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House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus survives vote calling for his ouster

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Greg Fergus survived a vote to oust him as House of Commons Speaker on Tuesday, but with close to half of MPs expressing a loss of confidence in him, he faces a precarious path forward in maintaining order in Parliament.

By a vote of 168 to 142 – with the Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens backing him by voting "nay" and the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois voting "yea" for him to go – Fergus held on to his role as the esteemed arbiter of House business despite renewed concern over his "alleged lack of impartiality."

The vote was on a motion asking for the House to state the Speaker's "ongoing and repetitive partisan conduct outside of the Chamber is a betrayal of the traditions and expectations of his office and a breach of trust required to discharge his duties and responsibilities, all of which this House judges to be a serious contempt."

Had the motion passed, Fergus would have been forced to vacate the office by next Monday, giving way for the third election of a House of Commons Speaker since the last election. 

Fergus, who seven months into his tenure as MPs' adjudicator has been no stranger to controversy and accusations of inappropriate partisan conduct, faced the fresh calls to resign after language attacking Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was used to promote an upcoming event in his riding.

The posting for "a summer evening with the honourable Greg Fergus" was quickly pulled by the party and replaced with a version promising a "fun-filled summer kick-off BBQ," as Fergus' office has said was initially intended, after what the Liberal Party of Canada called a "miscommunication" that it later apologized for.

While the Speaker's office said the event was cleared by the Clerk of the House of Commons, it hasn't quelled concerns from some MPs that Fergus is failing to live up to his duty to remain a fair arbiter in the chamber.

Tories say 'three strikes you're out'

Not buying the explanations or defences offered, Conservative MP Chris Warkentin raised the issue in the House last week, and on Monday deputy House Speaker and Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont deemed the matter a prima facie question of privilege. This triggered a priority debate, and allowed the Official Opposition to force the vote on Fergus' fate.

During debate on Tuesday, Conservative MPs took the position that the longer Fergus was allowed to remain in the top chair the more damage he will do, given he's not appeared to have learned his lesson.

Back in December, when Fergus faced a fury over his "inappropriate" personal video message to a longtime Liberal friend, MPs decided against a majority resignation call, and instead asked him to pay a fine, apologize and enact a series of reforms within his office to ensure a similar issue did not arise again.

"The last time I looked in baseball, three strikes you're out," Conservative MP James Bezan said during debate. "And we've got the Speaker now on three different occasions. Or actually, this is the fourth occasion that he has done partisan activities and given partisan speeches."

Other instances Conservatives have taken issue with are Fergus' recent decision to boot Poilievre from the House for a day after calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "wacko," and remarks Fergus made referencing his Liberal roots during an official visit to Washington, D.C.

During an appearance before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on an unrelated matter Tuesday afternoon, Fergus did face some questions about his partisanship, as well as the broader concerns over the downturn in decorum.

When challenged to answer – both by MPs in the meeting and reporters scrumming him on the way out – whether he thinks he'd be able to hold on, Fergus said he wouldn't comment on a matter before the House.

"We'll see what the House will come up with," Fergus said. "I would ask them to judge me on … the decisions that I make."

Testy debate, tough road ahead

Deliberations in the House over this latest bout of opposition-led upset regarding Fergus' conduct got testy Tuesday, after the government limited the amount of time left to hash out members' views, seeing accusations flying across the aisle.

Among them, Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon accused the Conservatives of making "fake" claims about the Speaker.

"The claims today being made are entirely conjured in Conservative backrooms. Why? Because they wish to delay and disturb the proceedings of this House. It is that simple," MacKinnon said.

On his way in to a cabinet meeting, Health Minister Mark Holland called the charges the Conservatives levelled "highly hypocritical," citing past concerns over former House Speaker Andrew Scheer's partisanship during his tenure in the top post that did not result in him facing this degree of scrutiny.

"Speaker Fergus has made some errors as a human being. He has apologized for them. But I think he's a person who profoundly respects the chamber and the impartiality of this role, and he has my confidence," Holland said.

In the chamber, New Democrat House Leader Peter Julian said Canadians should be very concerned about the "vicious attacks" on the House Speaker by Conservative MPs.

Julian also accused the Official Opposition of disrespecting the institution of Parliament with its repeated efforts to undermine Fergus, who he said did what he was supposed to in having this event cleared by the clerk.

While it may be tough for Fergus to rebuild trust, with some political commentators already suggesting it may only be a matter of time before his next flub, what concerns political analyst Lori Turnbull more is the precedent the repeated challenges of the chair may be setting.

"We are seeing that the transaction of business in Parliament can still happen, even when decorum is absent. And I think that is … a massive problem for the institution." 

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