'Surely the dumbest': Tories, NDP sling mud amid squabbles over Speakers' neutrality

  • Canadian Press

A third member of the House of Commons leadership team is in the hot seat as accusations fly over allegedly partisan online posts featuring MPs who sit in the Speaker's chair. Candidate for Speaker and member of Parliament Carol Hughes is applauded after delivering a speech in the House of Commons prior to voting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A third member of the House of Commons leadership team is in the hot seat as accusations fly over allegedly partisan online posts featuring MPs who sit in the Speaker's chair.

The squabbles over chair-holders' neutrality -- and parties' hypocrisy -- have been dominating the lead-up to a parliamentary summer break.

Conservatives are chiding the NDP for posting the title of deputy assistant Speaker Carol Hughes on a party website near donation buttons, and for announcing her election to that position in a nine-year-old press release.

The Tories raised those concerns as they responded to the NDP's own questions over the impartiality of the deputy Speaker, a Conservative MP.

Chris d'Entremont asserted he had no knowledge that a photo of himself in his Speaker's robes had been used to advertise a Conservative riding event on social media, and promised the post would be deleted.

That, in turn, came after Speaker Greg Fergus survived a third Conservative attempt to have him removed, over a post advertising a summer barbecue event that featured partisan language.

The veritable merry-go-round of dubious partisanship snipes at Speakers of all stripes shows no signs of stopping.

The Liberal party apologized to Fergus over the post, which advertised his presence at the event but which his office said it did not approve. A motion to remove Fergus was defeated in the House of Commons, with the NDP and Liberals voting against.

As debate over the d'Entremont post ensued late Thursday evening in the House, the Tories' deputy House leader, Luc Berthold, encouraged NDP members to "get their own affairs in order."

He went on to detail quibbles over how Hughes is represented on the party's website, then argued the complaint over d'Entremont was nothing but a "petty, short-sighted partisan attack."

NDP House leader Peter Julian, who had earlier this week accused the Tories of participating in a "disturbing undercurrent" of disdain for Speakers, was none too pleased by Berthold's intervention.

"I have been in this House for 20 years and that is surely the dumbest question of privilege I have ever seen," he said.

The Speaker -- in this case, Fergus -- rose to ask that Julian, whom he described as an "experienced member," withdraw the comment.

Julian did so, said, "I am not even going to dignify that with a response," and pivoted back to accusing the Tories of a double standard.

He said just as the Liberal party apologized, the Conservative party should apologize over the d'Entremont post.

"In both cases, we should, as parliamentarians, consider the matter closed."

The Conservatives did not immediately respond to questions about whether the party plans to say sorry to the deputy Speaker.

Julian seemingly couldn't help himself from ending with a parting shot -- "I would tell my Conservative colleagues to start acting like adults" -- after which Fergus said he would take it all under advisement, and the House placidly resumed legislative debate.

In an interview Friday, Julian accused the Conservatives of weaponizing the role of the Speaker for political gain.

He said the NDP only brought up the indiscretion involving d'Entremont to highlight a double standard.

He worries the accusations against the people who occupy the chair threaten the institution of the Speaker's role in the House of Commons.

But the one bright spot of the squabble is that it has brought the rules about what the Speaker can and can't do into much sharper focus, he said, which will likely help preserve the integrity of the role in the future.

"It is alright for a Speaker to do fundraising in their own riding and in other ridings as well," Julian said Friday.

"But they can't use the trappings of the House of that position, and certainly they cannot be partisan in how they approach it."

This report by was first published May 31, 2024.