February 29th, 2024

Fergus should stay as Speaker, pay a fine after controversial video: committee

By The Canadian Press on December 14, 2023.

A House of Commons committee says Greg Fergus should stay in his job as Speaker, but he should apologize again and reimburse Parliament for using its resources to make a video that was shown at a partisan event. Fergus appears as a witness at a standing committee of Procedures and House Affairs on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – The majority of MPs on a House of Commons committee has decided that Greg Fergus should stay in his job as Speaker.

But the Liberal and New Democrat MPs who carried that majority say he should apologize again and reimburse Parliament for using its resources to make a video that was shown at a partisan event.

In a report released Thursday, the procedure and House affairs committee also says there should be clear guidelines for future Speakers about the impartiality of their role.

The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois have called for Fergus to resign over a video in tribute to the outgoing interim leader of the Ontario Liberals.

They repeated that demand in separate dissenting opinions added to the end of the committee report, arguing the sanctions do not go far enough.

“To repair the tear in the fabric of our democratic institution, the Speaker must resign,” the Conservatives wrote.

Fergus shot the video in his office while wearing his ceremonial robes, and it was played at the provincial party’s recent leadership convention. The Speaker later said he didn’t know it would be used that way.

“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,” the committee said in its report.

“The Speaker must be fair and impartial.”

The committee’s report does not say how much Fergus should pay to reimburse Parliament, and the official Opposition said in its dissenting opinion that the House of Commons has no authority to impose a fine.

In that addendum, Conservative members of the committee also called into question Fergus’s explanation about the video and said the penalties recommended by the committee are “weak and meaningless.”

“Even if there was authority to impose a fine, no amount of money could restore the trust and goodwill required for Mr. Fergus to be able to do his job,” the Conservatives wrote.

The Bloc also expressed a lack of faith in Fergus’s judgment and impartiality.

“The Bloc Québécois had a right to expect that the Speaker would behave thoughtfully and beyond reproach, and that he would make decisions free from any appearance of bias. The result was the Bloc members’ irreversible loss of confidence in the Speaker,” the Bloc committee members wrote in their own addendum.

Government House leader Karina Gould said in a press conference Thursday that her party did not feel Fergus’s actions were a “resignable offence,” but that they would look at the committee’s recommendations closely.

All members of Parliament are expected to vote on the report at a later date.

Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer, who raised the initial question of privilege about Fergus’s video, has also asked the House for a vote of non-confidence in Fergus. It is not clear when either vote will happen.

CBC News reported Thursday that the board of internal economy had ordered Scheer to reimburse Parliament $500 earlier this year, as mentioned in the minutes of its Oct. 26 meeting. Those minutes did not mention Scheer, who is a member of the board, by name.

The media report said the board had investigated a complaint accusing Scheer of using his parliamentary office to make a video in support of a Conservative candidate who was seeking nomination for a byelection.

Conservative MP Arpan Khanna won that nomination and the byelection. CBC reported that Khanna appears to have later claimed the $500 as a campaign expense.

Asked about the CBC report on Thursday, Scheer told reporters on Parliament Hill: “It was the Trudeau precedent that was followed.”

In response to a request for comment, Sebastian Skamski, a spokesman for the Conservatives, also said the prime minister violated such rules.

In 2019, the federal Liberal party said it would pay a $500 rental fee after it shot a fundraising video featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his Parliament Hill office.

In the meantime, Scheer tried to bring more evidence of Fergus’s partisan activity to MPs on Thursday, showing the House a printout of a photo of Fergus and Liberal MP Sophie Chatel posted on Instagram on Nov. 18.

In the photo, a smiling Fergus, wearing a suit and flower-patterned tie, posed next to Chatel and André Fortin, a Liberal member of the Quebec national assembly, at an event.

“This week, I had the privilege of participating in a remarkable event in the company of my colleague Greg Fergus. In this time when the political sphere is in full swing, supporting our colleagues is crucial,” Chatel’s caption read.

On Thursday, Chatel told reporters the event was “not a fundraiser” but a community gathering at a pub in Fergus’s riding in western Quebec, which overlaps with the provincial riding held by Fortin. She said Fortin organized the event and that Fergus had “stopped by to say hello.”

The Quebec Liberals said there were some voluntary contributions collected during the event, which they described as customary. Those funds went to the provincial Liberal riding association, the party said.

The federal Liberals have asked to see the photo before making a decision.

New Democrat House leader Peter Julian told the House of Commons on Thursday that Scheer took part in three partisan fundraisers starting during his time as Speaker, from 2011 to 2015.

He told reporters partisan fundraising is not acceptable for any Speaker.

Skamski told CBC News that the situations were different, because Scheer’s fundraisers were for his own re-election efforts.

Julian said there will not be another strike for Fergus.

“From now on, you cannot have the Speaker engaged in partisan activity,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

– With files from Émilie Bergeron.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version stated that all members of the House of Commons were expected to vote on the procedure and House affairs committee’s report on Thursday. It also reported the House of Commons has no authority to oppose a fine.

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