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Monday 17 November 2008

Speaker's chair: Can Comartin beat Milliken?

The first order of business when the House of Commons meets tomorrow will be the election of a new Speaker.

Liberal MP Peter Milliken has sat in the Speaker's Chair for 7 years and is running again in hopes of breaking Lucien Lamoureaux's all time record of 8 years.

Three Tory MPs are also standing for the position as is NDP MP Joe Comartin (though more MPs may end up being on the ballot).

My prediction is that if Joe Comartin and Peter Milliken are on the final ballot then Comartin will win. This is for two reasons:

1) Milliken, though experienced, is perceived as a weak Speaker and has been blamed, in part, for the lack of decorum in the House in recent years.

2) The Tories are convinced that if Milliken is defeated he'll resign from the House of Commons before the next election opening up his Kingston seat which the Tories think they can win in a by-election.

With the opposition parties holding the majority of seats there's no desire by them to place a government MP in the Speaker's chair though Milliken himself managed to keep his position in the 2004 Liberal led minority parliament. This was largely because he was a known quantity in a then unfamiliar minority situation, was seen as suitably neutral and because with a razor's edge seat count keeping a Liberal in the Speaker's chair and thus denying him a vote in normal circumstances was seen as advantageous by the opposition parties.

The seat count in the current parliament does not lend itself to close votes so having one extra vote either way is less of an issue therefore there's no need for the opposition to tolerate a government MP as Speaker. Therefore, I don't see any of the three Tory candidates for the Speakership prevailing on the final ballot.

The only question is can Comartin make it on the final ballot or will one of the three Tory candidates outpoll him and knock him off before the final show. With three Tories in the running (at least) the Tory vote will be split making it easier for Comartin to see them off. This will particularly be the case if Comartin wins BQ support which is possible given Comartin's Franco-Ontarian roots and the fact that he is arguably more fluent in French than Milliken.

Moreover, the Tories are convinced that if Milliken loses the Speakership he'll quit Parliament and are also convinced that they can win his Kingston seat in a by-election so they are especially motivated to beat Milliken even if it means supporting an NDPer. Some of the more tactically minded Tories such as Tony Clement, John Baird and possibly Stephen Harper himself have probably already realized that Comartin has a better chance of beating Milliken then one of their fellow Tory MPs and will probably vote for Comartin from the outset and convince enough of their colleagues to do the same in order to ensure a Comartin-Milliken finale which Comartin will win and Milliken will be the first incumbent to lose a secret ballot for the Speakership since John Bosley lost the very first such election in 1986.
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