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Conservatives call on Commons Speaker to resign, say he let Trudeau cross the line

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs want House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus to resign after ejecting their leader — and not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — during a heated debate Tuesday.

The Tories say Fergus did not apply the rules equally during a tense back and forth between Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. 

Poilievre was kicked out of the chamber after he called Trudeau a “wacko prime minister” and refused Fergus’s request to withdraw the remark. His entire caucus eventually left as well in protest. 

The insult was hurled as Poilievre pressed Trudeau to agree to British Columbia’s request to amend a Health Canada provision decriminalizing public possession of hard drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Trudeau instead shot back that Poilievre did not deserve elected office, accusing him of courting far-right extremists.

Last week videos emerged of Poilievre visiting a carbon price protest camp in Atlantic Canada where one of the trailers featured a drawing of a symbol belonging to the far-right online group Diagolon.

Conservative MP John Brassard said Wednesday that Trudeau used “undignified” language Tuesday by inferring that Tories are connected to white nationalists. 

“The Conservative party has never been represented by a more diverse group in this country like we’ve seen now, and to imply and infer that somehow we are white nationalists or racists, I think is undignified,” he told reporters on Wednesday. 

Michael Barrett, the party’s ethics critic in Parliament, said equal rules must be applied in the House when the prime minister is delivering what Barrett calls “personal insults” instead of defending his drug policy. 

A spokesman for Fergus said Wednesday that the Speaker didn’t just single out Poilievre, noting he also asked Trudeau to reframe one of his questions after he called Poilievre a “spineless leader.” 

“The prime minister reframed his answer,’ Mathieu Gravel said.

“The Speaker offered Mr. Poilievre four opportunities to withdraw his comment and reframe his question. Mr. Poilievre did not avail himself of those opportunities.”

Poilievre instead told Fergus he would replace the word “wacko” with “extremist” and “radical,” which the Speaker rejected, asking him to withdraw use of the term altogether.

When he did not, Fergus ordered him to leave.

The Conservative leader cried censorship and said Fergus was trying to protect the prime minister.

Gravel said Fergus “has no intention of resigning.”

Most of Wednesday’s question period was far less raucous, with the Conservatives set in a sedate tone. The back-and-forth between opposition and government MPs, which saw both Trudeau and Poilievre participate, unfolded without need for the Speaker to step in.

Poilievre avoided bringing up the previous day’s events.

Rather he spoke in a slow, measured manner throughout, and didn’t react when Trudeau referenced the “new, more reasonable tone of the leader of the Opposition” and again accused Poilievre of refusing to “condemn violent extremism.”

But close to an hour into question period, when Trudeau did it again, some Conservative MPs began shouting “black face” at him. That is a reference to images of Trudeau that emerged in 2021 showing him wearing black, or brown face on more than one occasion prior to getting into politics.

House of Commons rules state if the Speaker determines “offensive or disorderly language” was used, the MP will be asked to withdraw the unparliamentary remarks, and “must rise in his or her place to retract the words unequivocally.”

The rules don’t define unparliamentary language, instead allowing the Speaker to make the decision based on a number of factors, including tone, intention and most importantly whether the remarks caused any disorder in the chamber. That means the same language can be deemed unparliamentary one day but not the next. 

Liberals came to Fergus’s defence on Tuesday and continued to slam Poilievre’s actions and that of his caucus.

“When we saw the Conservatives storm out in protest, I thought it was immature,” said Housing Minister Sean Fraser. 

“Nobody sent me to Ottawa to storm out of the House of Commons. Some of the comments that I heard coming from Opposition MPs was cheerleading that it was happening, saying ‘are you trying to help us with our fundraising. We’re going to raise an extra million dollars off this.'”

The Conservative party sent out a fundraising blast within an hour of the incident.

Similarly, the Liberal party’s social media lit up with footage of cabinet ministers and Trudeau himself calling out Poilievre, accusing him of courting far-right extremists.

Government House leader Steven MacKinnon said on Wednesday that the Speaker was elected by MPs and respects all of his rulings. 

On Tuesday, he also compared Poilievre’s behaviour to that of former U.S. President Donald Trump, which is a frequent attack the Liberals mount against the Canadian Conservative, accusing the party of importing American-style politics into the country. 

“They come into our democratic institutions, they break all the rules and when they are called on breaking all the rules they leave and say they’ve been gagged,” MacKinnon said. 

— With files from Anja Karadeglija and Mickey Djuric

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024. 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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