OTTAWA -- Independent MP Jane Philpott says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contravened the law that governs Parliament and impeded on MPs' rights when he expelled her and colleague Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus.
But the Liberals are pushing back, saying that at the start of this Parliament the Liberal caucus -- including Philpott and Wilson-Raybould -- agreed to opt out of adopting the part of the law in question.
Philpott rose in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning on a question of privilege arguing that her rights as an MP, and those of fellow former cabinet minister Wilson-Raybould, have been breached.
The pair was removed by Trudeau last week, with the backing of Liberal MPs who said that the trust between the Liberal team and these two once-prominent faces on Trudeau's front bench had been "broken" over the course of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet amid the controversy and have continued to offer additional information or commentary on the matter.
Philpott is arguing that Trudeau contravened the Parliament of Canada Act because the Liberal caucus did not hold a vote that was legally required at the beginning of this Parliament to determine how caucus expulsions would be handled, and because he ultimately made the decision to remove them without a caucus vote.
"Expulsion should not be his decision to take unilaterally, however the decision had been already made," Philpott said, referencing Trudeau's comments to the national caucus that were televised last Tuesday when he announced their ouster.
The rules in question were passed into law in the last Parliament as part of the Reform Act, which was aimed at empowering MPs over party leadership.
Specifically, the package of amendments passed in 2015 state that at the start of each Parliament each caucus is supposed to vote on whether or not it wants to adopt a series of rules related to the expulsion and re-entry of MPs into their caucuses, and matters related to party leadership.
One of these rules, if adopted, would require MPs to vote on whether or not a colleague should be expelled from their caucus.
Liberal caucus didn’t adopt rule
In the Liberals' case, the initial vote whether or not to opt in to the rules within the Reform Act did not occur, meaning the caucus did not adopt the bill’s requirement to have a majority vote in order to expel members.
Now, Philpott is arguing that not holding those initial votes at the start of this Parliament is part of how Trudeau has contravened the law, and how he and his office "deprived members of their rights" to determine whether MPs should be expelled and "denied members being considered for expulsion or readmission the right to a due process, one that is not ad-hoc, not arbitrary, nor unlawful."
Trudeau said Tuesday that despite there not being a formal vote, at the start of this Parliament the Liberal caucus did send a letter to the Speaker expressing the "will of caucus" in regards to these rules.
Had the caucus agreed at the start of this Parliament to put expulsions to a vote, last Tuesday’s decision to remove the two women would've required 90 Liberal MPs voting in favour.
Trudeau is defending his decision saying that while there was not a vote, the "will of caucus was very clear."
"I can reassure everyone and say very clearly to both Dr. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould that I consulted extensively with caucus over the proceeding weeks, in the day before and the day of, I talked with all caucus regional chairs and the will of caucus was very, very clear that they wanted the two individuals removed from caucus. It was my decision to make but the fact that the caucus was clear and united on that made my decision easier," he said.
Some Liberal MPs are publicly disputing Philpott's claim that her rights have been breached.
Quebec Liberal MP Marc Miller said the Liberal caucus had agreed to not require caucus votes to expel MPs since the start of this Parliament, and was comfortable leaving the decision around expulsions up to Trudeau.
"That was something that Ms. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould were more than ready to accept for the past four years. They're fully entitled to make any claims they want in Parliament for their own purposes… I would invite them to look at the way they’ve agreed to behave under the last four years inside our caucus and there was no complaints during that period," Miller said.
"From my understanding and from my participation… we followed the rules and procedures consistent with the legislation that was passed," said Ontario Liberal MP Adam Vaughan.
Philpott asks Speaker to weigh in
The Reform Act was a controversial initiative spearheaded by Conservative MP Michael Chong. Last week Chong raised a series of similar questions to those Philpott has raised. On Tuesday Chong said the Liberals broke the law back in 2015 when the caucus did not follow the Reform Act's requirements, and that any Liberal caucus ousters have been done "under questionable authority" and “now the chickens have come home to roost.”
In raising the question of privilege, Philpott wants House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan to rule on the matter in the name of "procedural fairness," though it remains unclear whether that’s within his jurisdiction.
On Monday deputy Speaker Bruce Stanton delivered a ruling on a similar question raised by Conservative MP David Sweet about fellow Liberal MP-turned Independent Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who left the caucus on her own accord. That ruling stated that the Speaker could not weigh in on the possible expulsion of MPs from a caucus, and that the Speaker has "no role in the interpretation of statute nor in the conduct of these 2015 provisions."
Philpott said that because she and Wilson-Raybould were expelled, the situation is unique.
"With respect it is our view that this does not relieve you of your responsibility to ensure that all members are aware of their rights in this place… Accordingly a remedy is required for our situation, this matter is urgent," Philpott told the Speaker.
The Speaker's office said Tuesday that it has taken Philpott’s point under advisement and if there is more to her question than has already been ruled on, the Speaker will deliver a ruling. Should the Speaker find merit in her point, the entire House will have to consider next steps.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she agrees that the Parliament of Canada Act was broken in this case, but how that potential breach can be enforced remains unclear.
"These are basically new rules, just passed in the 41st Parliament in order to ensure that leaders didn’t have so much power over their individual members," said May.
Wilson-Raybould told CTV News that she will not be rising on a point of privilege today.