Raj Chouhan was acclaimed as B.C.’s speaker of the legislative assembly on Monday, becoming the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as speaker in any legislature in Canada.
Chouhan, who represents Burnaby-Edmonds has served as a New Democrat MLA for 15 years and has served as the deputy speaker since 2017.
“I am truly grateful to have been entrusted with this role by all members of the legislative assembly,” he said.
“As a proud member of the Indo-Canadian community, I am tremendously proud of this historic occasion and honoured to continue my public service in this new role.”
Chouhan arrived in Canada in 1973 and started working on a farm. He was later fired for speaking up for for the rights of his colleagues and later helped found the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union in 1980.
Premier John Horgan rose in the legislature to congratulate him on his new job.
“Part of you led you to that calling. To organize. To fight for social justice. To resist and speak about racism wherever it emerged. That is who you are,” he said.
“Coming from the fields and now overseeing the commons for all British Columbians is truly extraordinary.”
The election of a speaker takes place on the first sitting day of the legislature after a provincial general election or when the position becomes vacant.
Horgan was re-elected with a majority government on Oct. 24.
The election of a new speaker marks the end of Darryl Plecas’ tumultuous three years in the speaker’s chair. Plecas left the BC Liberal caucus in 2017 and helped the BC NDP minority government remain stable by running to become speaker.
In 2018, then clerk Craig James and then sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were put on administrative leave due to concerns raised by Plecas. Allegations were later detailed in the Plecas Report of chronic misspending of Legislature money.
The actions of both James and Lenz are still part of an ongoing police investigation.
When asked whether he will continue with reforms to modernize the BC Legislature and address accountability issues, Chouhan says he is going to bring his own style to the job.
“My style is my style. I don’t compare myself with anyone else. I am going to be Raj Chouhan,” Chouhan said.
“We will see that all the steps are taken so this work place is more friendly, more practical for everybody.”