I welcome all the new members who are taking their seats for the first time today. I can tell them that the sense of profound awe they might be feeling will not wear off any time soon. I still feel it every time I walk into this place, whether it is the beginning of a session or right in the middle of one.
I would also like to congratulate all members. It is a great honour and privilege to be elected. Welcome to the 40th Parliament.
I would like to discuss the role of the Speaker as I see it. I would also like to talk about the Speaker's historic role and my qualifications. I will begin by thanking the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for giving me the opportunity to be one of the presiding officers during the last Parliament.
It was a great honour and a true privilege to work with him in the last Parliament. I can think of no better teacher when it comes to learning about the history, the sense of importance of the institution and the many Standing Orders and precedents. Although I never subscribed to Hansard when I was in high school, I certainly share some of the same affinities for the history of this place that he does.
Tomorrow, whichever candidate you select to become the Speaker of the House will claim on our behalf all the rights and privileges that members of the House of Commons have enjoyed for centuries. In so doing, he will be reaffirming the tradition of independence that the Commons has enjoyed.
Speaker Lenthall of the House of Commons in Westminster put it best in 1642. When King Charles marched into the Commons and demanded that the Speaker tell him the whereabouts of five members he wished to have arrested, the Speaker replied, “May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”.
In my view, that is the primary role of the Speaker. The Speaker must serve the House first. It is the Speaker's responsibility to ensure that all members can exercise their rights and privileges in the House. The Speaker's authority comes from all the members, and that allows the House to function properly.
That brings me to the central role played by the Speaker in the day to day management of the House.
First and foremost, the Speaker must be impartial, fair and non-partisan.
As I mentioned, in the last Parliament, I was fortunate enough to serve in the Speaker's chair as one of the Assistant Deputy Speakers. In that capacity I gained a profound respect not only for the House itself and the rules and precedents that ensured its orderly operation, but for the members themselves. This ties in with the issue of decorum that many you have raised with me on the phone. In campaigning, I wrote some letters and emails and I telephoned you. I was going to go door knocking at the Marriott last night, but I thought that might be going over the top.
You have all mentioned that decorum is important to you, that we need to have a new sense of civility in the House. Serving in the Speaker's chair really helped me appreciate that. I came to understand a bit more that we all come from different political parties and have much different ideological beliefs. However, what I truly came to appreciate was the fact that we all had the same goal. We all want Canada to be a better place. We disagree on how to do that, but we all genuinely want the quality of life for all Canadians to be the best it can possibly be. If we remember that throughout the debates and throughout committee work, it will make it easier to respect the rules of civility and decorum.
In that capacity I believe there may be the need for a different approach to some of those issues. Question period is the window of Parliament for most Canadians. That is where most Canadians watch the work we do, as it certainly gets the most visibility, and that is where the biggest problem arises with decorum.
In the last Parliament I was fortunate enough to also serve with Mr. Bill Blaikie, the dean of the House at the time and the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He had a much larger presence in the chair. He certainly had a more booming voice and a more assertive tone at times when needed.
I think the Speaker could work with the House leaders and the whips to establish that kind of tone early on in Parliament so members of Parliament could not only police themselves, but also have a role in the chair that would help them do that when they perhaps lose sight of the goals of civility, and I intend to do that. I would try to establish early on some indications of zero tolerance, if you will, when people crossed the line to help them in the future.
For my francophone colleagues, I would add that I know that the Speaker must be able to communicate in both official languages. I can say that, as soon as I was first elected, I began taking courses to work on my French. I was in an immersion program in high school and since then, I have learned the subjunctive, despite the imperfect nature of my discourse.
I thank you for your attention and would be honoured to have your support.