OTTAWA — It was open rebellion from the opposition as the House of Commons erupted in yelling and desk-slamming Friday morning with MPs protesting the Speaker’s decision to cut off a point of order about the Liberal government’s alleged “slush” fund.
The extremely loud and unusual ruckus began as opposition MPs rose in solidarity with NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, who was outlining procedural arguments against the government asking Parliament to approve $7 billion of spending all at once in this year’s main estimates. The government says the money will be used on budget promises.
Speaker Geoff Regan had cut Blaikie off after about 15 minutes, citing his right to move on after he’s heard “enough” on a topic. He then interrupted procedural arguments against that move from Blaikie, Conservative House leader Candice Bergen and Tory finance critic Pierre Poilièvre, before trying to move on to ordinary House business.
MPs did not take it well.
The Speaker stood up saying “Order, order!” repeatedly as at least a dozen MPs from the opposition benches yelled, “Point of order!” at the top of their lungs, banging on their desks. Blaikie, with a perfect rhythm, yelled it the loudest, at least 40 times. Meanwhile, government House leader Bardish Chagger tried three times to read out an unrelated procedural motion, but she couldn’t be heard over the noise. It lasted for eight minutes.
“I’ve never seen this in the House before,” one staffer remarked.
As he tried to bring the House back to order, Regan chastised Blaikie. “If he wishes to be heard, he may not be heard for some time. It may be difficult to recognize him if he does not take his seat and come to order,” he said.
Blaikie yelled, “It’s my right,” garnering loud applause from the opposition benches. Someone else yelled to the Speaker, “That’s a threat!”
MPs hit the pause button on the issue for question period, but Blaikie stood up afterwards to say his privilege had been violated by the Speaker. Regan said he would “consider the matter” and get back to the House.
On the opposition side, several MPs also asked for Chagger to re-read the motion she had presented — on extending the sitting hours of Parliament for the last few weeks of the sitting — but despite the circumstances, the speaker deemed that she wouldn’t have to. NDP MP Nathan Cullen said he thought it was strange for the Speaker to pretend like this was business as usual when it was “impossible to believe” that anything about Friday morning was normal.
Outside, in the House of Commons foyer, Blaikie told reporters that the Speaker’s actions surprised him. “Members have a right to raise points of order, and it’s the Speaker’s job to hear them. So if the Speaker will not hear a legitimate point of order, my only recourse is to continue to try to get his attention,” he said. “I think the Speaker has a duty to hear me out, and I think eventually he will, one way or another.”
Chagger had a very different interpretation of events. She suggested that what happened was really a distraction tactic by the opposition, meant to delay the motion she was trying to present during the kerfuffle, on a measure often taken at this time of year. Before Blaikie raised his point of order, MPs were scheduled to start the day with Chagger’s motion, and the opposition knew that well ahead of time.
“Rather than have a respectful debate, conversation, they choose to use tactics and play the House how they choose to play it,” she said. “What did we see today? Yelling and utter disrespect for the Speaker. We have seen many things take place in this House, and I’ve spoken to members that have been here a lot longer than I ever will be here that have said they’ve never seen that kind of disrespect of the Speaker.”
Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, who sits on the Liberal-majority committee that is dealing with the $7-billion fund, watched it all unfold from Alberta.
“What a mess,” he told the National Post. He said the Speaker, a Liberal MP, seemed to be floundering, and that when he started to ignore MPs rising on points of order it was an unacceptable breach of privilege. “This is about the third or fourth time where I’ve seen him like this, where he almost makes a partisan play and gets stuck in his own mess,” McCauley said.
“I think it’s a valid point being brought up with Vote 40 (on the $7 billion) and how it’s being done,” he said. “It’s a real assault on Parliament.”
The government says that the $7 billion, to be doled out by Treasury Board, will only be used to fund specific promises from this year’s federal budget, and Treasury Board President Scott Brison has promised to include more specific language to that effect in legislation that accompanies the parliamentary votes on spending. But the opposition was sounding the alarm over the fact that Liberals would ask Parliament to approve funding without any detailed information about it, as pointed out by a recent Parliamentary Budget Officer report.
Blaikie said he was ready to present additional points of order about the main estimates, but because the Speaker cut him off he never got to them. Before things started to hit the fan, Bergen had calmly argued, “It took centuries to get where we are today