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 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.
— With files from Laura Osman.
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