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'Miscommunication' Liberals say of Speaker Fergus event invite Conservatives call partisan

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House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus is facing fresh Conservative-led calls to resign, this time over "very partisan" and "inflammatory" language used – the Liberals say mistakenly – to promote an upcoming event.

Conservative MP Chris Warkentin sent Fergus a detailed letter Tuesday morning, raising concern over the way the invitation for a riding event was worded, taking the position that it flies in the face of Fergus' responsibility to remain MPs' impartial adjudicator.

The plug for the event read in part, "While Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives propose reckless policies that would risk our health, safety, and pocketbooks, our Liberal team is focused on making like more affordable," according to a screenshot of the invitation included in the Conservatives' submission to the Speaker.

"With such a highly partisan description, your event appears more akin to a partisan political rally than anything else," Warkentin wrote.

"A Speaker cannot credibly claim to be objectively policing debate in the House of Commons by day, while holding partisan attack rallies against the Leader of the Official Opposition by night."

As of when Warkentin raised the issue in the House of Commons, that version of the online listing for the June 4 "summer evening with the honourable Greg Fergus" had been removed from the Liberal party's website, and replaced with revised wording.

'Miscommunication': Liberals revise wording

According to Liberal Party spokesperson Parker Lund, the post was updated because there was a "miscommunication" between the party and Fergus' riding association, "which led to the wrong text being put on the website."

Lund noted the event being put on by his riding association is free, and the wording was "auto-populated, standard language," used to promote other Liberal events. 

He also noted that even as Speaker, Fergus remains an MP and "it is very common for MPs to hold summer events to thank and show their appreciation to local supporters and volunteers."

Now, the invitation for the summer gathering reads: "It has been too long since I have had the opportunity to see you, and we must change this! That is why I am writing [to] invite you to join me… to enjoy a fun-filled Summer kick-off BBQ with good cheer, refreshing drink, and appetizing food."

Fergus was first elected to the House in 2015, representing the National Capital Region riding of Hull-Aylmer, Que. While Fergus is still a sitting Liberal MP, as Speaker he does not participate in Liberal caucus meetings nor in House debates, and he would only cast a vote in the Commons in the case of a tie. He is still able to organize events related to his eventual re-election campaign.

It was in this vein that the event was organized, according to the Speaker's office.

''This event is a community BBQ organized by the Hull-Aylmer Federal Liberal Association, which will assist Mr. Fergus in his re-election efforts in his riding during the next election," said spokesperson Mathieu Gravel in an emailed statement.

"The Speaker's office had discussed this event with the Clerk of the House of Commons, who raised no concerns since this event is taking place in Mr. Fergus's riding, which is permitted."

Gravel also said the initial wording posted by the party "had not been approved" by Fergus' team.

Fergus rulings tainted? Apology issued

Rising to raise a nearly 30-minute question of privilege, Warkentin noted that when Fergus was elected, his party did have reservations about Fergus' past political roles – including as parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – and how the way he's comported himself since has only heightened these concerns.

He said that every ruling he has issued, and any going forward, would in the Official Opposition's eyes be "delivered with a red hint."

Warkentin also noted that while all MPs do have to put in work to keep up their constituents' support, Fergus has to take responsibility for maintaining a careful line and avoid overly political statements in any advocacy of local issues.

His position was endorsed by Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Therrien, who noted this is the third time Fergus has "shown a lack of judgment and a lack of neutrality," which are the two qualities that are central to the role as House Speaker.

"We have lost confidence in the Speaker," Therrien said, in French.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian struck a different tone.

"He ran it by the Clerk of the House of Commons... this is the way Speaker should act," Julian told reporters ahead of question period.

"Unfortunately, the Liberal Party of Canada posted something completely different without his authorization on their website. It's now been deleted, but the Liberal Party of Canada owes an apology to the Speaker."

That apology came within the hour, with the Liberal party issuing and publishing a letter to Fergus in which national director Azam Ishmael "unequivocally" apologized for the mistake, taking full responsibility

Not the first time Fergus under fire

This is not the first time Fergus has faced calls to resign from the role as Speaker since he was elected to the prestigious role in October 2023.

In December 2023, Fergus faced a fierce push to relinquish his Speakership over sending what was deemed an "inappropriate" personal video message in his Speakers' garb, to a longtime Liberal friend. 

After the message played at a provincial party event – something Fergus said he was unaware would happen – MPs from all sides of the House remarked on his err in judgment, but the push for his ouster was Conservative-led and backed by the Bloc.

Ultimately, his peers recommended against calling for his resignation and instead called for Fergus to reimburse for any parliamentary resources used to create the video, formally express his remorse, and enact clearer parameters for future Speakers' impartiality and non-partisanship.

In delivering an apology to the House of Commons over this ordeal, Fergus thanked MPs for giving him a "second chance" and vowed that "nothing like this will never happen again."

Then just a few weeks ago – when Fergus kicked Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre out of the House after refusing to withdraw calling the prime minister "wacko," amid a heated exchange that saw Trudeau accuse Poilievre of being "spineless" – Conservative MPs revived Fergus resignation calls, arguing he was running the House with two sets of rules. This expression of dismay did not materialize into any formal push for his ouster. 

Asked about this latest partisan fracas, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Liberal government "continues to have confidence" in Fergus as Speaker. 

Echoing this, speaking to reporters in Philadelphia, Trudeau said this case of misused messaging does not shake his faith in Fergus "at all."

"I have full confidence in Greg Fergus as Speaker of the House of Commons, as a thoughtful, independent-minded leader. The issue was dealt with… It was an unfortunate mistake."

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