From the ironic to the banal: Conservative leadership candidates' 1st words in House

Now vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party, 12 of 14 candidates started as nervous MPs speaking in the House of Commons for the first time. How'd it go?

12 of 14 are current or former MPs, one non-member has never been mentioned

Lisa Raitt responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Nov. 25, 2008, a few days after she spoke her first words in the House. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was seated in another place. I am Steven Blaney, the MP for Lévis–Bellechasse."

It was an inauspicious start to Blaney's career as a parliamentarian when he stood for the first time to speak in the House of Commons on Apr. 6, 2006.

The Quebec MP had taken the wrong seat and had been misidentified by the Speaker, who waited for him to take his proper place before allowing him to speak again (on defending the French language).

Eleven years later, Blaney is one of 14 candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Polls and other metrics suggest he is still struggling to be recognized.

But, if his first words in the House lacked a certain Churchillian flair, he is not alone.

Andrew Scheer, speaking for the first time on Oct. 7, 2004, thanked his constituents for electing him and defeating the NDP. Mentioning that he had read a book on parliamentary procedure from cover to cover and knowing that he could not draw attention to the absence of members from the House, Scheer then sarcastically did so — highlighting empty NDP seats.

Scheer was then duly reprimanded by the Speaker, whose chair he would later occupy between 2011 and 2015.

On Apr. 10, 2006, Maxime Bernier rose to answer a question in his capacity as the newly minted minister of industry.

A fierce critic of government subsidies for private business who has denounced the Liberal government's loan to Bombardier, in his first address to the House Bernier defended the Conservative government's plan to provide support for the forestry industry.

Bernier has since said that he did not personally support his government's awarding of "corporate welfare" when his party was in office.

1st statements true to form

The first statements made by other Conservative leadership candidates in the House of Commons do not seem out of character five, 10 or even 20 years later.

Erin O'Toole, who once served with the Royal Canadian Air Force, asked a question on Dec. 12, 2012 to his fellow Conservative and parliamentary secretary to the minister of veterans affairs (then Eve Adams, who would later cross the floor to sit with the Liberals) on government efforts to encourage the hiring of veterans.

O'Toole has made his military service one of the themes of his leadership campaign.

Erin O'Toole is led into the House of Commons by Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty before the start of question period on Dec. 12, 2012. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Kellie Leitch, who has kept strictly on message throughout the campaign, used her first statement in the House on June 7, 2011 to boast of her government's policies for seniors — using the phrase "strong, stable, national Conservative majority government" twice in her 156-word intervention.

That happened to be an oft-repeated slogan of the 2011 Conservative election campaign.

On Oct. 13, 2004, Michael Chong questioned the Liberal government on the sponsorship scandal. In his second question that day, the enthusiast for parliamentary procedure and reform quoted from Hansard, the daily transcript of goings-on in the House of Commons.

Deepak Obhrai first spoke in the House (as a member of the Reform Party) on Oct. 2, 1997. More recently, the Calgary MP has sharply criticized Leitch's proposals on screening immigrants for "Canadian values," calling the idea dangerous and divisive.

Nearly 20 years ago, Obhrai's first statement was about the importance of multiculturalism in Canada.

"The multicultural community can play a very important role in the unity of our country," Obhrai said. "Let us ensure there is no discrimination, no barriers to their advancement and that they enjoy full freedom as defined in the charter."

Thank you for electing me

Not every first statement by the current crop of Conservative leadership candidates was a memorable one. Many MPs used their first opportunity to address the House to thank the people of their riding for electing them.

That was the case for Chris Alexander on June 6, 2011, who waxed poetic on the majesty of his riding of Ajax–Pickering, "poised between the blue water of Lake Ontario and the highlands of Durham."

Chris Alexander rises during question period in the House of Commons on June 8, 2011, a month after first being elected to the House. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Both Brad Trost on Oct. 7, 2004 and Andrew Saxton on Dec. 2, 2008 also thanked the people of their riding, before turning to other matters.

Lisa Raitt answered a question about the forestry industry on Nov. 20, 2008 while Pierre Lemieux opened debate on the new Conservative government's throne speech on April 4, 2006.

Outsiders wanting in

Just two of the 14 candidates have never sat in the House of Commons: Rick Peterson and Kevin O'Leary.

Peterson has also never been mentioned in the House.

O'Leary's name has been uttered a few times, though only by MPs from the other parties. The first to mention him was Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner in his annual political parody of A Visit from St. Nicholas last December, on the topic of the Conservatives' search for a new leader:

"With their win down south, the far right has a theory; the heck with them all, draft Kevin O'Leary!"

O'Leary has expressed little interest in running for a seat before the next election, and none at all if he doesn't win the leadership. So he may not speak his first words in the House of Commons for some time — if ever.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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