Northern Ontario is now running the House.

Anthony Rota, the Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming, will have the difficult task of maintaining order in a minority Parliament, as the new Speaker of the House of Commons.

Rota was dragged to the Speaker’s chair on Thursday after a single round of voting by his House colleagues. Parliamentary tradition has it that once elected, the Speaker is dragged involuntarily to the chair, owing to British history when members were legitimately reluctant because they could face the wrath of the monarch.

The former assistant deputy speaker takes over from Liberal MP Geoff Regan, who was the incumbent speaker and also put his name forward for re-election this Parliament. Two Conservative MPs, Joël Godin and Bruce Stanton and NDP MP Carol Hughes also put their names forward.

“I want to thank you for the confidence you have placed in me, and I hope that I won’t disappoint you,” said Rota. “My promise is to be fair, to be non-partisan, and to do my best in this House at your service.”

In an emotional moment, Rota added that he was “very proud to be the first speaker of Italian descent to sit in this chair.”

Speaker gets 260k, sweeping estate

Despite the tradition of being dragged reluctantly, the Speaker’s chair is now highly coveted — and for good reason.

The occupant is given a salary of roughly $260,000 and the use of two separate residences: an apartment on Parliament Hill, and a gorgeous, sweeping estate called The Farm in the Gatineau hills that is maintained by the National Capital Commission.

(The Farm is closed to the public, but House members, Senators and Press Gallery members are sometimes invited to attend receptions there.)

The Speaker’s most visible role is to maintain decorum during the often-raucous Question Period, as well as defending the rights and privileges of House members, including by chastising members when they speak out of line.

Question Period is supposed to be when House members can hold the government to account for its policies and actions, but it sometimes devolves into fierce bickering.

The Speaker’s more technical duties involve interpreting the large body of written and unwritten Parliamentary rules in a non-partisan manner. The House of Commons itself also has a budget of about $500 million for things like administration.

Rota wants to install 'suggestion box'

On Thursday morning, each candidate for Speaker received five minutes to make their pitch to the other members of the House of Commons. The House then suspended for 30 minutes, to allow for members to deliberate.

During the pitch sessions, Rota said he would install a “suggestion box” for how to maintain order and respect in the chamber, a concern he said was expressed to him most often.

“If elected, I will be installing one as soon as I can get one built,” he said.

He also said he believed that the speaker’s “personality is a core component in ensuring that we have a respectful House.”

Rota also committed to implementing “regular gatherings” from small groups of MPs to get to know each other better.

Voting began at 10:51 a.m. Eastern. It took 26 minutes for members to cast their ballots, and then another hour and fifteen minutes to count up the votes.

Bloc MP Louis Plamondon, the dean of the House, was the presiding officer for the Speaker’s election. It was the fourth time he has done this job — and it was becoming a habit, he quipped in his introductory remarks.

“You’ll find that things go by very quickly here,” he told his less-seasoned colleagues.

“When I was elected there were no cell phones, there was no IT, there were no fax machines. It was paradise!”

Congratulations to MPP Rota for his elevation to a position with a lot of history, precedents, and subtle power behind it.

Without knowing anything about Mr. Rota I can assume that anyone who has lived, and survived, in Northern Ontario is made of sturdy stuff. Between the winters and the black flies; fortitude, patience, and innovative thinking are required. All qualities most assuredly needed by House Speakers.

Given the compositon of this current Parliament, Mr. Rota will no doubt have a lot of people wrangling to do. A tough hide and spurs will be essential tools.

I'm in his riding (Nipissing-Temiskaming) and I can assure National Observer readers that this is a person of great integrity, intelligence and skill. This may be a polarized Parliament; but if anyone can persuade MPs to behave like civilized grown-ups, and respect one another, it's Rota. Really, really good news.