A Bloc MP is about to be the shortest-lived Speaker of the House in Canadian history

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OTTAWA — Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon may be the longest-serving member of the House of Commons, but he will have had the shortest career as Speaker.

Plamondon, who was first elected in 1984 as a Progressive Conservative and later joined the Bloc after the failure of the Meech Lake accord, will be occupying the position for a total of five days until MPs choose a new Speaker on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

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“It’s a unique situation in the history of Confederation,” he said in an interview.

“At the same time, it’s an additional experience for me in my 39 years of political life.”

Plamondon was chosen by all House leaders to serve on a temporary basis after former Speaker Anthony Rota resigned for honouring a man, someone it later turned out had served for a Nazi SS unit, during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament last week. Rota’s mandate officially ended on Wednesday.

MPs had to temporarily fill the role of Speaker in order to make sure that Parliament could continue its work without interruption.

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Plamondon said he was surprised to be asked to take on the job at first but said he is known to have a good relationship with MPs so he knew his nomination would be uncontroversial.

“I’ve learned in politics to fight ideas but to respect individuals. And I’ve always stayed respectful when I meet people in receptions, in the hallways, in committees or in the lobby of the House,” he said.

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A few commentators have raised eyebrows at the idea that a Quebec MP promoting separation would be acting as Speaker, but Plamondon brushed off those concerns.

“In the House, there are people… of all opinions. Bloc MPs have the same rights as all the other MPs and they are able to do the work,” he said, while reiterating that the Speaker of the House, by definition, must stay neutral whatever their political stripe.

As dean of the House, Plamondon has supervised the election of the Speaker at the start of Parliament a few times and would always aim to crack a few jokes.

“When you make people laugh together, it’s easier to work together,” he said.

But the circumstances for the election of the new Speaker this time around call for a more sober approach. Plamondon said he had “great admiration” for Rota and was sad to see him resign, so don’t expect him to be joking around quite as much come Tuesday.

It is expected that deputy Speaker Chris d’Entremont and assistant deputy speakers Alexandra Mendes and Carol Hughes will preside over most of the parliamentary debates in the interim. All three of them are vying to replace Rota as the new Speaker.

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Mr. Rota was… fair but very tolerant. I think we’ll have to have a discussion around the rules

A number of other MPs, such as Liberal MPs Greg Fergus and Sean Casey, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, have also expressed interest in the post.

Plamondon said that whoever wins Tuesday’s vote should be able to enforce the rules of parliamentary procedure, especially during particularly lively question periods. He noted that former Speakers would sometimes expel MPs from the House when they wouldn’t listen.

“Mr. Rota was… fair but very tolerant. I think we’ll have to have a discussion around the rules,” he said.

The job of Speaker traditionally comes with a number of perks, including a $92,800 salary bump to an MP’s base salary of $194,600, an official residence and an official whiskey. And once the Speaker’s mandate is over, he is entitled, like former prime ministers, to an official portrait hung in the hallways of Parliament.

Plamondon made his first appearance as interim Speaker on Thursday and thanked MPs for their unanimous support.

“This is something that I’ll remember forever,” he said. “In my long 39-year career, I have no doubt had the longest career as an MP but the shortest as a Speaker.”

Conservative House leader and former Speaker Andrew Scheer congratulated Plamondon and said he is sure he will do a great job over the next few days.

“But I’m not sure a five-day tenure will qualify you for a portrait in the hallway,” he chuckled. “I’ll leave that for you to negotiate with the clerks.”

National Post

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