New Parliament's 1st act will be to elect House of Commons Speaker

Before the debates in question period can begin, before the tabling of bills and the political grandstanding, first things first: the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

All MPs eligible to take on role with the exception of party leaders and cabinet ministers

A worker dusts the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons. A new Speaker will be elected on Thursday, the first day of the new parliamentary session. (Canadian Press)

Before the debates in question period can begin, before the tabling of bills and the political grandstanding, first things first: the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Andrew Scheer served as Speaker from 2011-15, and was the youngest person to ever hold the role in Canada at age 32. Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose recently named him Opposition House leader. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

MPs will cast their ballots Thursday when the new Parliament sits for its first day, in keeping with parliamentary procedure. The speech from the throne on Friday can't happen without a Speaker.

The clerk's official list of candidates won't be ready until 6 p.m. Wednesday — the deadline MPs have to remove their names from the race — but so far, at least four candidates have let their names stand.

Liberals vying for the role include Denis Paradis (Brome-Missisquoi), Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East) and Geoff Regan (Halifax West). 

The lone Conservative candidate so far is Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North).

What does a Speaker do, exactly?

The Speaker's job is to maintain a sense of decorum and order in the House, to make sure parliamentary rules are followed, and to do it all impartially.

In keeping with tradition, the Speaker of the House follows the sergeant-at-arms into and out of the House of Commons. The sergeant-at-arms carries the mace, which is a symbol of the Speaker's authority. In this 2014 photo, then Speaker Andrew Scheer walks behind former sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Speaker doesn't engage in debates and votes only in the case of a tie.

They also preside over the Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the administration of the House as well as its financing.

All MPs are eligible to take on the role of Speaker with the exception of party leaders and cabinet ministers.

The perks

In addition to the base MP salary of $167,400, the Speaker gets an extra $80,100 (the same bump received by cabinet ministers and the leader of the Official Opposition), as well as a car and driver.

The Speaker's official residence, known as The Farm, in Kingsmere, Que., in the Gatineau Hills. (National Capital Commission)

The Speaker also gets to live in the Speaker's official residence at The Farm, a home set among the trees of the Gatineau Hills just north of Ottawa. The Speaker also has access to their own "apartment" inside Parliament Hill's Centre Block.

(But don't be too jealous — unlike the sprawling rooms of the Speaker's apartment in the U.K., the Canadian version is more akin to a small room at the Chateau Laurier with a couch and a pullout bed. Cool enough, but not that cool.)

The vote

MPs will make their choice for Speaker a little differently this time around: This is the first year the vote will be held by preferential secret ballot.

The change was the initiative of Conservative MP Scott Reid, whose motion to move away from an exhaustive ballot system — in which successive ballots have to be cast if there's no clear majority — was voted on and passed by MPs in June.

The exhaustive ballot system had been in place for 29 years. Before that, the Speaker was nominated by the prime minister.

These days the vote is presided over by the dean of the House, the longest-serving MP who isn't a member of cabinet — in this case Louis Plamondon of the Bloc Québécois, who has held the title since 2008.

The candidates (so far)

Denis Paradis served as a Liberal MP from 1995-2006 and was re-elected in October after two defeats. 

Under former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, he served terms as secretary of state for the Francophonie and minister of state for financial institutions, among other roles.

From left, the candidates vying for Speaker include: Denis Paradis, Yasmin Ratansi, Geoff Regan and Bruce Stanton. (Parliament of Canada)

Yasmin Ratansi was elected in October to represent Don Valley East, the same riding she had held for the Liberals from 2004-11, when she was defeated.

She speaks several languages, including French, and wrote to her colleagues that her experience as a chartered professional accountant will help her to oversee House spending. She also "taught the principles of good governance to parliamentarians around the globe" as a consultant in her time away from the House, audited the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption and was vice-chair of the Canadian branch of the group.

Geoff Regan has represented Halifax West since 2000 and was minister of fisheries and oceans from 2003-06 under Paul Martin.

In his letter to colleagues asking to become Speaker, Regan said he frequently dealt with procedural matters during his time as parliamentary secretary to the government House leader from 2001-03, and that he has worked hard to become bilingual.

Bruce Stanton, the lone Conservative in the running, has represented Simcoe North since 2006 and is running for Speaker after four years as assistant-deputy chair of the committee of the whole.

MPs Mauril Bélanger, left, and Robert-Falcon Ouellette have dropped out of the race to become the next Speaker of the House. (Parliament of Canada, robertfalcon.ca)

While many feel the Speaker should come from the party with the majority, "the House needs a presiding officer who is knowledgeable in the conventions, practices and standing orders of the House, and that this should take priority over party considerations," he wrote in a letter to MPs.

Mauril Bélanger, who has represented Ottawa-Vanier since 1995, had signalled his intent to run for the job in a letter to MPs. However, on Monday he announced has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and said he would not seek the Speaker's position.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette is a rookie MP who had hoped to become the first indigenous Speaker of the House, but he withdrew from the race on Sunday after controversial remarks he made about the position.

"At a town hall with my constituents, I suggested that the Speaker has the ability to call over a minister or the prime minister," he wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. "I at no time intended to convey that there was any suggestion of quid pro quo. I deeply regret any impression I gave of the Speaker's role."


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