VANCOUVER -- B.C. MLAs unanimously chose a new Speaker Monday as they embarked on a short legislative session where John Horgan’s NDP government has a commanding majority.

Raj Chouhan, who represents Burnaby-Edmonds, is the first South Asian to serve in the role of Speaker in Canada.

While it is parliamentary tradition to pretend to drag the Speaker to their seat, this time the government and house leaders didn’t touch Chouhan due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

In addressing the house, Chouhan noted the first South Asians arrived in the late 1800s when “bigotry and racism” was the norm. He said while some battles have been won, many more remain.

Chouhan follows Darryl Plecas’ term as Speaker. Ousted from the Liberals, the Independent Speaker raised allegations of misspending of taxpayer dollars by two high-level legislative officials.

Speaking to reporters, Chouhan said he hadn’t fully reviewed the reports by Plecas but his goal was to make sure staff were treated fairly.

In congratulating him, Premier John Horgan spoke of the historic moment and how Chouhan arrived in B.C. in 1973 and championed farm worker rights. He added Chouhan also spoke out against racism and bigotry.

Shirley Bond, the interim Liberal leader said Chouhan’s ascent to the role of Speaker is a story of “possibility,” while Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau noted she “shares the pride” of other members at this historic time.

B.C.’s 87 MLAs are gathering in person and virtually for the session that could run until late next week. The goal is to fund Horgan’s campaign promise of up to $1,000 for qualifying families and $500 for eligible individuals. Horgan said the direct deposit could take weeks to administer, meaning Horgan would fail to get money into people’s hands by Christmas – as he had promised.

The speech from the throne will be read by Lt. Gov. Janet Austin Monady afternoon.