As MPs line up for a chance to become House of Commons Speaker in the new majority Parliament, ordinary Canadians might be excused for wondering why any sane person would want to spend the next four years refereeing the House of disorderly conduct.
One explanation may be that the head-splitting job of babysitting Canada’s kindergarten of democracy comes with some eye-popping perks, all of them provided by the nation’s forever-generous taxpayers.
The new Speaker, who will be elected by MPs in a secret ballot this Thursday, wins a paycheque of just over $233,000 a year, the same as a senior cabinet minister, and about $75,000 more than an ordinary MP.
Like ministers, the Speaker’s gig also comes with a car and driver.
The limo is particularly handy for travelling between the Commons and the Speaker’s rather stunning piece of public housing, a beautiful five-bedroom country home on a magical estate in the Gatineau Hills north of the capital.
Officially known as The Farm, the Speaker’s home-sweet-home comes with everything but bills – free rent and utilities, plus a housekeeper, gardeners, maintenance crews, caterers for large feasts, five outbuildings, and deer grazing on manicured lawns.
For nights when Parliament is sitting late, or a snowstorm grounds the limo, the Speaker has a nice little apartment right in the Parliament Buildings, only steps from The Big Chair in the Commons.
Wining and dining
The Speaker gets a hefty hospitality budget — $170,000 a year for wining and dining parliamentarians, diplomats, members of the national media, and other guests.
We’re not talking cafeteria food.
The Speaker has two private dining rooms on the Hill: one seats six people; the other, called Salon 216, is big enough for a dinner of 55 or a cocktail party for over 100.
All events are catered, usually by the parliamentary restaurant.
During the many periods the Commons is not sitting – last year, for instance, MPs were in their seats only 124 days – the Speaker often leads groups of parliamentarians on trips to foreign countries.
In his 10 years as Speaker, Peter Milliken averaged more than eight foreign trips a year, while he entertained a total of 597 delegations at The Farm and his various hospitality suites on the Hill.
This year, the budget to run the Speaker’s office tops $1 million, including hospitality.
Finally, in addition to everything else, the Speaker enjoys all the entitlements of being an MP.
In Milliken’s case, those included an additional $334,000 last year for political offices on the Hill and in his Kingston constituency.
And like all MPs, the Speaker is entitled to 64 round-trip airline tickets each year, not to be confused with all the foreign junkets which come out of an entirely separate pot of cash.
Milliken’s staffers say that during his record 10-year stint as Speaker, he was notoriously tight with public funds to the point of insisting empty wine bottles be returned for the refund.
Still, all perks considered, it’s nice work if you can get it.