Former B.C. legislature clerk George McMinn (left) and others watch as Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Raj Chouhan, then assistant deputy speaker, tries out replica speaker’s chair set up for tourists, spring 2013. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Former B.C. legislature clerk George McMinn (left) and others watch as Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Raj Chouhan, then assistant deputy speaker, tries out replica speaker’s chair set up for tourists, spring 2013. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

New speaker takes charge as B.C. legislature starts brief session

Burnaby MLA was assistant during Darryl Plecas era

Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Raj Chouhan took over as B.C. legislature speaker Monday, without the drama that accompanied his predecessor Darryl Plecas’s decision to split from the B.C. Liberals and support an NDP minority government in 2017.

Chouhan is part of a 57-seat NDP majority after October’s snap election, making his election as speaker a formality as Premier John Horgan heads into a brief pre-Christmas session to present plans for COVID-19 containment and recovery. Plecas retired after two terms as Abbotsford South MLA, after triggering a police investigation into spending and personnel issues that continues with two special prosecutors overseeing it.

Born in the Punjab province of India, Chouhan immigrated to Canada in 1973 and has been a lifelong advocate for labour rights, human rights and racial equality. Premier John Horgan welcomed Chouhan as an immigrant farm worker who was fired from his job in B.C., launching him on a career of advocacy for farm workers. Horgan noted that Chouhan is the first South Asian to hold the position in B.C.

“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 said Dec. 7. “There was a time when people of colour were not even allowed in this building, much less this chamber.”

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In a brief speech after being acclaimed with no one else standing for the speaker job, Chouhan credited fellow farm worker advocate Charan Gill and others for their work.

Speaking to reporters after being acclaimed to the position, Chouhan described himself as a “lifelong member of the NDP and a very proud trade unionist,” but emphasized that his role is strictly non-partisan.

“My focus is going to be to make sure that this place runs really efficiently, and everybody’s concerns are taken care of,” Chouhan said. “I haven’t seen all the recommendations made by speaker Plecas, but my focus is going to be to make question period become the most dull and boring question period.”


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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