Liberal Greg Fergus makes history, elected first Black House Speaker
Liberal MP Greg Fergus is Canada's new House of Commons Speaker, following a secret ranked ballot election on Tuesday.
It is a day for the political history books as Fergus becomes Canada's 38th Speaker and the first Black Canadian to hold the prestigious role. Fergus, 54, takes on the job as MPs' impartial adjudicator in the wake of Parliament facing international headline-grabbing acrimony.
"Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect, that we show Canadians the example, because there can be no dialogue unless there's a mutual understanding of respect," Fergus said in his first remarks from the Speaker's chair, following an hours-long election process and a standing ovation from his fellow MPs.
"There can be no ability to pursue the arguments, to make your points be heard, unless we all agree to extend to each other that sense of respect," Fergus continued, pledging to carry out his duties with firmness and impartiality.
"So I'm going to be working hard on this, and I need all of your help to make this happen. Because this is the place where hard debates will happen."
Fergus was first elected to the House in 2015, representing the National Capital Region riding of Hull-Aylmer, Que. Though, his "lifelong love" of Parliament and experience in the Commons dates back decades.
A self-admitted subscriber to Hansard since age 14, in 1988 he then became a parliamentary page, awed by "the majesty of this sanctum of democracy."
Today, he and his wife Julie have three adult children and are self-described "doting grandparents" to two grandchildren.
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The extremely rare mid-session Speaker election occurred on account of Anthony Rota's resignation last week over his errant and embarrassing invitation and recognition of a man who fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's address to Parliament.
Upon his election, Fergus was ceremoniously ushered with symbolic reluctance into his new seat at the front of the House of Commons by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre.
From his new place, party leaders took turns offering their congratulations to Fergus, reflecting on the significance of his colleagues selecting him.
"Today you are the first black Canadian to become Speaker of this House. This should be inspiring for all Canadians, especially younger generations who want to get involved in politics," said Trudeau. "Canadians expect us all to work together to deliver results. They expect us to behave to the highest standards. Mr. Speaker, I know you will help us rise to meet this moment."
In his congratulatory remarks that veered into campaign-style language, Poilievre spoke about how parliamentarians must act as servants to the public, noting "this is called the House of Commons for a reason."
"Without much exception, you're one of the friendliest members of Parliament. It's great to see you in this chair now," said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, going on to also note the "incredible feat" Fergus has achieved, eventually culminating in his Speaker portrait being added to the halls of Parliament, providing representation that's been lacking to-date.
"Now, when people walk the halls of this place and they look at the pictures on the walls and they're reminded of some of the great achievements of Canada, some of the grave errors that we've made as a nation, they are one day going to see your face. ... I know you know how important that is," Singh said.
Donning the formal attire that accompanies the role, Fergus and a procession of parliamentary officials then travelled over to the Senate where the House's choice was presented to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.
After this procedural formality, regular business of the day began, with members' statements and question period the first agenda items.
In a statement, the Parliamentary Black Caucus (PBC) lauded Fergus' election, noting he was one of the founders of the group.
"It has been a privilege to work closely with the new Speaker on behalf Canadians, especially Black Canadians. He is led by his humility, wit and passion. He is very deserving of this recognition by his colleagues in the House of Commons and I am confident he will serve Canada with distinction," said PBC co-chair Sen. Rosemary Moodie.
7 CANDIDATES WANTED ROLE
With Dean of the House Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon presiding for his sixth time on Tuesday morning, voting got underway after an hour of speeches from the candidates and a recognition of Rota's service.
"Before we begin I would like to say to Mr. Rota who proceeded me, that I have great admiration for all of the excellent work he accomplished during his two terms as Speaker. He was an excellent Speaker, let us commend him for the great work he did," Plamondon said in French, to applause.
Fergus was one of seven MPs who were seeking the Speakership. The other contenders were Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes, Liberal MP Sean Casey, Liberal MP Peter Schiefke, Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, NDP MP Carol Hughes and Green MP Elizabeth May.
Just as the House began sitting on Tuesday, Liberal MP Stephane Lauzon, who had been on the list of candidates as of Monday evening, took himself out of the running. His decision followed a Liberal caucus meeting early Tuesday during which the vote was discussed.
The need for a reset and reprioritizing decorum were recurring themes expressed by Speaker-hopefuls as they took turns making one last pitch to their peers.
"We can do better, and we must. If individual members are willing to be part of a collective effort to restore public confidence in the way we treat each other and the rules of Parliament, then I would be honoured to lead that cause. If, on the other hand, members are comfortable with the current state of decorum and level of respect for the office of the Speaker, please don't vote for me," Casey said.
Conservative MP and deputy Speaker leading into this special election, d'Entremont spoke about the difficult circumstances that led to this occasion, as well as how his two years of experience have confirmed his "deep desire" to take on the top job. He pitched his experience, "calm French Acadian demeanor," and personal relationships with his colleagues, as assets.
Appearing virtually due to her current inability to board an airplane after experiencing a stroke this summer, May spoke about how all candidates were "more than qualified to be good Speakers" and acknowledged her chances were slim.
"I pledge my support to the next Speaker. Whoever is brave enough, go back to following our rules," May said.
It took MPs just under an hour to take their turns casting their ballots in the polling booths set up on the House floor.
Post ballot box inspection, voting has begun.— Rachel Aiello (@rachaiello) October 3, 2023
MPs told to put No. 1 next to their first choice on the ballot, continue ranking for each contender they want to vote for. Names listed in alphabetical order.
After casting their vote, MPs have been asked to leave the area. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/2UTv7tUIhn
The House administration was responsible for tallying the results. MPs who were present to vote in-person — a requirement for this election — were asked to rank their choices, but didn't have to include all seven contenders on their ballot.
Under this process, it will not be revealed how many ballots it took for Fergus to receive the absolute majority needed, nor by how many votes he won.
WHAT IS SPEAKER'S ROLE?
The duties of the House of Commons Speaker extend beyond the role Canadians most often see them play, as the impartial adjudicator of House proceedings, maintaining order and decorum while interpreting parliamentary rules.
Fergus, as a recent parliamentary secretary to Trudeau and parliamentary secretary to other ministers up until his election, may have an uphill battle to convince his opposition colleagues of his neutrality in his decisions.
Ahead of the election, some Conservatives had revived Fergus' past actions in an effort to make the case he was ill-suited to occupy the position of Speaker, namely his defence of the prime minister during the 2016 "elbowgate" fracas, and his recent conflict of interest breach regarding a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
As Speaker, he will no longer participate in Liberal caucus meetings nor in debates, and will only vote in the case of a tie.
Fergus told the House upon his election that he plans to meet with the table officers and deputy speakers in the coming days to discuss how to improve the tone and move forward with the rights of all members in mind.
Fergus will also take on key administrative and managerial functions, as well as ceremonial and diplomatic responsibilities when he acts as a representative of the Canadian Parliament.
The Speaker job comes with a $92,800 salary top-up on the base $194,600 MP salary — the same amount a minister receives. It also comes with an official residence called The Farm in the community of Kingsmere in Chelsea, Que., as well as a modest apartment in West Block for what can often be late nights in the big chair.
Typically, the deputy and assistant deputy Speakers are named in subsequent days and generally are decided upon by consensus amongst the parties.