Andrew Scheer, the new speaker of Canada's House of Commons, speaks after he was elected June 2 in Ottawa, Ontario.

New Speaker doesn't hide his Catholic faith

  • June 7, 2011

OTTAWA - The newly-elected Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer, 32, made history June 3 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.

The father of four represents Regina-Qu’Appelle which he first won 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 member of the parish. His parents and his wife were in the gallery during the vote.

Scheer's Catholicity has got him in the spotlight on Parliament Hill in the past. 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.” The attacks coincided with the release of Marci McDonald’s polemical book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada that asserted fundamentalist Christians held too much sway in the Harper government.

Scheer told CCN in an interview 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“The last time it was a crime to be a Catholic was in 1827 in Nova Scotia when they repealed the penal laws,” he said.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.”

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 a gruelling seven hours of voting June 3 in a field of eight candidates.

Canada's New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and Prime Minister Stephen Harper lead new House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, center, to the speaker's chair“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. I have come to appreciate that on a personal level with each and every member.”

He promised to serve the House of Commons and its members. The Speaker only votes on issues in the event of a tie.

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 2006-2008.

But the Speaker’s role commands far more responsibility than refereeing the debate on the floor of the House. He must oversee a budget of $441.6 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.

One of the biggest drawbacks Scheer faced was his age and lack of work experience outside politics. But Scheer met the challenge with humour.  

“I have heard some feedback about my age and I know that I am getting quite old now,” he said.  

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.

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

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