KINGSTON, Ont. — While walking down Princess Street in Kingston, several people notice Peter Milliken.
“There’s an easy-working man right there,” a middle-aged man says jovially as he walks by.
Milliken smiles and keeps walking.
Later, he says he didn’t know the man but may have met him at a function or while knocking on doors during his time as the MP for Kingston and the Islands from 1988 until May of this year.
It happens often. He’s a well-known face in these parts. Within a 45-minute period, he says hello or nods his head to about a dozen people.
Milliken is retired, but as the saying goes, you can take the politician out of Ottawa but you can’t take Ottawa out of the politician.
He’s doing his best to do that, however.
Milliken retired just before the May election as the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Commons. He held the title from 2001 until this year.
“Oh, fine,” he says when asked how retirement feels. “I’m glad for the break after all those years. It’s just a lot less work. It’s quite enjoyable.”
The proof is in his attire. Milliken has traded in the black robe for a Merry Christmas tie.
But it’s not like he’s been sitting at home on the couch or at the cottage. Milliken keeps busy. In fact, he has sort of gone back to his roots at his old law firm.
Before entering politics in 1988, Milliken was a partner at Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham LLP. He began his career in 1973.
Milliken is back there now serving as the firm’s counsel. “I’m there to work with their clients and maybe try to attract new clients and all that sort of thing but I’m not there practising law,” he says, adding he’s been out of the legal profession far too long to begin practising again.
The firm, the largest in Kingston, focuses on a number of areas of law, including real estate, labour and employment, and business. According to its web site, the firm has had roots in Kingston since 1894.
On its web site, it says Milliken’s “extensive experience and judgment have placed him in a unique position to provide strategic advice and guidance on a broad range of issues that benefit our firm’s clients.”
When he practised law, Milliken gradually moved into the municipal, labour, and real estate areas after starting out with a general practice. A graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, he went on to Dalhousie University in Halifax to get his law degree in 1971.
Besides his work at the firm, Milliken can also be found in the halls of the Queen’s campus these days. He joined Queen’s as a fellow in the school of policy studies this year.
“I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to do more teaching at Queen’s,” he said at the time. “It’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was elected and I’m happy that I will now be able to do it on a more consistent basis.”
Milliken’s term as Speaker of the Commons ended after the minority Conservative government fell due to a non-confidence motion. As that day in March began, his colleagues applauded as he walked to the chambers.
Even though a Liberal, Milliken held the title through two Conservative minority governments. He’s only the second Opposition MP to be chosen as Speaker. It’s a testament to the degree to which his rivals respected him.
Before the government fell to the non-confidence vote, Conservative MP and cabinet minister John Baird rose to recall a meeting he once had with the Speaker of the British House of Commons in London, England.
“The Speaker of the Commons there said that he and Speakers from all around the Commonwealth look to you as their leader and their inspiration as someone who has conducted himself very professionally,” The Globe and Mail quoted Baird as saying.
“For a Canadian to hear that from a British Speaker is a pretty remarkable . . . assessment of your role as Speaker.”
Baird said Milliken would “go down in history as, if not one of the best Speakers, the best Speaker the House of Commons has ever had.”
Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said: “You have taught us all — sometimes with modest rebuke, sometimes with stern force of argument — to understand, to respect, and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that alone all Canadians will be grateful to you.”