Members of Parliament have agreed to launch an expedited probe into House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus’ conduct after days of acrimony in Ottawa over what he says was unintentional participation in a partisan event.
Fergus, who has only held the highly regarded and impartial role as House of Commons Speaker for two months, has been facing calls to resign after MPs questioned whether he impugned his reputation over a “personal” tribute video that played at the Ontario Liberal Party convention last weekend and featured him in his Speaker’s office and traditional robe.
Late Wednesday, MPs decided without a formal vote, to approve a proposal — raised by Conservative House Leader and former Speaker Andrew Scheer and granted precedence by Fergus’ current deputy Chris d’Entremont — to have the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) undertake a study.
Under the now-agreed-to motion, PROC is being asked to examine the situation and come 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.
The House of Commons has also 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.”
And, by all sides unanimously approving an amendment earlier in the day, MPs removed the lingering uncertainty around how long this probe could take to conclude.
PROC has now been instructed to meet within 24 hours, make its work on this file the ultimate priority and report back to the House “no later” than Dec. 14, which is the second last scheduled sitting day of the year. The committee is expected to convene Thursday morning.
Separately, the Conservatives are pursuing an investigation into Fergus’ use of House resources at the Board of Internal Economy.
The Speaker — who has said he thought the video was to be aired at an “intimate” event feting his longtime friend John Fraser — may now be called to testify and further justify why he’s said that while he regrets how the situation played out, he didn’t consider it partisan to recognize a colleague.
While Fergus has apologized and vowed to continue to govern the chamber with respect and fairness, as the House was debating the matter, he departed for official business in Washington, D.C., that saw him again referencing his Liberal roots, a move that has left some MPs further questioning his judgment.
Because the expected study will be fast-tracked, it appears likely that the Fergus matter will be resolved before the holiday break, letting MPs return in the new year with a clean slate, either with a repentant Fergus still in the chair or with a new Speaker — the third in as many months.
His predecessor Anthony Rota had to vacate the seat in late September amid cross-party calls for him to step down over his invitation and recognition of a man who fought for a Nazi unit during the Second World War.
Fergus’ office has told CTV News he won’t be commenting while MPs consider next steps, but he did briefly speak to CBC News on Capitol Hill on Tuesday night, signalling he doesn’t plan to step down.
Asked Wednesday what his colleagues make of the matter and Fergus’ trip south of the border amid the controversy, Liberal MPs said they don’t think their colleague has become a liability, referencing his apology and pledge to uphold his impartiality obligations.
“I know Greg to be somebody who believes in the institutions of Parliament,” said Housing Minister Sean Fraser. “My sense is Greg can be even-handed from the chair.”
But, with the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois still calling for Fergus to step down, and the NDP saying they’re waiting to see what the probe may reveal before deciding if they can still support him, it remains to be seen whether the Speaker can survive this simmering controversy.