Good morning, dear colleagues. Recently, a number of members have asked me two questions. The first was “Do you speak French?” The second was “Do you have the necessary experience to serve as the Speaker of the House?” Those are good questions, and here are my answers.
I came to Ottawa more than 25 years ago to attend university. Since then, I have devoted most of my time to the legislative process. I studied political science at two universities, one in Canada and the other in the United States. I served as the director of research for a federal political party. I was chief of staff for two provincial ministers. I was an advisor to a premier of Ontario. I have been a member of this House for four years, and I have chaired the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. As you can see, I have a great deal of experience in this area. In addition, I have lived in Europe and Asia. I believe that my experience will help me be a strong ambassador for Parliament and for Canada.
Those are the two questions that I have been asked most frequently since I put my name forward 10 days ago. However, there are two other questions that I also need to address to you: number one, why am I running for Speaker; and number two, why should you support me.
I am running for Speaker because I think we need a change in that chair. I have the greatest respect and affection for the member for Kingston and the Islands, but I profoundly disagree with his House management style. I think we need to re-establish decorum and civility in this place. However, unlike some of the other challengers, I think that this is a responsibility that falls to all of us as members of this place. We need to work together. We need to demand of each other that we will show respect and that we will establish a decorum that will allow us to welcome our constituents, our children and our grandchildren to come to this place.
I do not share the notion that this is a top-down exercise, that somehow by choosing a new Speaker there is a new sheriff in town, that somehow the solution is for the Speaker to lay out discipline, to crack the whip and make sure that members do what they are supposed to do. Quite the contrary, I think this ought to be a bottom-up exercise. I think all of us ought to expect and demand a level of respect from our colleagues that Canadians across Canada would demand in their workplace. There is no other place I can think of where people are routinely exposed to the kind of verbal abuse that takes place in this house of Parliament.
My riding is relatively close to here and as a result, lots of school groups from my riding visit Ottawa. Obviously I want to meet with these groups while they are in town, but I always try to meet with them before they attend question period because I want to prepare them. I explain to them what is going on and what they are going to see. In fact, I make excuses for what goes on in this place, and I do not think that is reasonable.
Over the last four years, I have sat in this House and have behaved myself, and I have looked around and seen many other members in all four caucuses do the same thing. I do not accept the notion that what goes on here is inevitable. I do not accept the notion that there is nothing we can do about it.
A lot of people have talked about decorum. Two weeks ago I took the time to sit down and write out a plan. Many of you have seen this plan. I am proposing three things.
First, there are four people who sit in that chair and they need to work together. Like a curling team, the skip is important, but if the other players are not using the same strategy, it will not work.
Second, I have said that we need to start at the periphery and move towards the centre. While it may be impossible to exercise the kind of control that is needed in question period with 300 rowdy members in here, I do think there are many other times, when there are only a dozen or 20 of us in our places, that the rules could be implemented and we could build momentum and move towards the centre.
Third, I have said that we ought to develop a code of conduct to lay out basic expectations for members in terms of what their behaviour ought to be. Rotary International has the four-way test. I think we can come up with something similar. I ask you for your support in doing that.