Liberal MP Greg Fergus has been elected the new Speaker of the House of Commons — and his first challenge will be to help Parliament turn the page on the embarrassing Yaroslav Hunka incident.
Fergus, who represents the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer near Ottawa, is the first Black Speaker of the Commons. He was picked by his colleagues through a secret ranked-ballot vote.
In his pitch for the job, Fergus vowed to improve the decorum in the Commons — something past Speakers have also promised with little success.
Debates in the chamber routinely include nasty partisan bickering. MPs also often flout the rules and heckling is a common tactic, particularly in question period.
“Respect and decorum — I’m going to be working hard on this and I need all your help to make this happen,” Fergus said in his first remarks from the Speaker’s chair after being elected.
“Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect and we show Canadians that example. There can be no dialogue unless there’s a mutual understanding of respect.”
WATCH | MP Greg Fergus addresses House after being elected Speaker:
MP Greg Fergus addresses House after being elected Speaker
Quebec Liberal MP Greg Fergus takes over the role of House Speaker from Anthony Rota, who resigned after inviting a former Ukrainian soldier who fought in a Nazi division to Parliament.
Speaking to reporters before the vote earlier Tuesday, Fergus was asked about the prospect of becoming the first Black person in the role.
“The historic nature of that is not lost on me,” he said, adding “that’s not the reason why I’m asking my colleagues to vote for me.
“I’m asking them to vote for me because I’m the best candidate and that I’m the person who can apply the rules, fairly, firmly and consistently.”
The Speaker is tasked with maintaining order and decorum in Parliament. The Speaker is supposed to impartially ensure that all MPs follow rules and procedure.
Speeches, questions and debates in the House are directed to the Speaker. But Speakers do not participate in debates, although they can vote to break a tie.
The Speaker also oversees the administration and finances of the House. They manage staff and communicate between the Senate and the Crown.
There are some ceremonial duties that also come with the role, such as hosting dignitaries and diplomats and representing the Commons abroad.
The job also comes with some perks, including a small apartment in West Block and an official estate in Gatineau Park known as The Farm.
Fergus is a long-time admirer of Parliament
Fergus is a long-time admirer of Canada’s Parliament.
He said Tuesday that, as a young person, he had the Hansard — the official record of debates — delivered to his home.
In 1988, he came to Ottawa to serve as a parliamentary page — fetching water for MPs and delivering letters, among other tasks.
One of those MPs Fergus worked with decades ago was Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon, who presided over the Speaker’s election today as “Dean of the House” — the MP with the longest unbroken sitting record who isn’t a minister or party leader.
Fergus is known as a loyal Liberal. He served as president of the Young Liberals of Canada in 1990s.
In 2007, former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion named him national director — the most senior role in the party’s organizational hierarchy. In that position, he helped prepare the party for an election through fundraising and get-out-the-vote mobilization.
Fergus, first elected in 2015, served as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary — a testament to the close relationship he enjoys with the head of government.
Trudeau and his cabinet gave Fergus a standing ovation as he assumed the chair at the front of the Commons.
WATCH | Trudeau congratulates Fergus for being elected Speaker:
Trudeau congratulates Fergus for being elected Speaker
Justin Trudeau says MP Greg Fergus’s election as the first Black Speaker of the House ‘should be inspiring to all Canadians, especially younger generations who want to get involved in politics.’
“We elected you to help us be civil in our debates, to remind us we’re all here for the same reason, which is to serve Canadians,” Trudeau said.
“Canadians expect us all to work together to deliver results. They expect us to behave to the highest standard.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Fergus’s election was “an incredible achievement.”
He said Canadians are depending on Fergus to keep the government honest.
Recounting the origins of parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom, Poilievre said: “The first commoners met in fields. They were the peasants and the farmers who were tired of having their crops taxed away by an impossibly cruel crown. Today we have a similar circumstance with a government that is excessively powerful and costly.”
“The role of Parliament in restraining the power of the prime minister is primordial,” Poilievre said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh warmly welcomed Fergus to the role, saying he knows the Quebec MP as someone who has a “desire to work for the good of Canadians instead of playing partisan, political games.”
He said he trusts Fergus to serve ably as the body’s “collective spokesperson” and a “non-partisan referee” in a sometimes fractious chamber.
“This is a special position and racialized Canadians across the country can take pride that Mr. Fergus is the first person of colour to hold the role of Speaker,” Singh said.
He said young people of colour “haven’t always seen themselves reflected in the makeup of the House of Commons.”
Now, “kids across the country will see a Black Canadian holding this vital role,” he said.
Bloc Québécois MPs lined up to congratulate Fergus shortly after he was named the new Speaker — a sign that the third-largest caucus in the Commons supported the Liberal’s candidacy.
Fergus has been an advocate for social housing and seniors.
He served as a member of the board of directors of the Aylmer Arms, a residence for semi-retired and retired seniors, and as a member of a local parish council.
Previously, he was vice-president of a neighbourhood association and was also involved with school committees, sports teams and organizations promoting regional interests.
Like some other Liberal MPs, Fergus has been known to filibuster Commons committee hearings on various government mishaps — such as the hearings on the WE Charity scandal.
During one contentious meeting about an ill-fated COVID-era summer student jobs program partnership with that non-profit, Fergus spoke in Latin and cited ancient Greece to run out the clock, and called the opposition-backed inquiry a “fishing expedition.”
Earlier this year, the ethics commissioner found Fergus violated the Conflict of Interest Act by writing a letter of support for a television channel’s application to the CRTC for mandatory carriage.
Under parliamentary rules, MPs can write letters of support to the CRTC in support of an application, but parliamentary secretaries and cabinet ministers cannot.
Fergus apologized for what he called his “unintentional error.”
The Speaker election was prompted by Anthony Rota’s decision to vacate the chair after taking full responsibility for inviting Hunka — a 98-year-old veteran of a Nazi unit — to participate in the celebration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his recent visit.
Fergus beat out P.E.I. Liberal MP Sean Casey, Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris d’Entremont, Ontario NDP MP Carol Hughes, B.C. Green MP Elizabeth May, Quebec Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès and Quebec Liberal MP Peter Schiefke for the job.