Speaker Fergus apologizes, faces calls to resign over 'personal' video played at Ontario Liberal event
House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus apologized to MPs on Monday about a "personal" video tribute message played this weekend at the Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention, but two opposition parties say that's not enough and are now calling for him to resign over his "unacceptable" participation in a partisan event.
Fergus' video tribute was for John Fraser, the outgoing interim provincial Liberal leader replaced by newly-elected Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie on Saturday. It featured the relatively new Speaker in his office, dressed in his traditional robe. As the appearance hit social media, Conservatives were quick to condemn it, pointing to the importance of Canada's Speaker remaining impartial.
Kicking off Monday's sitting, Fergus took the Speaker's chair and addressed the simmering contention, telling MPs that he was asked to make the video, but he thought it was to be played at an "intimate party for a long-standing friend who was retiring."
Fergus, who was elected to represent a Quebec riding as a Liberal MP, said he "regrets" that instead, the "personal" message was played at a convention for a party he is not a member of, in a province he does not live in.
Going into more detail about his decades-long friendship and close connection with Fraser and his family, Fergus sought to make the case that outside of politics "we are people" who have relationships, while acknowledging that he "can recognize how this may have been misinterpreted."
"It should not be seen as partisan to recognize a colleague's departure. That said… I would like to apologize and reassure members that this kind of event will not happen again," Fergus said.
"The principles of respect, impartiality, and decorum are values I continue to prioritize," Fergus continued.
SAYING SORRY NOT ENOUGH FOR SOME
Ahead of this mea-culpa, former House speaker and past Conservative leader Andrew Scheer had indicated he intended to raise a question of privilege in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.
Fergus said should MPs raise the issue on Monday, he would recuse himself.
As expected, when Scheer then rose an hour later to make his case for why this situation rises in his view to a breach of MPs' privileges and in infringement on the tradition of impartiality, Fergus was not in the Speaker's chair.
"This conduct is simply unacceptable. It defies all long-standing traditions and expectations attached to the high office of Speaker," Scheer said, suggesting that it might have been one thing if Fergus had offered up the friendly tribute in his role as a Liberal MP donning a suit or sweater in his riding. But, that he used "the full nonpartisan trappings," was a clear breach of the rules underpinning his role, he added.
Scheer has asked that his case be assessed, and if Fergus' assistant Speakers find that the "serious error of judgment" has undermined Fergus' lead role, he'll be moving a motion calling for the matter to be referred to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) to assess what the "appropriate remedy" would be.
However, a few Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs didn't feel the need to wait for an official ruling, and as debate continued with Deputy Speaker Chris d'Entremont presiding, calls were made for Fergus to resign.
"The current Speaker was a very partisan member of Parliament. We can all agree on that, more or less all of us, but the Bloc Quebecois' stance at the time was that we wanted to give him a chance," said Bloc Quebecois Alain Therrien in French, during the debate.
"The Speaker must possess two essential qualities. First, impartiality. And second, flawless judgment. But unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the current Speaker has demonstrated that he has neither of those two essential qualities. That was clear after what occurred this weekend, and that's why the Bloc calls on the Speaker to resign as soon as possible," Therrien said.
As MPs from various opposition parties took turns joining the deliberations, parallels were also drawn to the bad judgment exercised by Fergus' predecessor Anthony Rota, who in late September resigned over his invitation and recognition of a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who slammed Fergus for "heaping effusive praise," on a sitting partisan legislator, said Fergus' morning explanation of not knowing where the message would be shared was "utterly preposterous" and "an affront to the House."
"This is very, very serious, very disappointing and I cannot believe we are here again, two months after a Nazi was feted in the House," she said.
"We're also asking the Speaker to resign," said Conservative MP Luc Berthold, in French.
While NDP MP Charlie Angus called the situation "serious," the New Democrats didn't take a position during the debate on whether Fergus should step aside, nor did any Liberal MPs chime in.
After more than an hour, d'Entremont stated he felt that he has enough information to take the matter away for consideration and has vowed to get back to MPs "as quickly as possible" with his ruling.
Rising after question period, NDP House Leader Peter Julian added his voice, to say that while his party is "dismayed" by Fergus' conduct, and it is the Speaker's responsibility to ensure such content is not used for partisan purposes, the best next course of action would be to have PROC take on a probe to recommend "any appropriate remedies so that this never happens again."
Scheer then rose again, to specifically join the calls from those calling for Fergus to go.
"It's a difficult thing to say, especially as a former Speaker, but I do believe that this has... undermined the position of the Speaker so greatly that I must add my voice, and the voice of the Official Opposition to those who have asked for the Speaker to resign," Scheer said.
Taking to X on Sunday, Fraser thanked his "dear friend" for his "heartfelt words of tribute," and apologized that "it wasn't clearly communicated to his office where and when it would be used."
As Fergus was campaigning for the Speakership, some MPs had raised questions about his ability to be impartial, citing past partisan roles he played, including as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's parliamentary secretary.
In an interview on CTV's Question Period last month, Fergus was asked about these expressions of concern about him being too partisan. In response, Fergus said it only took him "all of 60 seconds" to shed his political bias.
"It's just a different role that you play," he said. "I've made mistakes like everybody else has, and I will make mistakes in the future too. But, I'm just hoping that I'll make new ones, innovative ones, not repeat the old ones," Fergus said at the time.