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House Speaker Greg Fergus avoids majority resignation call, asked to pay a fine, apologize again

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House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus appears poised to hold on to the speakership despite the controversy over his "inappropriate" personal video message to a long-time Liberal friend, as MPs have passed a report calling on him to pay a fine and apologize again, rather than resign.

The Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) tabled its report in the House early Thursday, after conducting an expedited study into what all MPs agreed was a bad judgment call by Fergus: filming a video for outgoing interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser in his Speaker's attire and in his official office, which was then played at a partisan event.

In the report, the majority of MPs decided to make three recommendations, none of which is for him to step down.

Specifically, PROC is calling for:

  • Fergus to "reimburse a suitable amount for the use of parliamentary resources" that he used but were not related "to the performance of parliamentary functions."
  • Fergus to issue "another" apology clearly stating that the video was "inappropriate" and expressing his "remorse" alongside a "clear outline" of what his office will do to ensure this does not happen again.
  • House administration to beef up its briefing binder for incoming Speakers to make clear the "boundaries for impartiality and non-partisanship."

The committee also wants to see Fergus re-affirm in his apology that "the principle of respect, impartiality, and decorum are values he will continue to prioritize as Speaker."

"Today, an expectation exists among members of the House, and the wider public, that the Speaker's duties ought to be carried out with scrupulous impartiality and independence," reads the report. 

The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have taken the position that Fergus' infringement of the essential impartiality expectations of his office amounts to a resignation-worthy offence, and have issued dissenting opinions, essentially addendums to the main PROC report, maintaining their calls for Speaker Fergus to resign.

Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer attempted to advance a motion of non-confidence in the Speaker shortly after the report was tabled, and also failed to get all-party consent to table alleged evidence of an additional example of participation in a partisan engagement.

In response to questions from CTV News about the latest instance, Fergus' office said the Speaker's attendance at the political event in his riding preceded "the introduction of a new protocol which mandates consultation with the clerk."

The continued acrimony opens up the potential for further procedural matters that may play out before the entire affair is behind the Commons.

The Conservatives said Thursday that Fergus has repeatedly "shattered" the tradition of impartiality, and has "failed to meet his duty of care to the House, thereby squandering the good-will and trust of the Official Opposition."

Meanwhile, Scheer has found himself facing scrutiny on Thursday over a past political video of his own, after it came to light that earlier this year the House of Commons imposed a $500 fine on Scheer, for breaking the rules by filming an endorsement for a candidate in a nomination contest in his parliamentary office.  

While the NDP appears to have been successful in its push behind the scenes to advance sanctions over triggering another Speaker election, New Democrat House Leader Peter Julian has said that should a similar situation ever happen again, he wouldn't hesitate to call for Fergus' ouster, noting he led the calls for his predecessor Anthony Rota to resign.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Julian said he was satisfied with the measures PROC has called for.

"From now on you cannot have a Speaker engaged in partisan activity," Julian said. "I'm not just concerned about the current Speaker Mr. Fergus, I'm concerned about all future Speakers." 

During his testimony before the committee earlier this week, Fergus vowed to learn from this mistake and never make it again, while indicating he would accept whatever recommendations the committee makes.

"I made the wrong decision. I am here today to say that I will do better… I will set up a more rigorous protocol to make sure that it never happens again," Fergus said during his two-hour hearing.

It's possible Fergus could come before the House of Commons before it adjourns for the year on Friday, to make his apology and effort to put an end to the last two weeks of partisan fervour over his conduct.

Speaking to reporters in the House of Commons foyer, Government House Leader Karina Gould said the Liberals will "of course review the contents" of PROC's report and act in response.

"I think it's important for the parliamentary process to proceed. The government has been quite clear that you know this was a mistake that he made. However you know, we do not feel that this is a resign-able offense," she said. 

In presenting the report, committee chair Bardish Chagger thanked the staff behind the scenes that helped complete this unprecedented study on such a tight timeline, and in wishing everyone an enjoyable upcoming holiday break, she said she'd "really appreciate not seeing anyone in this place until 2024." 

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