Members of Parliament have re-elected veteran Liberal Anthony Rota as Speaker of the House of Commons.
His re-election Monday to a second term as Speaker was no surprise as he had been widely praised, even by opposition parties, for deftly steering the House through the COVID-19 pandemic in a fair and non-partisan manner.
The last parliamentary session was unprecedented, including huge technical and procedural challenges to enable introduction of a hybrid format that gave MPs for the first time the option to participate virtually in proceedings to avoid spreading the virus.
Rota had also been widely praised for his good humour and calm demeanour refereeing proceedings during what were often heated exchanges among MPs from rival parties in a Commons where the Liberal government held only a minority of seats.
Canadians re-elected the Liberals to another minority on Sept. 20 in a national vote that saw only a handful of seats change hands.
Choosing a new Speaker was the first order of business Monday as MPs returned to the House for the first time in five months.
Six other MPs ran for the Speaker’s post: three Conservatives, one Liberal, one New Democrat and one Green. Rota emerged the winner after MPs cast secret ranked ballots.
He put on a show of being dragged reluctantly to the Speaker’s chair, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holding one arm and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holding the other – a ritual that dates back centuries to the days when a Speaker in the British House of Commons risked execution by delivering unpleasant messages from the House to the monarch.
“I am very honoured to be up here,” Rota told the packed chamber after ascending to the chair on a raised dais.
“Both politically and personally, this is something that I know I will treasure for the rest of my life. I guess one of the good things about being Speaker is I’ve probably upset both sides equally so I appreciate you working this out.”
Rota promised to be “fair and respectful” and concluded his brief acceptance speech saying: “Now that we have a Speaker, it’s time to get back to work.”
He was given several standing ovations and received congratulations from all the party leaders.
Trudeau said Canadians elected a new minority Parliament “to get big things done” and are relying on Rota to ensure it’s done with “civility.”
“It is no small thing to build a better, stronger future so there will be moments where we’ll get caught up in heated debate. But when that happens we will have you, Mr. Speaker, to guide us back on track,” Trudeau said.
O’Toole said Rota’s re-election is “a sign of confidence (from) your colleagues on all sides of this chamber.”
“You’ve been able to preside through a difficult time of our pandemic, making sure our democracy, the light of our democracy did not flicker during this time,” O’Toole said.
As Speaker, Rota is entitled to a salary of $269,800 and access to an official residence, The Farm, in Gatineau Park across the river from Parliament Hill.
With the Speaker now in place, the government can proceed with a speech from the throne Tuesday, outlining its agenda for the new session of Parliament. The speech is to be delivered by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon in the Senate chamber.
Once the ceremonial aspects of a new session are dispensed with, MPs will be able to get down to work on Wednesday.
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