Andrew Scheer's new job: Kindergarten cop

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Sun Media, Friday, June 3, 2011

The election of a Speaker of the House is like a papal conclave in Rome — without the puff of white smoke.

The process is anything but transparent, and the favourite hardly ever wins.

After each ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, along with anyone receiving less than 5% of the votes.

The surviving candidates go on to the next ballot, with no idea of where they stand, since the House doesn’t divulge how many votes they have.

Talk about a crapshoot — staying on the ballot without knowing whether you’re in first or sixth place.

With eight candidates in the race Thursday, the mathematical possibility of seven secret ballots could not be excluded, though six ballots were necessary in the end.

And with so many candidates, the question was who would emerge as the consensus second choice.

In five-minute speeches to the House Thursday morning, all eight candidates made the requisite references to improving the tone and temper of the place.

Three consecutive minority Houses, and the need to feed soundbites to the media beast, have resulted in a toxic environment.

Visiting high school students, including my own daughter, have gone away shocked and appalled by hooting and howling that wouldn’t be tolerated in their school yards, let alone their classrooms.

A majority House will, by definition, be a more civilized and less contentious place. It already looked different Thursday, with the NDP trading places with the Liberals, and Jack Layton sitting across from Stephen Harper as Leader of the Opposition.

The House committees are also less likely to be gong shows and star chambers, since the Conservatives will have a majority on all of them, and name all the committee chairs except for the ethics and public accounts committee, which by tradition go the opposition and will be chaired by the NDP.

Out of sight

As for the Liberals, how far they’ve fallen could be measured by the distance of their deputation from the Speaker’s chair, nearly out of sight and certainly out of mind, down under the clock at the far end of the House.

The two frontrunners for Speaker, so designated by the media, were the NDP’s Denise Savoie and Conservative Andrew Scheer, only 32, and already a former deputy speaker.

This was a bit like the Vatican press corps picking a “papabili” and invariably getting it wrong.

But neither was seen to have much room to grow after the first ballot. Savoie had little support outside the NDP caucus, in what is, after all, a majority Conservative House.

And Scheer is from the Refom wing of the Conservative party, a social Conservative with virtually no support among NDP, Liberal and Bloc MPs.

For subsequent ballots, it was all about growth. Which was where Lee Richardson came in as the third place candidate.

The Conservative MP from Calgary Centre, a congenial and convivial spirit, accumulated a lot of goodwill with colleagues on all sides, though not quite enough to get to the final ballot.

When he was eliminated on the fifth ballot, it was left to Savoie and Scheer. Left versus Right in a Left-Right House.

The point where the blue team outnumbered the orange.

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