Rarely does the Speaker of the House of Commons spend as much time in the news as he has in the last few months. The critical and prestigious role is critical to the functioning of the House of Commons and our parliamentary democracy. At the same time, the role is often mostly ceremonial, free from partisan trappings. And yet, only two months after the last Speaker resigned under pressure, we find ourselves in a similar situation as Speaker Greg Fergus recently drew criticism for actions which raised questions about his ability to be non-partisan.
At the Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention last weekend, outgoing interim leader John Fraser—a close personal acquaintance of Mr. Fergus – was being thanked for his time and service to the party. On the convention’s large screens, a video was shown where Mr. Fergus was observed in his official Speaker’s capacity, clad in the Speaker’s robes and situated in his office, honouring his good friend.
This triggered an uproar among the Conservatives and the Bloc Québecois, who deemed it to be partisan conduct and demanded his resignation. Mr. Fergus apologized and claimed he was unaware of when or where the video would be shown, only that it would be to a few close friends. Nonetheless, the video was recorded, saved, and played at a partisan convention.
Also concerning is that this is the second incident involving a Speaker in under three months. Former Speaker Anthony Rota was forced to resign in September after he honoured a WWII Ukrainian veteran from his riding during President Zelenskyy’s state visit.
Rota’s departure was a unique occurrence in parliamentary history, signalling a departure from convention. Could we see a second within months of the last? Speakers historically don’t resign mid-session, let alone under such circumstances.
All eyes will be on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) today as the Committee will recommend what repercussions, if any, will face the Speaker. With the Tories and Bloc already signalling their position, the NDP holds all the cards on whether the House of Commons will have its third Speaker in three months.
The Speaker’s role is pivotal in enabling the House’s smooth functioning and, consequently, the governance process. When the Speaker’s actions or perceived biases dominate discourse, it undermines and disables the core functionality of our parliamentary system.
The recurrent politicization of the Speaker’s role, whether through alleged bias or overt partisan behaviour, jeopardizes the fundamental workings of our parliamentary system. Worse, it continues to distract from the work that MPs are supposed to be doing in the House of Commons.