NDP leader Jack Layton and Prime Minister Stephen Harper lead new House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, centre, to the speakers chair after he was elected June 2 in Ottawa.

CNS PHOTO | CHRIS WATTIE, REUTERS

NDP leader Jack Layton and Prime Minister Stephen Harper lead new House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, centre, to the speakers chair after he was elected June 2 in Ottawa.

June 13, 2011
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA — The newly-elected speaker of the House of Commons Andrew Scheer, 32, made history June 2 as the youngest MP to be elected to this coveted role that comes with huge responsibilities and accompanying perks.

But Scheer's victory has also sent a message to politicians everywhere that one does not have to separate a robust Catholic faith from public life.

Campaign Life Coalition has rated him pro-life and pro-family based on his voting record and public statements.

About the bill to change the definition of marriage, he told the House, "(The bill) is abhorrent to me, to other Catholics and to every member of every faith community."

But the Saskatchewan MP's stands on issues have not given him a reputation for divisiveness. Instead his faith has given him a reputation for fairness, affability and servant leadership that won him the confidence of fellow MPs after seven hours of voting in a field of eight candidates.

"I have often said that we are all motivated by the same thing," Scheer told the House after he defeated NDP MP Denise Savoie on the final ballot.

"We may disagree fundamentally on issues and ideas, but we all do sincerely want Canada to be the best country it can be."

In his speech earlier that day, Scheer promised to restore decorum and courtesy by playing "a more assertive role in improving the tone of debate in this place."

"We should have a system and a speaker in place to ensure that members do not receive respect from their colleagues until they learn to give it," he said.

He spoke against the toxic language that had characterized so much debate in the last Parliament. "The speaker should ensure that members follow not just the letter of the rules regarding unparliamentary language but the spirit as well."

The father of four represents the Regina-Qu'Appelle constituency which he first won from long-time NDP MP Lorne Nystrom in 2004, but he grew up in Ottawa.

His father, Jim Scheer is a permanent deacon at St. Patrick's Basilica and his mother Mary is an active and devout member of the parish. His parents and wife were in the gallery during the vote.

Last spring, Scheer remained cheerful and unfazed when Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP MP Pat Martin tried to make a political issue out of his hosting a luncheon for MPs, senators and Hill staff featuring a talk by Opus Dei Vicar Msgr. Fred Dolan.

The luncheon prompted Duceppe to accuse the Conservatives of being influenced by the "fundamentalist religious right," and Martin to describe Opus Dei as "creepy."

Scheer told CCN in May 2010 he was disappointed by his colleagues' sentiments. He praised the work people of faith had done for Canada and noted their engagement in public life has never been problematic before.

"The last time it was a crime to be a Catholic was in 1827 in Nova Scotia when they repealed the penal laws," he said. "It is a shame that some people are trying again to make members of certain faith groups disqualified from public life."

The young MP has had plenty of experience in the Speaker's chair, having served as deputy speaker in the last Parliament, and assistant deputy speaker from 2006 to 2008.

The speaker's role commands far more responsibility than refereeing the debate on the floor of the House. He must oversee a budget of $442 million, the House of Commons staff and the services they provide. In addition, he holds responsibility for the ongoing billion-dollar renovations underway on the Hill.

The speaker's job comes with a $233,000 annual salary, an historic residence in the Gatineau Hills, a chauffeured car, an apartment inside Centre Block, lots of opportunities for international travel and a sizeable hospitality budget.

Opposition Leader Jack Layton also called for more civility in the House. "When we do not show respect for each other as individuals, then we are not showing respect for the Canadians who sent us here."

The speaker of the Senate, Noel Kinsella, a Liberal, is also Catholic and a former seminarian at the Irish College. in Rome.