Buck stops here

MLA Buck Watts takes on new challenge as Speaker of the P.E.I. legislature

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 20, 2015

Buck Watts, MLA for Tracadie-Hillsborough Park, has been a fisherman, a lobster buyer, a tugboat operator and a restaurant owner.
Now, the 70-year-old can add Speaker of the P.E.I. legislative assembly to his resume. The Guardian’s Ryan Ross shares the story of one of the most powerful politicians in the House.

He’s been a fisherman, a lobster buyer, a tugboat operator and a restaurant owner.

As of June 3, Buck Watts can add Speaker of the P.E.I. legislative assembly to his resume.

Watts, whose real name is Francis, is heading into his third-term representing the district of Tracadie-Hillsborough Park.

After eight years on the backbench, the soft-spoken Liberal MLA with a reputation for steering clear of partisan sniping said he thought he paid his dues and wanted to take on a bigger role in the house.

“I felt that I probably had something more to add than I had been doing in the last eight years.”

Watts takes the Speaker’s chair as one of the legislative assembly’s most senior MLAs in more ways than one.

He turns 71 in November, the same month he celebrates his 50th anniversary with his wife, Margie.

It’s also when he starts collecting his MLA pension, which will be going to charity.

And while he said he knows some people think he’s too old to be an MLA, it didn’t keep him from running in the last election.

Despite the recent election being his fourth, including a failed bid for a seat in 2003, Watts said he tested the waters and felt he had a good chance of winning again.

“I felt I’d done as good as I could to look after my constituents.”

Before becoming an MLA, Watts spent 40 years on the water, including a stint as the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association president in the early 1990s and later as the group’s managing director.

It was that introduction to the political world that he said led him to run for a seat in the legislature.

“It just stuck to me.”

More than 20 years after becoming president, Watts walked through the doors to the legislature for the first time as Speaker, looked around and thought to himself that he made it.

“I looked for this job, I’m in this Speaker’s chair, I gotta try and prove I’m worthy of being here,” he thought at the time.

Now that he is Speaker, Watts said he plans to prove he is worthy by keeping proper decorum in the house.

It’s something he thinks has gotten a little worse during his time as an MLA and he doesn’t like when his colleagues shout over each other when someone is speaking.

“That’s showing disrespect.”

Although it had its challenges, Watts said fishing was his life and he loved it.

It also taught him to respect the sea, which is a lesson he said carries over to his role as Speaker.

“You have to have respect for the Speaker and if you do I’ll have respect for you.”