He’s spent two decades in the House of Commons – first as an MP, then a minister, and now as Speaker of the House. But for many years while growing up in Nova Scotia, Geoff Regan didn’t imagine a life in politics – despite the fact his father was the province’s premier and a former federal minister, and his maternal grandfather a former member of Parliament.
“Even at the very beginning of my 20s I didn’t feel I was going to be comfortable speaking in front of an audience,” Regan told The West Block’s Tom Clark while flying high above the nation’s capital in Clark’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
“I was nervous. I had a bit of a speech impediment.”
The impediment, Regan explained, is what speech pathologists called “cluttering.” Basically, he said, he’d speak too quickly, not pronounce every syllable and end up merging words.
But when he turned 22, Regan said, he felt he had to deal with the issue. So he dropped into a Halifax speech clinic where he was provided with lessons and exercises and joined Toastmasters, a club where people learn and practise public speaking skills.
While that practice may have helped give Regan the confidence boost needed to run for office, he said he never – not even once – stood in front of the mirror to practise the “order” command Speakers so often have to deliver during debates and daily question periods.
Some highlights from the interview:
Political lessons from his father: A good MP can lose an election if the trend is against him or her.
“That helped me certainly when, in 1997, when I took what I like to call my ‘involuntary sabbatical.’” (Regan was defeated in the 1997 federal election, but regained his seat in 2000.)
Best perk of the Speaker job: Regan said he enjoys hosting MPs for dinners in the Speaker’s Centre Block dining room. “The conversations among members of Parliament, when you get them relaxed and the TVs aren’t on … they can be very interesting.”
Sleepless nights on the Hill: There is a furnished, private apartment tucked behind the House of Commons in Centre Block, where the Speaker can rest his weary head after a night of late votes or debates. Regan has spent only one night there, and it was not restful.
“When the House concluded, I went to the apartment and went to sleep at about 12:30 a.m. Sometime around 3:30 in the morning, what sounded like a masonry saw started up.” Dressed in pyjamas, the Speaker made his way to the guards on duty, who somehow managed to make the noise stop. Not three hours later, though, construction crews were back on the job, hammering away.
“So it was a short night.”