WINNIPEG — A rookie member of Parliament says he could better influence Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if he is elected Speaker of the House of Commons instead of remaining one of many Liberal backbenchers.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette made the statement in a town hall meeting in his Winnipeg Centre riding Saturday while explaining to constituents his reasons for running for the Speaker's job in the new Liberal government. A video of the speech was posted online by a local videojournalist.
"I've talked to other Speakers who have been in the position before," Ouellette said in the speech.
"They said, actually, it's a position of great influence because if I have an issue in my riding where I need some funds or I need something to happen ... I would call over the prime minister to my chair," he continued.
"This is what other Speakers have said and perhaps what people don't think about, but you can actually use that influence that you have in the House, because you do control the debate and the prime minister wants to keep you happy."
Ouellette, in an interview afterward, said he wasn't trying to suggest any untoward deal-making, but only showing how Speakers, who don't attend caucus meetings and who don't participate in Question Period, can express their constituents' concerns.
"What I was trying to say is ... we have to allow the Speaker to advocate some way on behalf of his constituents."
Ouellette, 38, has been open about his ambition to win the Speaker's role, despite never having held elected office before. A virtual unknown until last year, he finished a strong third in the Winnipeg mayoral race. In October, he beat NDP incumbent Pat Martin in Winnipeg Centre, one of the country's poorest ridings, on a promise to be a stronger voice for the area.
Ouellette is going up against veteran MPs, including Liberals Geoff Regan, Denis Paradis, Yasmin Ratansi, Mauril Belanger and Scott Simms and Conservative MP Bruce Stanton. Electing a new Speaker is the first order of business when Parliament returns on Thursday.
Kelvin Goertzen, a longtime house leader for Manitoba Opposition Progressive Conservatives, said Saturday that Speakers have to be careful about how they try to influence government decisions.
"While you have a job to represent your constituents and their concerns, it has to be done in a way that isn't making you be, or appear to be, favouring or getting favoured by one party or another. That's hard. It's why being Speaker is more of an art than a science from what I've seen," Goertzen said.
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