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Speak up

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Members of Parliament are electing their new speaker today. This will be the first new speaker in a decade after the retirement of Peter Milliken, who served from 2001 until just before this last election. He did not run again.

There are eight candidates running. Speeches begin at 10 a.m. Winnipeg time, with each of the candidates being given five minutes to make their pitch for votes.

The speaker’s election is the first order of business for the new Parliament elected May 2.

The job comes with a $233,247 salary as well as a farmhouse in Gatineau, and a driver. The speaker also gets an apartment in Centre Block, which means his or her commute to work could possibly be the shortest of any MP.

Andrew Scheer, a Conservative from Saskatchewan, is considered the likely front-runner, having served as deputy speaker in the last Parliament and assistant deputy speaker between 2006 and 2008.

Manitoba’s Merv Tweed is also in the running. He made it to the fifth final ballot in 2008 but Milliken ultimately prevailed.

To sweeten the pot, many candidates are hosting hospitality suites for other MPs to woo votes with Starbucks coffee and wine (Tweed), or ice cream and treats from a local dairy in their riding (Conservative Barry Devolin).

NDP MP Denise Savoie, the only NDP candidate vying for the job, joked on CBC Power and Politics Wednesday that she was going to fight for more ice cream flavours in the cafeterias and put wet bars on the shuttle buses moving MPs between the Hill and their offices and meeting spaces just around it.

Every single candidate keeps saying they want to improve decorum in the house.

It’s probably worth noting the candidates pitched that in 2008 as well and the last Parliament was among the most vicious, uncivilized, partisan and downright nasty workplaces Ottawa has ever seen.

The question, of course, is how much power the speaker actually has to impose discipline on MPs. Few believe the existing rules are enough and most think stronger punishments, including the loss of House privileges or even fines, should be imposed on MPs who step out of line.

Decorum has been the number one topic in the month since the election. Many are hopeful the majority situation itself will improve it.

Certainly that’s at least likely.

But the NDP leading the charge on being more civil seems to have hit at least a small snag. Although Jack Layton has been pushing for improved decorum his party has behind the scenes evicting Liberal MPs from their offices.

It is certainly within the NDP’s right as the official opposition, to get choice office space.  And with West block closed for renovations office space in Ottawa is at an even higher premium than before.

So the eviction notices handed to Ralph Goodale (the third-longest-serving MP in Ottawa) and Bob Rae may not really be out of line. But the Conservatives could have evicted Goodale from his Centre Block office years ago but they never did. They never felt the need to do so.

There is just something about the NDP doing it that sort of feels petty, like kicking one’s opponent in the head when they’re already down for the count.

-- Mia Rabson / The Capital Chronicles

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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