Peter Milliken, who was Speaker of the House until the May election was called, says political parties should not be so fixated on unity and it's OK if differing opinions are made public. Canadian Press

Peter Milliken, the soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House of Commons, says Canada's political party leaders have more authority than they need.

In a farewell interview with the CBC, Milliken said a system has developed over time that means a leader has too much say over rank-and-file MPs.

Before the most recent election, held May 2, Milliken stepped down after more than 20 years as a Liberal member of Parliament and a decade at the helm of the House.

As the longest serving Speaker in Canada's history, he has some ideas on how to make Parliament work better. Right now, he said, the leaders of all parties wield too much authority — over everything from which MPs sit on committees to what is said in question period.

"And if your views aren't in accordance with the leader's position on an issue, you will not be speaking on that issue in the House and you won't be asking questions on that issue in the House," Milliken said, in the interview broadcast Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House.

He proposed giving party caucuses more say in such matters and more say in choosing party leaders.

He also said that parties should not be so fixated on unity, and that it's OK if differing opinions are made public.

During his tenure, Milliken has presided over more minority parliaments than any other Speaker.

"They'll try things procedurally they wouldn't bother trying in a majority situation," he said.

Memorable rulings

Some of Milliken's rulings will go down in history.

He found there was evidence that International Development Minister Bev Oda misled Parliament when she said she did not know who had ordered funding to a foreign aid charity cut, only to later tell Parliament that she had ordered the change.

Milliken also forced the ruling Conservatives to find a way to release documents on the Afghan detainee issue, although those documents have yet to be made public.

He also ruled against the government on the matter of producing certain financial documents. That ruling led to the opposition's contempt motion that brought down the government.