Milliken: Speaker seeking sixth term

Liberal incumbent Peter Milliken, left, speaks at the Jan. 10 debate, as Independent candidate Karl Eric Walker looks on.
Liberal incumbent Peter Milliken, left, speaks at the Jan. 10 debate, as Independent candidate Karl Eric Walker looks on.
Jon Wilinofsky

Heading into the election that could return him to Parliament for a sixth term, incumbent Liberal MP and Speaker of the House Peter Milliken is campaigning as a self-described voice of experience.

“I’ve learned a lot about the constituency and its people since the first election,” he told the Journal at his Bath Road campaign office. “You do grow into the job.”

Milliken has been involved with politics since high school, when he volunteered on Liberal Edgar J. Benson’s 1963 re-election campaign and was impressed enough to later join the party.

“I just thought it was the best one,” he said.

Milliken was born and raised in Kingston, but said his experiences working with constituents over the 17 years he’s represented the area in Parliament have provided him with new insight into the city’s public life.

“It’s enriching really, because you get to know what other people are doing to make the [riding] better.”

Milliken flagged health care as one of the most pressing concerns for Kingston and the Islands.

“It’s a national priority, but it impacts on Kingston because of the medical school at Queen’s and the teaching hospitals that are here because of that,” he said.

He also said student issues are front and centre in the riding, pointing to the increased research funding the Liberal government has already provided, as well as their proposal to begin providing up to $12,000 per student in grants over four years if they are elected to another term.

“Both are important to a student community,” he said.

“The increased funding for research has been, in my view, a real bonanza for Kingston,” he added, noting that research money at Queen’s creates jobs not just for permanent residents but also for students.

“It’s work that is related to what they’re studying, in many cases, so it’s particularly valuable,” he said.

Milliken said serving another term as Speaker will not stop him from representing Kingstonians’ local interests, as has been suggested at some campaign stops in recent weeks, but will in fact raise the riding’s profile.

Back when he represented the riding as a backbench MP and even as deputy Speaker, he said, he found it much more difficult to make his day-to-day negotiations with ministers stand out from those of the other MPs.

As Speaker, although he cannot introduce private member’s bills or ask questions during Question Period, ministers attend to his behind-the-scenes work much faster, he said.

“There’s no fooling around when it’s the Speaker that makes the request,” Milliken said, adding that he thinks fellow representatives pay particular attention to him because of the influence he has over their ability to speak in the House.

“If you ask MPs which is the Speaker’s constituency, they’ll almost all tell you it’s Kingston,” he said.

As Speaker, he added, he will continue to moderate debate according to the House of Commons guidelines concerning conduct, which mainly define what kind of language can be used in debates. Beyond that, he said, there’s not much he can do to make the House—decried by personalities such as former NDP leader Ed Broadbent as uncivil and unprofessional—any more polite.

“The Speaker is elected and is expected to be the servant of the House, not its master,” Milliken said, adding that he has often urged members to show restraint. “It’s for members to make up their minds that they’re going to do this.”

He said he’s not sure MPs will do so any time soon, given that inflammatory comments are more likely to get them media coverage.

“When did you last see an intelligent question or answer played on the news?” he said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

He said the current media-scrum approach to coverage tends to bring out the worst in MPs.

“If the media didn’t cover the bad language and covered the positive things instead, the bad language would disappear,” he said.

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