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25th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth – Opening Ceremony

" Fellow speakers and presiding officers, distinguished guests, mesdames et messieurs, first and foremost, a warm welcome to you all on this somewhat chilly day; let me assure you that my fellow Canadians and I feel the cold as much as you do; however, over time, we have learned to adapt to the weather by perfecting our swearing in both official languages.

As President Furey said, we are delighted to be with you as we meet in Ottawa for this 25th Commonwealth Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers.

It is a matter of great pride to us that the very first Conference was held in Canada, in 1969. An initiative created by the Honourable Lucien Lamoureux, 27th Speaker of the House of Commons, it focused on the role of Speakers within parliamentary institutions. Then, as today, the aim of the Conference was to maintain, foster and encourage impartiality and fairness on the part of Speakers and Presiding Officers of Parliaments; promote knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy in its various forms; and develop parliamentary institutions.

In 2004, my predecessor, Speaker Peter Milliken, had the pleasure of hosting his fellow Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers, and now, following my election as Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada in December 2019, I am honoured to receive you, along with Speaker Furey. I am very new to this role, and this is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from so many experienced colleagues and to discuss issues of common concern.

This gathering offers us some time to engage in meaningful discussions on matters of importance to each of us individually as Speakers, and to us as a community of leaders within our legislatures.

Last year, our countries celebrated the 70th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth, and the theme chosen for this anniversary was: "A connected Commonwealth". I think that describes very well the global commitment that has been made through the determination of our family of culturally and geographically diverse nations to work together in friendship.

In fact, we too have come together for a family reunion of sorts.

Because the Commonwealth is a family, large, diverse and far-flung; and while we may be separated geographically, every member is bound to one another by shared values of democracy, free speech, human rights, and the rule of law, even as each carves out its own unique path for itself and for its people.

Like any family, we have had our differences over the years, but we have also supported one another in difficult times, and celebrated our achievements.

Our governments, institutions and people connect on a number of levels. We work together to protect our natural environment and the ocean which we share and that connects many of our nations. We cooperate on trade to encourage economic empowerment for all people, in particular women and youth and marginalised communities. We take part in academic exchanges and friendly sporting rivalry, and we encourage our young people to participate in sport for development and peace.

The Commonwealth is an important tool for action for parliamentarians seeking change.

And this conference of Commonwealth Presidents not only promotes democratic and parliamentary institutions, it also provides a forum in which Speakers of Commonwealth parliaments can discuss best practices in their respective legislatures.

This flexibility allows the presiding officers from large and small, old and newer countries of the Commonwealth to meet and discuss issues from their own unique perspectives.

This year we are exploring a variety of themes; from transparency to adaptability, from security to inclusiveness, we will hear from many of our colleagues and learn how their experiences have shaped their parliaments and how we can benefit from their knowledge.

In addition to offering participants plenary sessions and workshops in this splendid Senate Building and in the newly renovated West Block which houses the interim House of Commons, the Parliament of Canada is eager to show off some of the many attractions our capital has to offer. Over the next few days, you will have the chance to see the National Gallery and take part in some winter activities at the Château Montebello; I will even volunteer to show interested Speakers how to build a snowman!

So once again, welcome to Canada’s Parliament and to the 25th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth; let us make the most of this opportunity to come together, celebrate our friendship and continue to strengthen the Commonwealth ties that bind."