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MPs to vote on referring 'serious error' Speaker Fergus made to House affairs committee for study

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MPs will be deciding Wednesday whether House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus' video in his traditional Speaker's garb that played at a partisan event constitutes a "serious error of judgment" and merits a committee probe.

Deputy Speaker Chris d'Entremont has put the power in MPs' hands to determine, democratically, what the consequences should be for Fergus after MPs questioned whether he's impugned his impartiality over a "personal" tribute video that played at the Ontario Liberal Party convention last weekend.

d'Entremont was tasked by MPs on Monday to assess the matter, and on Tuesday he said after weighing the arguments and assessing the procedural precedents around the importance of MPs' trust in the Speaker, he decided it was a grave enough matter to supersede all other proceedings until the matter is resolved. 

"It is exceedingly rare that actions involving the Speaker are questioned in the chamber. It requires a thoughtful and serious response," d'Entremont said Tuesday afternoon.

"The role of Speaker is central to our parliamentary institutions. It cannot be seen to be diminished or drawn into partisan debates. It is with this in mind that I approached this ruling."

The Deputy Speaker noted that traditionally, in order to protect the integrity of the position, MPs are not to call into question the Speaker's impartiality. And, if they wished to object, the proper route would be to advance a motion, rather than how Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer approached it on Monday in requesting the chair rule whether it was a breach of privilege.

d'Entremont, as Fergus' deputy, said this put him in a "difficult position." That said, he allowed Scheer to present a motion that MPs spent some time debating Tuesday afternoon, and will be called for a vote on Wednesday after question period.

Scheer's motion calls for the Fergus matter to be referred to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) to assess and recommend what the "appropriate remedy" would be, whether that is ultimately a resignation, other specific individual sanctions, or overarching procedure changes.

"For members to accept someone to hold that power … they must have 100 per cent trust the person… is exercising their duty free of any partisan bias," Scheer said during Tuesday's debate, likening the situation to an NHL referee giving "a pep talk to the Toronto Maple Leafs" during intermission, in his stripes.

The motion appears poised to pass, as both Liberal and NDP MPs have signalled they are supportive of having PROC pick up the matter to ensure guardrails are in place to prevent a repeat incident.

"We're OK with PROC dealing with the issue," said Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary Kevin Lamoureux, imploring his colleagues to treat this situation in "an apolitical fashion."

"It appears that the government, initially not seeing this as a serious issue, now has agreed that it is serious," said NDP House Leader Peter Julian. "And I welcome that, because on an issue like this, I think it's important that we have that all-party agreement."

With the House of Commons slated to wrap up its work for the year at the end of next week, some MPs have expressed that should PROC take on this probe, it be undertaken expeditiously, in hopes of a conclusion before the holidays. 

MINISTERS DEFEND FERGUS' APOLOGY

Earlier in the day, federal Liberal cabinet ministers came to Fergus' defence amid calls from the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois for him to resign.

On Tuesday, both Quebec Liberal and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Government House Leader Karina Gould pointed to the fact that the relatively newly-elected House adjudicator has apologized and said he won't make the same blunder again.

"He said it was an unfortunate mistake," Rodriguez said when asked by reporters on his way into a cabinet meeting, suggesting MPs should focus on what matters to Canadians.

"He apologized to the House yesterday morning. I think he recognized it was a mistake and how it could be interpreted. And you know, we have a tradition in this place that once somebody apologizes, that we accept that and we move on," Gould said.

She said she'd be waiting to learn d'Entremont's ruling and "go from there."

"I do have confidence in Speaker Fergus,” Gould said.

On Monday, Fergus rose in the House and apologized for the misunderstanding and airing of a "personal" video tribute he filmed in his Speaker's office, in his Speaker's traditional robe, being played at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention over the weekend.

Fergus said he thought his feting of outgoing interim provincial Liberal leader John Fraser was for an "intimate party" but "regrets" how the situation played out, vowing it will "not happen again."

But, the apology from the Speaker — whose past partisanship is something opposition MPs have remained skeptical about since his early October election — did not satisfy some, prompting Conservative and Bloc MPs to rise and call for Fergus to resign.

Others drew parallels to the errs in judgement displayed by his predecessor Anthony Rota, who just a few months ago had to vacate the seat over his invitation and recognition of a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.

Ahead of d'Entremont's ruling, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet told reporters that if the matter is referred to PROC, his MPs will follow the process, but he'd rather see Fergus resign so that the House can once again seek out a suitable Speaker and carry on with the pressing business before them.

As the acrimony over his conduct unfolded in the House of Commons, Fergus was on Capitol Hill for his first official visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

 

CTV News Channel's Power Play requested an interview with Fergus on Tuesday, but his office declined, saying the matter was before the House.

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