Mr. Chair and hon. members, first let me also congratulate the members present today. Whether this is your first term or, like you, Mr. Chair and the dean of the House, your ninth, I am sure you will agree that there is nothing like entering the House of Commons for the first time after an election.
If I can beg the indulgence of those members who heard my speech in the 40th Parliament in a similar circumstance, I would like to use the words of Speaker William Lenthall to describe the nature of the position of speaker.
When King Charles went into the House in 1642 and demanded to know the whereabouts of certain MPs, Speaker Lenthall told the king:
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.
I believe I can carry on that legacy thanks to the experience I have gained over the last several years. I have spent the last five years in the Speaker's chair and, up until about an hour ago, as deputy speaker. Before that, I was the assistant deputy speaker from 2006 to 2008.
It is an old maxim that one learns by doing and I have certainly learned a great deal with first-hand experience in the chair. Experience and expertise should count for a lot and, while every candidate has many different experiences in different areas that will no doubt be helpful to them, I believe there is nothing quite like on-the-job training. As deputy speaker, I learned the rules, procedures and precedents while actually being in the chair.
In speaking with many members, I have received very positive feedback on the impartial and fair way I have presided over the House. I have always taken care to ensure that all parties and, indeed, all individual members were treated fairly while I presided.
I have heard some feedback about my age and I know that I am getting quite old now. The current speaker of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, Mr. John Bercow, also faced questions about his age as he was relatively young when he successfully ran for speaker. I am sure he will not mind my retelling one of his stories. In his speech asking members for their support, one particular MP said to him:
Certainly not, Bercow. You are not just too young; you are far too young—given that, in my judgment, the Speaker ought to be virtually senile.
I hope that no one here feels that way.
Many of you have spoken to me about decorum and courtesy.
I absolutely agree that the speaker needs to play a more assertive role in improving the tone of debate in this place. I believe it is time for the speaker to use the Standing Orders that already exist and are available to more strictly enforce the rules regarding behaviour.
When I was in the chair, often throughout debate we would see particular members, and I will not mention any names, consistently be disruptive and discourteous to their colleagues. Because their names were on a list, they would stand in question period, give a statement and expect the floor to be given to them. We should have a system and a speaker in place to ensure that members do not receive respect from their colleagues until they learn to give it.
Rest assured that I will make certain that members who refuse to follow the rules of debate will not be allowed to speak until they have demonstrated the respect deserved by an institution as important as the House of Commons.
In the last Parliament, I also noticed the way toxic language has crept into debate. We have a list of unparliamentary words but we need to go beyond that. I do not think unparliamentary language should be constricted to only a technical list. The speaker should ensure that members follow not just the letter of the rules regarding unparliamentary language but the spirit as well.
Base name calling and questioning the motives of other hon. members create a toxic environment, which I think is what Canadians feel let down the most about. By showing each other the mutual respect that we would expect from anyone else is very important.
As Speaker, I would like to see a respectful and courteous House of Commons in which members can freely discuss laws and ideas, knowing that their rights and privileges are protected. We have a duty to all Canadians to ensure that the House functions properly.
To my francophone colleagues, I can say that I learned French in school for 13 years, but when I moved to Saskatchewan, I forgot some vocabulary and verb conjugations. However, I am making a concerted effort to improve my French. I am learning the subjunctive, despite the imperfect nature of my discourse.
Protecting the rights of individual MPs is also an important task for any Speaker. If you select me, I will ensure that each member has the right to be heard. Our rights should be protected collectively, but each individual MP needs to have his or her rights upheld as well.
Based upon my experience, my passion for this place, and my fair enforcement of the rules, I humbly ask for your support.