CANADA

A youthful new speaker for the House

Carol Goar October 22 1984
CANADA

A youthful new speaker for the House

Carol Goar October 22 1984

A youthful new speaker for the House

CANADA

Carol Goar

John William Bosley, the Conservative member of Parliament for Don Valley West, was about to tee off at Toronto’s Rosedale Golf Club late last month when a political aide telephoned to say that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney wanted to talk to him later. Bosley played six holes, then dropped into the clubhouse to make the telephone call. He emerged elated. “For some reason I was able to hit the ball a lot farther in the second nine,” he recalled last week as he prepared to take on the job that Mulroney had offered him —Speaker of the House of Commons in Canada’s 33rd Parliament—the chief referee of debates and manager of the 3,000-strong Commons staff of aides and pages, cleaners and police. But Bosley’s testing assignment, after only five years as an MP, provoked less surprise among close colleagues than the report that the apparently dedicated bachelor was getting married.

Bosley booked a parliamentary room almost next door to the Commons chamber for his marriage this week to Nicole Novak, a Montreal communications consultant who has helped him improve his French. Fellow Tory MP Donald Blenkarn of Mississauga predicted that Bosley will be a sound Speaker, but added that he was astonished when he learned of the wedding. “I always considered him the freewheeling bachelor type,” said Blenkarn. At 37, Bosley will be the Commons’ youngest Speaker since Albert Sévigny, who was 34, was appointed in 1916. But the former Toronto city alderman and parliamentary secretary to then-Prime Minister Joe Clark has a well-developed respect for Parliament’s rules and traditions. He is also known for his ability to stay cool under pressure. Bosley is, according to Ontario Tory MP Geoff Scott, “a thoughtful, laidback kind of guy with a businesslike approach to things, and that is the tone of the Mulroney government.” He can be expected, colleagues said, to oppose any attempt by the 210-member Conservative majority to rush measures through the 282-seat House. Said Blenkarn: “If one of our ministers tries to play games and ram something through the House, he will be the first one to say no.”

When Parliament resumes on Nov. 5—allowing Bosley and his bride time for a honeymoon—the little-known, bilingual MP will take part in a centuriesold British parliamentary tradition. Mulroney and Opposition Leader John Turner will pretend to drag a resisting Bosley down the aisle of the Commons to the throne-like Speaker’s chair. The pretence dates from 14th-century England when the commoners’ chosen spokesman risked the monarch’s ire or punishment when reporting what the Commons wanted. The modern Speaker courts the displeasure of colleagues, even censure, in a role as important as any of the three party leaders in shaping Parliament’s law-writing process. As well, he sets the tone of the daily debates, allowing them to be scrappy and spontaneous or stiff and formal.

Along with his House duties, Bosley inherits staff problems such as the persistent dilemma over whether to allow parliamentary security guards to carry guns, and a drive for unionization that is developing among the House of Commons employees.

After Bosley’s nomination has been ritually approved, the onetime real estate executive will move out of his cozy house in Ottawa’s chic New Edinburgh district and take over a private apartment behind the Commons chamber and the rambling Kingsmere estate, the Speaker’s country residence in the Gatineau Hills 15 km from Ottawa. The Speaker’s annual salary is $110,900. A personal staff of about 15 includes a chauffeur for his official limousine and a maitre d’ to help entertain a flow of visiting foreign parliamentarians.

In an interview, he fidgeted and smoked incessantly, acknowledging the challenge of a double transition from backbench MP and bachelorhood. But Bosley insisted: “Enervated is a better word than nervous—I’m both nervous and excited.” On his honeymoon, Bosley planned to take along a huge binder with the names and photographs of MPs and books on parliamentary procedure. “Nicole was wonderful about it,” added Bosley. “She just said to make sure I got the books in both languages so I could practise my French.”