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Green Leader Elizabeth May mulls seeking job as Speaker of House of Commons

“I’m still thinking about it,” May said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Patrick Doyle, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will leave her name on the ballot for the election of a new Speaker in the House of Commons on Tuesday, months after a mild stroke saw her on doctor’s orders not to travel by plane to Ottawa.

May, who represents Saanich-Gulf Islands, is one of several MPs who have stated their intention to leave their name on the ballot.

“I’m still thinking about it,” said May. “I will definitely want to give a speech on Tuesday morning about what a Speaker should do and what the role of a Speaker is.”

By convention, all 338 MPs are considered to be in the running, and MPs who do not want to run for the role must remove themselves from the ballot.

The election will be held Oct. 3 to replace MP Anthony Rota, who stepped down as Speaker Wednesday after drawing international criticism when he invited the House to recognize a 98-year-old Ukranian veteran from his North Bay, Ont. riding who was later revealed to have served in a Nazi unit.

Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon — the longest-serving member of Parliament — is the interim Speaker and will preside over the election.

For a candidate to be successful, they must receive at least 50 per cent of the vote plus one.

May travelled by ferry, train and vehicle to get to Williams Lake on Saturday to join residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad for a National Day of Reconciliation event.

After having a mild stroke on June 29 that left a hematoma or pooled blood in her brain, May is waiting for an MRI to be scheduled to hopefully show the blood is no longer present. Until then, she is not permitted to fly.

May would be unable to get to Ottawa by train in time for Tuesday’s vote anyway, she said. She is permitted to make her speech via live video but in absentia she is not allowed to take part in the secret paper ballot vote.

Monday evening is the last time members of Parliament can withdraw their name from the paper ballot, but MPs can still verbally withdraw Tuesday.

“If I were Speaker, I’d be making sure our rules were enforced,” said May.

A Speaker can demand that MPs apologize if they use unparliamentary language and have an MP removed from the chamber.

May said the Speaker should bring back decorum.

“I’ve never yelled, I’ve never heckled, I’ve never interrupted another person,” said May. “It’s really important to me that we observe our rules and those rules also say you treat everyone with respect.”

On Friday, May spoke to many other MPs who may be leaving their names on the ballot including Chalottetown Liberal MP Sean Casey, Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus and Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris D’Entremont.

The Speaker presides over House of Commons business, acts as an impartial arbiter of House proceedings, and maintains order and civility during debates.

The Speaker can’t be a leader of a party with official status or be a minister.

Although May is a party leader, the Green Party is not officially recognized in the House because the party only has two seats. Twelve seats are required for official party status. That makes May eligible to run for Speaker.

May said this is the first time that being the leader of a party not officially recognized in the House has served her well. May put her name forward for Speaker in 2019.

The Speaker is considered non-partisan and does not sit in a party caucus or take part in debates.

The Speaker enters the House in a procession led by the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the Mace, a symbol of the Speaker’s authority. MPs rise as the Speaker goes to their chair and once it’s determined there are enough MPs in attendance, the Speaker opens the sitting.

If chosen Speaker, May said she would return to the rule that sees the Speaker recognize who speaks in the House and not allow partisan party whips to offer up lists of names to the Speaker as has become the custom.

May is emphatic that she would not have made the mistake Rota did in not thoroughly vetting a constituent invited to sit in the public gallery during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament.

“I feel sick about what happened,” said May, in a phone interview.

“People say it’s embarrassing. It’s not embarrassing. Embarrassing is when you mispronounce somebody’s name. Giving a standing ovation to a Nazi, is mortifying.”

May said that it is uniquely the prerogative of the Speaker to recognize people in the gallery.

May recalled it being impossible for her — making requests through Rota — to have Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki recognized in the House. Many other attempts were also denied, she said.

“I think Speaker Rota broke his own rules to recognize someone from his riding and it’s heartbreaking, it’s a violation and what it means to the Jewish community is unspeakable,” said May.

May suggests being Speaker would be less work than being party leader, but on the other hand she said it would leave her unable to travel to events like CCOP28, to be held Nov. 30 through Dec. 12 in Dubai.

The United Nations annual climate change conference, also known as the Conference of the Parties, is a gathering of world leaders, ministers and negotiators who discuss how climate change should be addressed.

“I think the reality is the Green Party is the only hope for the world right now,” said May.

May said her decision Tuesday will basically be about “making a choice between being Speaker and climate.”

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