Mr. Speaker comes home
He may be officially “retired” after an exemplary 23-year career in politics, but Peter Milliken – the 2011 winner of the QUAA’s Alumni Achievement Award and Canada’s longest-serving Speaker of the House – is showing no signs of slowing down.
Retirement, if you can call it that, agrees with Peter Milliken, Arts’68. In fact, some of his past colleagues from the parliamentary world have noticed how relaxed the retired Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands and 34th Speaker of the House of Commons – after 10 years in the chair, the longest serving in Canadian history – now seems.
Last fall when Milliken was Down Under, visiting Canberra with a delegation of former Canadian and New Zealand parliamentarians, he took in a session of Australia’s House of Representatives. When he did so, Speaker Harry Jenkins pointed up at the visitors’ gallery. “I say to former speaker Milliken that he should not overly show his amusement at my discomfort during question time,’’ Jenkins said with a laugh. “‘I do, however, note the benefits of being a former speaker: he appears to be in robust health.’’
Speakers who are looking for a role model need look no farther than Milliken, who in October received the annual Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honour the Queen’s University Alumni Association bestows.
Since choosing not to stand for re-election in the May 2011 campaign (after being elected by Kingston voters in 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008 – beating Sir John A’s local record) Milliken has started a new chapter in his life. A much sought-after speaker for groups such as the Canadian Club, Milliken has been feted by diplomats and parliamentarians alike, has joined the Kingston law firm of Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham LLP, and has taken up an appointment as a Fellow of the School of Policy Studies. “Parliament’s loss has been our gain,” Principal Daniel Woolf has said.
The citation for Milliken’s Alumni Achievement Award, read by Principal Woolf at the QUAA’s gala awards dinner for honourees, noted that when Milliken was a politics student at Queen’s in the mid-1960s, he had already developed the same focus and determination that would be so much in evidence during his years of service as an MP and Speaker of the House.
Milliken was moved to receive his QUAA award. “It was very special because of my life-long and very proud association with Queen’s,” he said. (Being part of a huge Queen’s “clan” of Millikens, Cartys, Mathesons, and McQuaigs, he was virtually born a Queen’sman.) Referring to his Policy Studies appointment, he added, “I’m also delighted now to have a more formal association with the University. Parliament’s role in the public policy process is crucial, and so interacting with students, professors, and staff is very important to me.”
It’s widely known that even as a schoolboy he read Hansard for fun. “When I was a student at Queen’s I was able to develop on and improve my interests in Parliament, parliamentary procedure, and politics in general. I was very fortunate to study under Prof. C.E.S. (Ned) Franks [Arts’59, MA’65], one of Canada’s leading experts on Parliamentary matters. Ned and his wife Daphne were in the gallery when I was first elected Speaker and that meant a great deal to me and my family. Outside of the classroom, I served as the AMS’s Outer Council Speaker and this benefitted me as well.”
It also didn’t hurt that Parliament Hill was only a couple of hours away from Peter’s native Kingston. When his cousin John Matheson, Arts’40, LLD’84, was serving as Leeds MP in the Liberal caucus of Lester B. Pearson, Milliken often visited Ottawa. Some of his fondest memories involve meeting, while a Queen’s student, such political legends as Pearson, John Diefenbaker, and a young MP from Montreal by the name of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Decades later, while serving as Speaker, Milliken made it clear he hadn’t forgotten his Queen’s days. Every year he arranged for Queen’s Model Parliament to hold its annual sessions in the actual House of Commons chamber, and he also hosted a garden party for the Ottawa Branch of the QUAA at the Speaker’s summer home in the Gatineau hills.