to the administrations of other nations and sometimes travel to other countries. “They also sometimes sign agreements with other countries,” she said.
One of Ms. Hughes’ strong attributes for the post is that she is fluently bi-lingual. “I think that is very important for a Speaker,” she said.
As to what her chances are in the running, Ms. Hughes was cautiously optimistic. “Why not Carol Hughes from Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing,” she laughed.
In recognition of the challenges of the speaker’s duties for a sitting MP, there is also small increase in their constituency budget.
The election for Speaker will take place on December 5 and following that the 43rd Parliament will begin.
By parliamentary tradition, the prime minister and leader of the official opposition escort the winner of the election to the Speaker’s chair. The newly elected Speaker normally feigns reluctance.