House of Commons elects Liberal MP Greg Fergus as first Black Canadian Speaker

House elects new Speaker

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.

Greg Fergus first came to the House of Commons as a parliamentary page, sitting at the foot of the Speaker's chair and serving water to MPs — only one of whom is still a sitting member of Parliament.

On Tuesday, he sat in that chair himself, now tasked with restoring confidence in the chamber in a role that Fergus described as a continuation of his "lifelong love" of Parliament.

Fergus said he subscribed to Hansard — the daily transcripts of debate in the House of Commons — at 14 years old.

Now, 40 years later, the 54-year-old Quebec Liberal MP has become the first Black Canadian to serve as Speaker.

After MPs elected him to the role by secret ballot, he promised them that he would lead with respect, and encourage them to respect each other, too.

Canadians are watching, he noted.

"The Speaker, to use the old hockey analogy, is nothing more than a referee," Fergus said in his first speech from the chair.

"And if there's one thing I know, it's that nobody pays good money to go see the referee. They go to see the stars: you."

The rare election mid-session election was held to replace Anthony Rota, who caused an international uproar over his actions during a recent visit by Ukraine's president.

The former Speaker invited a veteran who served in a Nazi unit in the Second World War to the House of Commons chamber, and asked parliamentarians and dignitaries to applaud the man as a hero. He has since apologized.

Fergus was first elected to represent the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer in 2015, and has served as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and treasury board.

All MPs gave Fergus a standing ovation as he was announced the winner of the vote, and members of the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois caucuses shook his hand and hugged him, as did a small number of Conservative MPs.

In the days leading up to the election, some Tories had drummed up attacks against Fergus.

A top adviser to Tory Leader Pierre Poilievre, Jenni Byrne, noted that Fergus had vocally defended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during "elbow-gate" — when Trudeau inadvertently elbowed an NDP MP during an uproar in the House in 2016.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner also pointed out on social media that Fergus had been found earlier this year to have breached the Conflict of Interest Act while serving as a parliamentary secretary to Trudeau. He wrote a letter in support of a TV channel's application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for mandatory carriage — something those in such positions are not allowed to do.

Fergus said he aims to enforce decorum throughout the passionate, hard debates that are necessary in Parliament.

"I'm going to be working hard at this, and I need all of your help to make this happen," he said, adding that he will be meeting with deputy Speakers Tuesday to discuss how to improve decorum.

As is tradition, the new Speaker was "dragged" to the chair in the House of Commons by the prime minister and Opposition leader after votes were counted Tuesday afternoon.

Trudeau and Poilievre gave speeches congratulating Fergus and thanking him for stepping up.

Seven people had put their names forward to take his place.

Liberal MPs gathered early in the morning for a caucus meeting with Trudeau to discuss the vote.

When the caucus meeting concluded, Trudeau and Fergus remained two of the few left in the room.

As he emerged from their meeting, Fergus had said he was nervous about the day, but optimistic.

ORIGINAL 9:15 a.m.

Seven candidates vying to be the next House of Commons Speaker made their pitch to MPs on Tuesday ahead of a historic vote, with all saying they want to restore confidence in Parliament.

Former Speaker Anthony Rota, who resigned after he asked MPs to honour a man who fought for the Nazis, was not in his seat during the election, with a seat-filler in his place instead.

Liberal MP Sean Casey kicked off the speeches saying there needs to be a reset in the House when it comes to decorum, while Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès said more than anything, civility is needed.

Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont, who was most recently a deputy Speaker, said it's important for him to protect the right of MPs to speak in the House, and that his calm French-Canadian demeanour is right for the job.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, whom the Tories perceive as the prime minister's choice, said every MP in the chamber has more in common than they care to admit and that he would lead firmly, thoughtfully and collaboratively.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who delivered her speech virtually due to health issues, said she is running so that she can make her concerns known: that the next Speaker must follow the rules.

Liberal MP Peter Schiefke promised that if he's elected, he would create a policy around due diligence for guests of the Speaker in the House of Commons. He also said he would apologize to his counterpart in Ukraine for the issue that led to his predecessor's resignation.

Two assistant deputy Speakers — the NDP's Carol Hughes, from Ontario, and Liberal Alexandra Mendes from Quebec — are also running.

Liberal MP Stéphane Lauzon withdrew from the election just before speeches got underway.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were in attendance during the speeches, but Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was absent, as was Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Following speeches, candidates mingled with other MPs from all sides, appearing to vie for their support as an anonymous ranked ballot voting process got underway.

MPs rank their candidate in order of their preference, but it's not necessary to rank all seven candidates. There would only be a second vote in order to break a tie.

Rota had stepped down from the role a week ago amid international controversy over his actions during a recent visit by Ukraine's president.

Rota invited a veteran who served in a Nazi unit in the Second World War to the House of Commons chamber, and asked parliamentarians and dignitaries to applaud the man as a hero.

Tuesday's election is considered rare because it's happening mid-sitting rather than right after an election.

Liberal MPs gathered early in the morning for a caucus meeting with Trudeau to discuss the vote.

Following the meeting, Fergus said: "I'm feeling nervous but I'm feeling optimistic."

Other MPs were mum on who they'd vote for, while Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said he'll be voting for the "best candidate."

Asked how the Liberal caucus was doing mid-way through their meeting to discuss their strategy, Immigration Minister Marc Miller quipped: "We're doing math. It’s complicated. Where have you been the last eight years?"

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