Politics

Conservatives, NDP sling mud as they squabble over Speakers’ neutrality

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 idea 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.

Those questions 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 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 continued late Thursday evening in the House, the Tories’ deputy House leader, Luc Berthold, encouraged NDP members to “get their own affairs in order.”

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

NDP House leader Peter Julian, who 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.

NDP MP Peter Julian asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, May 31, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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 for the d’Entremont post.

“In both cases, we should, as parliamentarians, consider the matter closed,” he said.

WATCH | Liberal Party apologizes to Speaker for partisan ad  

Liberal Party apologizes to Speaker for partisan ad

After the Conservatives called on Speaker of the House Greg Fergus to resign over an ad that attacked the Conservative Party and its leader, Pierre Poilievre, the Liberal Party is taking responsibility, pulling the post and apologizing to the Speaker, who is said not to have been involved.

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

Julian seemingly couldn’t stop 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 the double standard.

He said he worries the accusations against the people who occupy the chair threaten the Speaker’s role in the House of Commons.

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

“It is all right 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.”

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