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Canada’s Speaker of the House, Greg Fergus, has been a huge embarrassment since he was first elected to this role last October. His most recent brouhaha serves as a clear indication that he should be removed as House Speaker immediately – and should have never been House Speaker to begin with.

On Tuesday, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre was criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government’s controversial drug policy in Parliament. He noted that 22 British Columbians had died of drug overdoses since the NDP had asked the Liberals to “reverse course on his – and formerly their – radical policy.”

Poilievre would go on to ask the following question, “When will we put an end to this whacko policy by this whacko Prime Minister?”

Fergus, who had already tossed out Conservative MP Rachel Thomas that day after she refused to apologize for describing his handling of question period as “disgraceful,” wasn’t going to give Poilievre a pass on his comment. He called the situation “unacceptable” and asked the Conservative leader to “withdraw that term, which is not considered parliamentary.”

Poilievre responded to Fergus in the following fashion. “Mister Speaker, I replace whacko with extremist.” Fergus refused to accept this replacement, and asked him again to withdraw the comment. Poilievre said, “I’ll replace it with radical. That’s his policy.” Fergus refused again, and asked him to withdraw rather than replace the term. Poilievre responded one more time, “Mister Speaker, I replaced the word whacko with extremist.”

Fergus then asked him “one last time, to please withdraw that comment and simply withdraw that comment.” Poilievre responded as follows, “I simply withdraw and replace with the aforementioned adjective.” The House Speaker ejected Poilievre from the House of Commons, who was followed out the door by the entire Conservative caucus.

This tete-a-tete was obviously unfortunate. Nevertheless, most political observers, if they were being honest with themselves, would have accepted this as a heat-of-the-moment exchange. Much in the same way Trudeau had been previously warned by Fergus for stating that Poilievre was “showing us exactly what shameful, spineless leadership looks like” and accused him of shaking hands with “white nationalists.” And Fergus’s previous warning to Poilievre for stating that Trudeau was “the guy who spent the first half of his adult life as a practising racist.”

These exchanges were worse than the Fergus-Poilievre exchange. Unless your definition of what type of language and terminology is parliamentary is, well, extremist and radical in nature.

No matter what you think of Poilievre’s original description of Trudeau, he clearly offered to replace the offending word with two different ones. The words “extremist” and  “radical” have been used in a certain context during previous House of Commons debates and proceedings. Hence, Poilievre’s concession would have been acceptable to most of our past House Speakers.

Other than a Liberal partisan like Fergus, that is.

Then again, should we really be surprised by this? Fergus has made numerous mistakes  and foolish decisions as a Liberal MP and House Speaker. He doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons from these controversies, either.

During a Jan. 25, 2021 appearance on CTV’s Power Play, Fergus, who was a backbench Liberal MP at the time, said more COVID-19 vaccine approvals were needed to meet a Sept. 2021 target. He confidently mentioned two vaccines on air, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Neither of them had been approved in Canada at that point. CTV spoke with then-Liberal Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who confirmed Ottawa’s position hadn’t been adjusted. Fergus was forced to apologize.

Fergus was then found guilty of an ethics violation in Feb. 2023. He broke the Conflict of Interest Act as Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary by writing a letter of support to the CRTC for a television channel that had applied for mandatory carriage. Parliamentary rules restrict ministers and parliamentary secretaries from writing letters of support. Only MPs can do this. Fergus apologized again.

Fergus screwed up once more in Dec. 2023 when he appeared in a video tribute for outgoing interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser. He was dressed in his traditional Speaker’s robe, which is against the spirit and rules of impartiality his parliamentary role is supposed to represent. As Andrew Scheer, a former Conservative leader and House Speaker, said, “This conduct is simply unacceptable. It defies all long-standing traditions and expectations attached to the high office of Speaker.” Fergus apologized yet again.

Apologies seem to be the only thing that Fergus has been able to figure out (sort of) during his largely unimpressive career as a federal politician.

It’s highly unlikely Fergus will apologize for his recent exchange with Poilievre. He should apologize to his fellow parliamentarians for assuming the role of House Speaker, however. He’s barely equipped to handle the duties of being a backbench MP and parliamentary secretary, let alone being the presiding officer of Canada’s House of Commons.

It would be best for everyone if Fergus stepped down as House Speaker. At the very least, he should be removed from this role. Alas, the chances of any of this happening before his next apology are pretty slim.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The continued decline of our Parliament from a once serious and proud institution to a deeply unserious clown show accelerated at an alarming rate over the fall sitting, particularly in the House of Commons, thought the Senate has not been immune. As the world becomes an increasingly dangerous place, with the climate emergency now in full swing, the international rules-based order under assault by Russia and its allies, liberal democracy in the West under siege from far-right actors and the likes of Viktor Orbán as he tries to position himself as a leader in post-liberal politics, Canada is on a precipice. This should be a moment where our political class wakes up and realizes that we have a lot of challenges staring us in the face, and we should be serious adults in trying to address them. That is not what is happening, and the incentives are no longer there politically for this to happen.

Things began in late summer with a Cabinet shuffle and a Liberal caucus retreat that was about the party expressing their frustration in a leader who is getting long in the tooth, and whose staff have been creating problems for the caucus as a whole. It wound up with Trudeau surviving the day, and his caucus more or less coming together, but promised action on the housing crisis, which the federal government had finally woken up to, was still some weeks away. Meanwhile, trying to remind the government about their previous “deliverology” philosophy seemed to fall on deaf ears as they convinced themselves their plunging poll numbers was simply a matter of not communicating enough, rather than of not showing results.

Things seemed to pick up in late September when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Ottawa, and gave a speech to a joint session of Parliament, but the high of that event was quickly shattered in the days that followed when it became clear that the Speaker, Anthony Rota, had introduced a constituent in the gallery who had fought for a Nazi unit in the Second World War, and called him a “Canadian hero.” Rota epitomized the unseriousness that has beset our Parliament, more concerned with showing off and being everyone’s friend than he was in doing the serious work of being Speaker, and even after he spent a weekend being berated for his judgment in making that introduction in the Chamber, he still tried to hang onto his job before the House Leaders had to gang up on him and make it clear that it was untenable.

Once Rota resigned, and the process to elect his replacement got underway, MPs once again decided not to be serious about the task at hand. Rather than choose the woman who had been doing the job of assistant Deputy Speaker for years in competent fashion, and who had taken on non-partisan roles in the years leading up to this, they instead chose the much, much more partisan Greg Fergus, who while affable, had absolutely no experience in the role of being Speaker, and the Conservatives immediately tried to undermine him publicly. Fergus didn’t help himself as he started peacocking, and within weeks, found himself the subject of a privilege motion, and later a committee report recommending a fine and another apology, because he didn’t have enough foresight and judgment not to record a video for a provincial party friend while in his robes and in his official office. It remains to be seen if he can maintain his role with two opposition parties looking to remove him from the job.

The government, trying to recapture its economic credentials with the communications exercise of “Team Economy” press conferences every Tuesday morning, and some actually sound housing policies finally rolling out, stepped on yet another rake in announcing a “pause” on the carbon price for home heating oil nationally, but because Trudeau made the announcement with all of his Atlantic Canadian MPs behind him, it looked like he was trying to disproportionately benefit one region in order to salvage his polling numbers there. It also undermined the integrity of the carbon pricing regime, and set off a frenzy of demands for more carve-outs, for all home heating (never mind the price differential for heating oil versus other forms), and for on-farm fuels that aren’t already exempt, and this in turn led to some of the worst abuses of parliament in recent memory.

In the leadup to several votes making these demands, the Conservatives turned Question Period into a nihilistic exercise in clip-gathering, repeating the same scripts over and over again but changing the MP they are trying to single out for shitpost videos that would be triggers for their flying monkeys to harass and intimidate those MPs. This also got used against Senators who moved a routine procedural motion so that more senators could join the debate on a bill the Conservatives decided was a pressing wedge on the carbon price they could weaponized, and when a couple of Conservative senators also joined in with the intimidation tactics, one of them in person rather than simply online, things have become incredibly heated in that Chamber as well.

To cap off just how unserious this has all become, Pierre Poilievre spent the last couple of weeks shilling for a disinformation “documentary” on the housing crisis he produced, while engaging in some of the dumbest procedural tactics to try and force the government’s hand on carbon price carve-outs, with a vote marathon on the Estimates (which had nothing to do with the carbon price, and only served to punish the staff of the House of Commons who had to put in overtime to make this happen), and make empty threats to extend the sitting into the holidays, even though there is a fixed calendar and he couldn’t do that, plus it would actually benefit the government because they’d have additional time to push through their legislation. And in forcing the marathon, Poilievre seemed to actually unite the Liberal caucus, which had been grousing pretty hard over Trudeau in the weeks leading up to it.

The absolute decay in what is happening in Parliament was on full display, in large part because nobody is actually worrying about public policy any longer—nearly everything is now just about their comms strategies, and pushing it out over social media. Everything is just performance—substance has almost entirely left the building, and every party shares the blame in this. Canadians cannot afford for our political leaders to be taking their eye off the ball at such a critical juncture in history, and yet all we have to show for this are stupid games that are eroding our institutions. It’s time for all parliamentarians to grow up, before it’s too late.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Canada and the US utilize different political systems. The former uses the Westminster model for parliamentary government, which includes an elected House of Commons and (mostly) unelected Senate. The latter uses a presidential system and constitutional federal republic, which includes elected assemblies in the House of Representatives and Senate.

The two countries do have a few political similarities. Both elect a Speaker of the House, for instance. The role tends to be of a more independent nature in Canada, and more ideologically partisan in the US. Nevertheless, this individual is supposed to manage the day-to-day proceedings of the Canadian Parliament and US Congress, respectively.

In a strange quirk of history, the House Speaker role in both countries has simultaneously experienced an unusually high amount of political turmoil.

Anthony Rota, a Liberal MP who had served as Canada’s Speaker of the House for nearly four years, invited 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka to be honoured during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Sept. 22 visit. Rota described Hunka, one of his constituents in North Bay, as a “Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” as well as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”

The war veteran received a standing ovation in Parliament, and plenty of smiles on both sides of the House. That is, until people started to connect the dots and realized that a huge mistake had been made. Hunka had served in the First Ukrainian Division during the Second World War, which was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division and SS 14th Waffen Division. This division was a voluntary unit commanded by Nazi Germany that’s been accused of murdering Jewish and Polish civilians.

An actual Nazi had been honoured in the House of Commons. Rota was humiliated and issued an apology within days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were embarrassed by the actions of the Speaker and a caucus colleague. The opposition parties, who were also on their feet that day, pointed blame squarely at Rota, Trudeau and the Liberals and the clear lack of a proper vetting process.

Rota resigned as House Speaker on Sept. 26. While the Hunka invitation was unintentional, it was a massive error in judgment that couldn’t be swept under the rug. There was no other alternative but to step down.

This led to Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon taking over the role on an interim basis. Plamondon, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1984, became the first-ever Speaker from the BQ, a separatist party. While uneventful, it was a strange moment in Canadian politics and the shortest-ever tenure of a House Speaker.

This led to the Oct. 3 vote for a new Speaker. Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP and the acknowledged front-runner, defeated three fellow Liberals (Sean Casey, Alexandra Mendès and Peter Schiefke), Conservative MP Chris d’Entremont, NDP MP Carol Hughes and Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a secret ballot vote. Stéphane Lauzon, a Liberal MP who had also put his name forward, withdrew before the voting started.

Liberal MPs seemed pleased with this decision. Fergus became Canada’s first Black House Speaker, and they felt the political turmoil involving this role would end.

Then again, maybe it won’t.

Fergus’s skills as a politician are highly suspect. He got into some hot water during a Jan. 25, 2021 appearance on CTV’s Power Play. After pointing out that more COVID-19 vaccine approvals were needed to meet a Sept. 2021 target, he confidently mentioned two vaccines, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, that hadn’t been approved in Canada at that point. CTV got in touch with then-Liberal Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who confirmed her government’s position hadn’t changed. Fergus issued an apology.

Fergus was also found guilty of an ethics violation this February. He broke the Conflict of Interest Act as Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary after writing a letter of support to the CRTC for a television channel that had applied for mandatory carriage. Parliamentary rules forbid ministers and parliamentary secretaries from writing letters of support. This is something that only MPs can do.

A mediocre politician with an ethics violation is Canada’s new House Speaker. The bar has been lowered yet again.

Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy, who was elected US House Speaker on Jan. 7 after 15 agonizing ballots, the fifth longest in American history, became the first person in this role to be removed.

The right-leaning Freedom Caucus within the GOP was furious with McCarthy’s decision to make a deal with House Democrats to pass a funding resolution that would prevent a government shutdown. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open,” McCarthy said. “If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try.”

This was more than enough motivation for Matt Gaetz. The controversial Republican House Representative filed a motion to vacate on Oct. 2. While it initially seemed unlikely to succeed, the slim four-seat Republican majority that’s basically propped up the Freedom Caucus withered away. Eight Republicans, including Gaetz, voted for the no-confidence motion and were joined by the entire Democratic caucus.

The final vote was 216-210 to remove McCarthy. The Speaker’s seat was declared vacant. Republican Patrick McHenry was appointed Speaker pro tempore, and McCarthy unsurprisingly confirmed he wouldn’t run again.

While McCarthy’s leadership was far from flawless, it had been more than adequate. He really didn’t deserve this fate. Gaetz and his political allies have therefore unnecessarily thrown the House into turmoil – and hurt their own political brand in the process. With a looming government shutdown in roughly 40 days, the Republicans need to somehow get behind a new candidate for Speaker – and fast.

Who would have ever believed the House Speaker’s role in Canada and the US would have travelled on the same messy path, albeit for separate reasons? For all of our political differences, one similarity has stood out. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.