Strange show of respect for Parliament
Two months ago, Greg Fergus made history when he became the first Black Canadian elected as Speaker of the House of Commons.
If the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois get their way in forcing him out, Fergus could make another kind of history — as the shortestserving Speaker ever to hold the job.
Fergus needs to hold on to his post for roughly another two months to avoid that title, currently held by Marcel Lambert, whose tenure as Speaker lasted 138 days, from September 1962 to February 1963.
Setting aside the glee with which the Conservatives have been going after Fergus — almost since he assumed the chair in early October — this will be a sad milepost, no matter how things turn out, when his fate is decided by the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs.
All parties, including the Liberals, voted in favour of an investigation by that committee, in a 310-0 vote on Wednesday.
This is not just sad for Fergus, either. It stands as a symbol of all the political dysfunction on display daily in Ottawa.
Fittingly, Fergus’s prospective ejection comes at the same time Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is vowing to ruin Justin Trudeau’s Christmas by jamming the Commons with thousands of procedural tactics to grind business to a halt.
“We’re going to put in thousands of amendments at committee and in the House of Commons, forcing all-night, round-the-clock voting to block your $20 billion of inflationary spending and your economically destructive plans until you agree to our demand: take the tax off farmers, First Nations and families,” Poilievre said in a speech before his caucus meeting on Wednesday.
Hours later, Conservative MP Damien Kurek got himself ejected from the Commons for refusing to retract a shouted declaration that Trudeau was a liar. This is very much against the rules, as every MP knows. “It’s the truth,” Kurek said when asked to take it back. The clip will no doubt end up in a fundraising video before the week is out.
Then, after question period had ended, Poilievre defiantly kept standing and speaking on a failed motion to condemn bonuses for CBC executives, even though deputy speaker Chris D’Entremont had asked him to stop.
Taken together, this is all an odd way to demonstrate respect for the sanctity of Parliament and respect for the role of the Speaker, which the Conservatives swear is behind their bid to boot Fergus out of his job. If they spent more time displaying their respect for the Commons, and less time generating clips for social media, it would be possible to take them more seriously.
To be clear, Fergus brought his career-imperiling troubles on himself. Whether or not he knew it would be broadcast to the Ontario Liberal convention last weekend, Fergus made two major errors with his video tribute to his friend, Liberal MPP John Fraser: One, Fergus chose to wear his Speaker’s robes in the tribute to Fraser, which marked his departure as interim provincial Liberal leader. Two, the video was made in the office of the Speaker, which is supposed to stand apart from partisan politics.
It didn’t help that Fergus, in his brief video remarks, talked about the Liberals as “our” party. It is not true that he has ever been Liberal party president, as former Speaker Andrew Scheer said.
Fergus, who is in Washington this week on Speaker’s business, told the CBC on Tuesday night he was not going to resign, and that he would let the process for discipline unfold as it should. But it is difficult to see how he can command the confidence of the chamber, with the Conservatives and the Bloc — who hold 139 of its 338 seats — asking outright for his resignation.
Liberals, though admitting Fergus made a mistake, appeared to be standing with him when quizzed by reporters as they entered caucus meetings on Wednesday. The New Democrats have said they are in favour of the matter being sorted out by the Commons committee, but so far haven’t indicated clearly where they stand on his continued presence in the chair.
It is, as I said earlier, a shame. Fergus came to the job with a lot of hope invested in him to bring some sense of decorum to the chamber. But it wasn’t long before we saw an illustration of just what a challenge he was facing, when Conservatives tried to block Fergus from making a statement on how he would be enforcing the rules more strictly.
Most Canadians’ holidays won’t be ruined by this end-of-year spectacle on Parliament Hill. But the fact that Fergus, the first Black Canadian to hold the Speaker’s job, could also turn out to be the shortest-serving Speaker, is indicative of a larger story of a Commons totally offside with the concept of peace and goodwill of the season.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited