House Speaker Fergus apologized again over the MPs’ probing video controversy
A repentant Greg Fergus testified Monday before his peers about what he says was his unintentional participation in a partisan provincial Liberal party event in early December, telling MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) that as the House of Commons Speaker, he knows he “messed up.”
“I made a mistake,” Fergus said, restating, as he did one week ago in the House, that he was unaware that the video he recorded for long-time friend and outgoing interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser was going to be played at the provincial party’s Dec. 2 convention.
He told MPs that one of Fraser’s family members phoned his office to request the “personal video for a private surprise,” but still, Fergus acknowledged Monday, even if the video was meant for a private audience, he “should have never recorded it.”
“I made the wrong decision. I am here today to say that I will do better… I will set up a more rigorous protocol to make sure that it never happens again,” Fergus continued, vowing to rely more on House staff and internal experts if future similar requests arise.
MPs have said Fergus making this video in his Speaker’s robe and in his official office—as well as his subsequent trip to Washington D.C. amid the acrimony where he again referenced his Liberal roots in a speech bidding farewell to an American colleague— has undermined his required impartiality.
In passing the motion that prompted this committee study, all MPs collectively agreed that Fergus committed “a breach of the tradition and expectation of impartiality required for that high office, constituting a serious error of judgment which undermines the trust required to discharge his duties and responsibilities.”
The Conservative and Bloc Quebecois caucuses have been calling for Fergus to resign, while the New Democrats and Liberals have said they would be reserving their decision until the study is completed so they can hear all of the relevant information before landing on best next steps.
HOUSE CLERK WOULD HAVE ADVISED AGAINST
PROC began meeting at 8:30 a.m. Monday, and will be continuing to hear from key witnesses into the early afternoon as they seek to complete an expedited probe into the matter, by Thursday.
First to testify was newly-confirmed permanent House of Commons Clerk Eric Janse, who is the head of House administration and top adviser on the rules and procedures of Parliament.
His hour-long appearance included several revelations, including that Fergus did not consult him prior to recording the video at issue, and had he ran the idea by him first, Janse would have suggested he not do it because of the potential impact on his perceived impartiality.
“I think my advice would have been to probably not proceed in this manner, or at a minimum to perhaps canvass the parties… as to whether or not he should proceed,” Janse said, going on to state that in his view this video was “going a bit too far into the partisan sphere.”
He told MPs he became aware of the video on social media as the controversy began simmering two weekends ago, and after the issue surfaced, there were exchanges between his office and Fergus’ staff about next steps. This culminated in Fergus’ initial statement to the House apologizing last Monday.
“Invariably, by the nature of our parliamentary and electoral systems, Speakers have to walk a tightrope, balancing their duties in the chair, their role in representing the interests of their constituents, and the fact that they are still members elected under the banner of a party,” Janse said. “This challenge is perhaps even greater in the age of social media.”
The clerk indicated one early takeaway for his office is that they plan to “beef up” the material the House administration provides incoming Speakers regarding their impartiality requirements.
In MPs’ questioning of Janse, it also came to light that Fergus’ trip stateside while the House was in session—not a common move for Speakers—had been in the works for weeks, stemming from a prior commitment he had made to travel before becoming Speaker.
Per the House of Common’s unanimous agreement, this study was undertaken with the aim of coming back to MPs with suggested remedies. This could include recommending his resignation, other specific individual sanctions, or overarching procedural changes to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
As MPs have noted throughout Monday’s hearing, whatever they recommend will be precedent-setting, as while some provincial and territorial legislatures have studied the sanctity of a Speaker’s impartiality before, the Fergus situation is the first of its kind federally.
Later today, PROC is expected to hear from Fraser, as well as one of the Ontario Liberal Party’s 2023 leadership election officials. MPs on this committee will then reconvene this afternoon behind closed doors to begin drafting their report.
This article was reported by CTV News