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NDP balked at deal to block young Tory's ascent to Speaker's chair

Tory MP Andrew Scheer jokingly tries resist Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton as they escort him to the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons on June 2, 2011.


Andrew Scheer has been in the Speaker's chair for about all of a New York minute - and already there is whispering in the Commons corridors about his age, his competence and his ability to keep the House from erupting into schoolyard antics.

An apparent deal between the NDP and the Tories to elect a Speaker with a few more wrinkles on his face did not materialize. NDP MP Denise Savoie, the only opposition member running for the post and the only woman, did not drop out of the race to allow for a showdown on the final ballot between Mr. Scheer and Calgary Tory Lee Richardson, who at 63 years of age is much older (and some believe, wiser).

Mr. Scheer is, of course, the 32-year-old who was elected last week to the perk-filled post of presiding over the House of Commons. He is the youngest Speaker in the history of the House of Commons. The Saskatchewan Conservative begins his new job in earnest Monday as Parliament resumes for the delivery of the Harper government's first majority budget.

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Decorum is the word of the season in political Ottawa - and it's his job to ensure an elevated tone and improved behaviour in a chamber that was becoming more and more dysfunctional. In addition, he is overseeing the management of the Commons administration, which is a $400-million-a-year operation.

But there is grumbling that he is too young to be what is in effect the chief operating officer of such a large organization. And when push comes to shove in the Chamber, there are questions of whether he will remain totally non-partisan. He is known as a very nice guy - but also a Stephen Harper guy.

Here's what was happening behind the scenes, according to several sources. Mr. Richardson and his team had approached the NDP and their candidate, Ms. Savoie. The suggestion was that she drop off the ballot when it came down to just a few candidates as a way of trying to beat Mr. Scheer. In return she would be guaranteed the deputy speaker post, according to a source.

The NDP have 103 members and the Conservatives have 166, so it was clear how the vote would split if she and Mr. Scheer remained on the final ballot. But the rumoured deal didn't work out as Ms. Savoie stayed on until the bitter end and Mr. Richardson was forced out after the fifth and second-last ballot. The candidate with the fewest votes has to drop off after each secret ballot.

Some MPs are saying now the New Democrats really believed they had a shot at placing Ms. Savoie in the Speaker's chair and that they only needed to switch six Tory votes to make that happen. But it never materialized. Now, some MPs are saying the NDP - which is new to Official Opposition - blew it.

And so, with the House only sitting for two days so far, the games have already begun.

What's in the budget?

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Poverty is what the opposition wants to see mentioned in Jim Flaherty's re-warmed budget Monday.

Jack Layton and his Official Opposition NDP wanted to see every senior lifted out of poverty. But he told CTV's Question Period Sunday that he believes this budget - a rehash of the one introduced in March, which was never dealt with because of the election - will give "another large tax reduction, billions of dollars, to the banks and oil companies."

In addition, Mr. Layton is concerned with the proposed cuts. The Conservative government has said it needs to find $4 billion a year in spending reductions and efficiencies to wipe out the deficit, but it has yet to lay out its plan.

"And so one of our jobs as the opposition is to make sure that we're forcing the government, if we can put it that way, ... to be open about what it is they're going to be cutting back, because of course balancing books is very important to do," he said.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, meanwhile, says he too is "looking for the word 'poverty' in the budget."

"Couldn't find it in the Throne Speech," he said Monday morning.

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What's in a seat?

Bob Rae and his 33 Liberals are relegated to the southeast corner of the Commons chamber - very bad seats but not the worst seat in the House. That belongs to Elizabeth May, the Green Party Leader, who is right against the back curtains, jammed between a Bloc MP and the translators booth. She sits behind the Liberals.

Last week, Mr. Rae turned to her in the House and said he had her seat 32 years ago when he won a by-election as a young NDP MP and shared that desk at the very, very back with Fonse Faour, the first NDP MP ever elected from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The self-deprecating Mr. Rae noted to Ms. May how far he had come in 32 years.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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