Elizabeth May is 'interested' in being the next Speaker of the House of Commons

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she is thinking about running to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons.

'I am less partisan, certainly, than most members of Parliament.'

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May addresses candidates and supporters during a rally in Vancouver, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she is thinking about running to become the next Speaker of the House of Commons.

"It interests me," May told CBC News from Toronto. "It would be wrong to say it hasn't interested me for a very long time."

May said she was tempted to pursue the job after the 2015 election but missed the vote. May was in Paris at the time, participating in the COP21 international conference on climate change.

An MP must be physically present in the House of Commons chamber during the vote to be considered a candidate for Speaker.

May's interest in the job could be welcome news to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose minority government will want to have all Liberal MPs available for votes to counter a very large opposition bench.

According to parliamentary convention, the Speaker only votes to break a tie in the Commons — and only then to continue a debate or maintain the status quo. On a tied vote of confidence, for example, the Speaker would be expected to vote against bringing the government down.

Elizabeth May considers running for Speaker

3 years ago
Duration 1:32
The Green Party leader spoke to the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau from Toronto on Wednesday

The current Speaker, Liberal MP for Halifax West Geoff Regan, has not returned calls to CBC News to say whether he plans to seek the position for a second term.

Behind the scenes, people close to Regan said they believe he's still interested in the job. The big question is whether the Liberals believe their minority is strong enough to allow him to take on the role again.

Restoring 'civility'

"There is an attraction, I think, in a minority Parliament having a Speaker who represents a party not in power," May said, adding the partisanship surrounding the role of Speaker is "worrying."

May spoke with Trudeau the day after the election. She wouldn't say if she discussed the Speaker's position with him.  "I think private conversations should stay private," she said.

May said she thinks she'd make a good Speaker, adding she'd work to restore civility to the House.

"A thorough understanding of parliamentary rules and procedures and a willingness to be completely non-partisan — now, if those are two important criteria, I would suit both of those for sure," she said. "And I think most members of Parliament know that I am less partisan, certainly, than most members of Parliament, certainly more non-partisan than any other party leader.

"And I want Parliament to work because I love the institution and I respect our institutions and want to see them elevated and not degraded."

What would happen to the Greens?

May said she's still weighing the pros and cons of a Speaker run. For one thing, serving as Speaker would require her to relinquish the Green leadership.

"If elected Speaker, obviously one can't be party leader," May said. "Do we launch a leadership succession plan now? Do we give it six months in case there is a snap election?"

Complicating her decision is the fact that she recently led the Greens to their best general election showing ever: the party's vote share doubled and it elected three MPs, including the party's first MP elected outside of British Columbia.

But for a party that was polling at a solid 10 per cent nationally through most of the campaign, the results were still disappointing.

May said she'll make her final decision in the next month or so.

'Have members talk to one another'

Former Speaker Peter Milliken presided over three minority governments: Paul Martin's Liberal government and two Conservative minorities under Stephen Harper.

"I hope the Speaker can work with the other members. I think that's a very important part of it, is trying to arrange to have members talk to one another," Milliken told CBC News from his home in Kingston, Ont.

"Because if they chat and discuss things, they can come up with solutions to proposals that are coming to the House or ideas that are being discussed there. That can lead to agreement and accommodation of different points of view."

Milliken said the next Speaker should hold social functions to encourage MPs from all sides to "mix and mingle." He said the tone of caustic partisanship in the House of Commons has gotten much worse since he left the big chair.

"There was a lot more inter-party discussion and conversation, which I think is important for civility in the chamber and it affected the tone of debate in those days," he said.

"I think that debates in those days, yes there was heckling going on but it was much better-natured in terms of the comments ... That's not the case anymore."

How it works

MPs elect a Speaker the day before the delivery of the throne speech. The clerk calls on the longest-serving current MP — right now that's Bloc MP Louis Plamondon — who takes the Speaker's chair and becomes the "presiding officer."

That MP names the candidates running for the job. Each candidate gets five minutes to speak. After the speeches, MPs get 30 minutes to vote.

Once the ballots are counted and the winner is named, the new Speaker takes the chair and, after brief speeches from the party leaders, announces that the throne speech will be delivered the following day.

All three deputy speakers — Ontario Liberal Anthony Rota, Ontario New Democrat Carol Hughes and Ontario Conservative MP Bruce Stanton — have told CBC News they will also keep their names on the ballot for the position of Speaker.

With files from Chris Rands


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