Peter Milliken

Peter Andrew Stewart Milliken (born November 12, 1946) is a Canadian lawyer and politician. He was a member of the House of Commons of Canada from 1988 until his retirement in 2011 and served as Speaker of the House for 10 years beginning in 2001. Milliken represented the Ontario riding of Kingston and the Islands as a member of the Liberal Party. On October 12, 2009, he became the longest serving Speaker of the House of Commons in Canadian history.[1] His Speakership was notable for the number of tie-breaking votes he was required to make as well as for making several historic rulings. Milliken also has the unique distinction of being the first Speaker to preside over four Parliaments. His legacy includes his landmark rulings on Parliament's right to information, which are key elements of parliamentary precedent both in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth.

Milliken chose to stand down from Parliament at the 2011 federal election.[2] His successor as Speaker, Andrew Scheer, was elected on June 2, 2011.[3]

Milliken was born in Kingston, Ontario, the eldest of seven children to a physician father,[4] and is a descendant of United Empire Loyalists who left the new United States of America after the American Revolution. He is the cousin of John Matheson, a former Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) best known for his prominent role in adopting the red maple leaf as the Flag of Canada.[5] Milliken holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Economics from Queen's University (1968), a Bachelor of Arts (1970) and Master of Arts (1978) in Jurisprudence from Oxford University, (Wadham College), in England, and a Bachelor of Laws (1971) degree from Dalhousie University.[6] He was active in student politics, and served a year as speaker of the student government's assembly at Queen's. In 1967-68, he worked as a special assistant to federal cabinet minister George J. McIlraith.[7]

Called to the Ontario Bar in 1973, Milliken was a partner at the prestigious Kingston law firm, Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little & Bonham, before entering political life. He also lectured on a part-time basis at the Queen's University School of Business from 1973 to 1981, became a governor of the Kingston General Hospital in 1977, and has been a trustee with the Chalmers United Church.[8] As a consultant, he produced the Milliken Report on the future of Queen's University athletics in the late 1970s. A fan of classical music, he has sung with the Pro Arte Singers and the Chalmers United Church Choir as well as serving on the board of the Kingston Symphony.[9] He also often canoes, taking week-long trips in northern Canada.[4] In 2001, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam.[10] He is an honorary member of the Royal Military College of Canada, and an Honorary Patron of Choirs Ontario.

Milliken has long been active in political matters, having served as president of the Frontenac Addington Provincial Liberal Association Kingston in the 1980s. He subscribed to the Canadian House of Commons Hansard at age sixteen, and once wrote a thesis paper on Question Period.[11] Unlike most MPs, he was already well-versed in parliamentary procedure at the time of his first election.[12]

Milliken won the Kingston and the Islands Liberal nomination in 1988 over local alderman Alex Lampropoulos,[13] and defeated well-known Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Flora MacDonald by 2,712 votes in the 1988 general election. The Progressive Conservatives won the election with a majority government, and in early 1989 Milliken was named as the Liberal Party's critic for electoral reform, associate critic for senior citizens, and whip for eastern and northern Ontario.[14] Shortly thereafter, he was named to the parliamentary standing committee on elections, privileges, procedures and private members' business.[15] He supported Jean Chrétien for the federal Liberal leadership in 1990.[16]

He was easily re-elected in the 1993 election, as the Liberal Party won a majority government, and was named to a two-year term as parliamentary secretary to the Government House Leader in December 1993. He also became chair of the Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee.[17] Milliken was a leading candidate for Speaker of the House in January 1994, but lost to Gilbert Parent.

Milliken supported fellow Kingstonian John Gerretsen for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in 1996, and moved to the camp of the eventual winner, Dalton McGuinty, after Gerretsen was eliminated on the second ballot.[18] In the same year, Milliken and fellow Liberal MP John Godfrey introduced the Godfrey-Milliken Bill as a satirical response to the American Helms-Burton Act.[19] The Bill, which would have allowed the descendants of United Empire Loyalists to claim compensation for land seized in the American Revolution, was drafted in response to provisions in the Helms-Burton Act which sought to punish Canadian companies for using land nationalised by Fidel Castro's government in Cuba.[20] Godfrey and Milliken gave a twenty-minute presentation on their bill in Washington, D.C. in early 1997, and were greeted with warm applause from local Helms-Burton opponents.[21]

Milliken was re-elected for a third term in 1997 election, and became Deputy Speaker of the House for the parliament that followed.[22]

Milliken was elected Speaker of the House in late January 2001, after five ballots of a secret vote of all MPs held at the first sitting of parliament following the 2000 federal election.[23] He was widely praised by government and opposition MPs for his rulings, which were considered very fair.[24] He also brought new life to the chair in delivering his rulings and remarks with witty humour. Elected for his fifth term in 2004, he was the unanimous choice of MPs to be re-elected Speaker for the next parliament.[25]

In 2005, Milliken prevented an early federal election by breaking a tie vote on the second reading of Bill C-48, an amendment to the 2005 federal budget, which was a confidence motion. The vote was 152 in favour and 152 against prior to his vote, and he voted in favour of the bill. The Speaker does not vote except in the case of a tie, and must vote, by precedent, in such a way as to keep the matter open for further consideration if possible (i.e. passing C-48 to allow further debate for a third reading). This was the first time in Canadian history that a Speaker used his tie-breaker vote on a confidence motion. Upon rising to give brief remarks and cast his vote, he remarked "I don't know why honourable members keep doing this to me."[26][27]

Milliken won his riding for a sixth time in the 2006 election, as the Conservative Party won a minority government nationally. Though his party was no longer in government, he was re-elected Speaker of the House for the 39th Parliament on April 3, 2006, defeating fellow Liberals Diane Marleau and Marcel Proulx on the first ballot.[28] With his re-election, he became only the second Speaker chosen from an opposition party in the history of the House of Commons (James Jerome, Liberal Member of Parliament for the Sudbury riding during the Joe Clark government, being the other).[29]

In February 2007, Milliken rejected the Conservative government's challenge of an opposition bill that commits the government to implement the Kyoto Accord. The government argued that the bill introduced new spending, and could not be introduced by someone who was not a minister. Milliken ruled that the bill did not specifically commit the government to any new spending, and was therefore in order. The bill was approved by the house, despite government opposition.[30]

Milliken was re-elected for a seventh term in the 2008 federal election, which again yielded a Conservative minority government. On November 18, after five ballots, he was elected for the fourth time as Speaker. On October 12, 2009, he became the longest serving Canadian House of Commons speaker in history.[31]

The Speaker only votes in order to break a tie. Speakers of the House of Commons have only needed to vote eleven times in Canadian parliamentary history – he cast five of the ten votes since Confederation.[1]

On March 18, 2010, the three opposition parties asked Milliken to make a pivotal ruling on a question of privilege (specifically the power to send for persons, papers and records), in regards to Parliament's request for documents on .[32][33][34][35][36] On April 27, 2010, Milliken ruled that Parliament had a right to ask for uncensored documents. He asked that all House leaders, ministers and MPs to come to a collective solution by May 11, 2010 "without compromising the security and confidentiality contained.".[37][38]

On March 9, 2011, Milliken made two historic rulings finding a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament against the government of Stephen Harper,[39] referring the matter to the Procedure Committee. The House subsequently voted to "agree with the finding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament" in supporting a non-confidence vote on March 25, 2011. Prior to the vote, the last House of Commons which Milliken would preside over, the Speaker was praised by MPs from all sides of the House. Conservative Government House Leader John Baird paid homage to Milliken's career, recalling a meeting he'd had with the . “The Speaker of the Commons there said that he and Speakers from all around the Commonwealth look to you as their leader and their inspiration as someone who has conducted himself very professionally. For a Canadian to hear that from a British Speaker is a pretty remarkable conclusion and assessment of your role as Speaker." Baird predicted that Milliken would “go down in history as, if not one of the best Speakers, the best Speaker the House of Commons has ever had."

His is also known to be the first person to start the tradition of the Speaker releasing an official Scotch whisky.[40]

Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff said of Milliken, “You have taught us all – sometimes with modest rebuke, sometimes with stern force of argument – to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that alone all Canadians will be grateful to you."[41]

On June 18, 2011, Milliken chaired the Liberal Party of Canada constitutional convention which was held by conference call in order to decide whether or not to amend the party's constitution in order to allow the party's leadership convention to be delayed until 2013.[42]

Later that month, Milliken joined Queen's University as a Fellow at the School of Policy Studies where he teaches and conducts research.[43] He has also returned to the firm of Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham LLP as Senior Advisor. Milliken also now serves as an elected member of the Governing Board of The University Club at Queen's University in Kingston.

On May 9, 2012, Milliken's official portrait was unveiled on Parliament Hill, and was hung in the Speaker's Corridor of the Centre Block. The portrait was painted by American-Canadian artist Paul Wyse.

All electoral information is taken from Elections Canada. Italicized expenditures from elections after 1997 refer to submitted totals, and are presented when the final reviewed totals are not available. Expenditures from 1997 refer to submitted totals.