Speaker defends convention message as personal, non-partisan — but pledges more diligence in future

Speaker defends convention message as personal, non-partisan — but pledges more diligence in future

Politics

Speaker of the House Greg Fergus says his video message to an Ontario Liberal leadership convention was personal in nature, but acknowledged some could see it in another way and promised to be “more diligent” in the future.

Conservatives suggested video tribute was evidence of a lack of impartiality

A legislature's speaker listens to question period.

House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus is pictured chairing his first question period on Oct. 3. Fergus has been criticized for his appearance in a video tribute to the outgoing interim provincial Liberal leader. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus’s office says a video message played at the recent Ontario Liberal leadership convention was meant as a personal, non-partisan tribute, but he will be “more diligent” in the future to demonstrate his impartiality as the chamber’s top official.

Fergus had been criticized by many Conservative MPs over the course of the weekend for his appearance in a roughly two-minute video tribute to John Fraser, the outgoing interim provincial Liberal leader. In the video, Fergus appears from the Speaker’s chamber and in the traditional robes of his role, speaking in a segment between former provincial Liberal leaders Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty. The video touched mostly on his personal relationship with Fraser.

Conservative MPs said the airing of the video was inappropriate given the Speaker’s position in Parliament as the impartial administrator of the House of Commons.

Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer — a former Speaker — called the move “totally unacceptable.”

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Fergus defended the video as non-partisan.

The Speaker of the House of Commons must be independent and non-partisan.

This is Speaker @GregFergus

In his Speaker’s robes.

In the Speaker’s office.

Delivering a speech to the (obviously, highly partisan) Liberal Convention.

Totally unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/VIHfok0JJp

@AndrewScheer

“Speaker Fergus was asked to record a personal message for John Fraser, to be played as part of a tribute video to a colleague and friend from the National Capital Region who he has known for many decades. The video recognized Mr. Fraser’s dedication to public service and was in no way partisan in nature,” a spokesperson said.

“That said, the Speaker acknowledges how this message could have been perceived and recognizes the need to protect the impartial and non-partisan role of the Speaker. He will be more diligent going forward, and will continue, as his record shows, to demonstrate impartiality in his role in and outside of the Chamber.”

The Liberal leadership convention Saturday marked the end of Fraser’s second stint as interim leader of the provincial party. Fergus described Fraser, who has held an Ottawa riding for the Liberals since 2013, as a “longtime friend” and thanked him for his public service in politics.

In his own social media post Sunday, John Fraser thanked Fergus for his words and implied that it may not have been clear to the Speaker where the message would be shown.

In reply to a request for comment from CBC News, a spokesperson for the Ontario Liberals said they had nothing to add to Fraser’s message on social media.

In his two months in the Speaker role, Fergus has urged members of Parliament to cultivate a sense of dignity and civility in their behaviour in the House.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

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