The House of Commons voted Wednesday to have that committee probe the matter amid outcry that has clouded Fergus’ role in the non-partisan position he’s held for more than two months.
Fergus, a Liberal MP who represents the National Capital Region Quebec riding of Hull—Aylmer, just across the river from Ottawa, replaced Anthony Rota as Speaker in October following another controversy surrounding the Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming MP.
Rota resigned as Speaker in September after inviting and acknowledging a Ukrainian-Canadian Second World War veteran in the House of Commons during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa.
It turned out that veteran actually served in a Nazi unit during the war. Rota apologized but ultimately stepped down amid international scrutiny and condemnation from MPs across the aisle, including members of his own caucus.
With Fergus now in the hot seat, the spotlight is on the Speaker’s chair once again.
The controversy surrounding Fergus stems from a video tribute he made to John Fraser, former interim leader of the Ontario Liberals.
The video was played at the provincial party's convention last weekend, where Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie was named leader of the party.
Fergus, who appeared in the video wearing his ceremonial Speaker robes, thanked Fraser in the recording. Fergus has said he was asked to record a video message for an intimate gathering to honour Fraser, who he called a long-standing friend.
Fergus has apologized for the video, and has told MPs he regrets the video was used in other ways. He added it should not be seen as partisan to recognize a colleague’s career.
Fraser told reporters at Ontario’s legislature on Monday there was a miscommunication to Fergus’s office over when it would be played.
“That’s on us,” he said. “I just deeply appreciated what Greg did and what I would suggest to anybody who’s being critical of the Speaker — watch the video,” he added, defending the message Fergus gave as personal and non-partisan.
Fergus’ apology to MPs was made on Monday, a day after Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer, a former Speaker in Stephen Harper’s government, had given notice on Sunday he planned to raise a question of privilege.
Questions of privilege are raised when MPs feel that something has violated any of the privileges granted to MPs in parliamentary procedure and rules, or that they feel has violated the privileges and rules of the House of Commons itself.
Given that the Speaker is supposed to be an explicitly non-partisan role, Scheer said Fergus’ conduct was a “breach of the impartiality” of the position.
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“As bad as it would have been to appear at a party convention at all, it might have at least been a little different if he had been introduced as the member for Hull—Aylmer, and worn a suit or a sweater, while standing in front of a scenic backdrop in his riding, but he was not. He was standing there in the full, non-partisan trappings of his non-partisan office, paying a partisan tribute to a partisan friend at a partisan event,” Scheer said on Monday.
“I recognize that Mr. Fraser tweeted yesterday that there could have been some confusion about what the Speaker's office was told about where the remarks were to be shown, but it does not change one iota the fact that he was dressed in his Speaker's gowns standing in the Speaker's office making a partisan tribute video to be viewed somewhere.”
The Conservatives then echoed a call from the Bloc Quebecois asking the Speaker to resign.
NDP House leader Peter Julian joined Scheer in calling for a parliamentary committee to study the incident, saying he was “dismayed” by the video.
On Wednesday, Conservative MP James Bezan wrote to the powerful Board of Internal Economy, which handles internal affairs of the House of Commons and its staff or members, asking it to consider Fergus’ “inappropriate use of House of Commons resources” by recording the video in his office and wearing the Speaker’s robes.
After hours of debate Wednesday night, MPs unanimously voted to have the procedure and House affairs (PROC) committee explore whether Fergus violated conventions that require him to be non-partisan.
The House of Commons agreed to require that PROC meet within 24 hours, ensure the issue takes priority over all other business, and report back by Dec. 14 — the day before the House is scheduled to rise for the holidays.
PROC met Thursday to discuss the issue. However, the meeting was held in-camera, meaning the discussion was not available to the public.
Liberal MP Bardish Chagger, who chairs PROC, told MPs on Wednesday in the House she would welcome the debate at the committee.
-- with files from The Canadian Press2023-12-07T17:12:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd