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Speaker apologizes for message to former interim Ontario Liberal leader at convention

House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus is apologizing after a video message he filmed for the former interim leader of the Ontario Liberals was played at the party's convention on the weekend. Fergus rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus apologized Monday, and is now facing calls to step down, after a video message he recorded to thank the departing interim leader of the Ontario Liberals was played at the provincial party's leadership convention on the weekend.  

Fergus delivered the apology in the House of Commons the day after Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer gave notice on Sunday that he planned to raise a question of privilege, given the Speaker is supposed to play an explicitly non-partisan role.

The Speaker said he was asked to record the message for an intimate gathering to honour Ontario Liberal MPP John Fraser, whom he called a long-standing friend. 

Fraser had served as interim leader of the provincial Liberal party since August 2022. That role came to an end with the election of Bonnie Crombie as party leader on Saturday.

Mathieu Gravel, a spokesman in the Speaker's office, clarified that a member of Fraser's family had been the one to ask Fergus to record a video message. 

At Queen's Park on Monday, Fraser told reporters there was a miscommunication to Fergus's office over when it would be played.

"That's on us," Fraser said Monday.

"I just deeply appreciated what Greg did, and what I would suggest to anybody who's being critical of the Speaker — watch the video," he added, defending the message Fergus gave as personal and non-partisan. 

Fergus, who represents the western Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer across the river from Ottawa, told members of Parliament that he regrets the video was used in the way it was. He added that he is not a member of the Ontario Liberal Party and has not voted in the province for 30 years.

Carter Brownlee, a spokesperson for the Ontario Liberals, said Monday the party had nothing to add about the video. 

Fergus also defended his decision to film the message in the first place, saying that like other MPs, he is friends with people from across the political spectrum. 

"I have deep and abiding relationships with people from all political backgrounds," he said Monday. "It should not be seen as partisan to recognize a colleague's departure. It is an act of friendship and respect." 

He also said it will not happen again and that he will continue to value the principles of "impartiality" and "decorum."

Scheer did raise the question of privilege after Fergus apologized, and the Conservatives echoed a call from the Bloc Québécois asking the Speaker to resign.

In response to a question about the calls for Fergus to step down, Gravel said late Monday that the Speaker's office would not be commenting any further, given the matter is before the Commons.

Scheer, a former Speaker himself, said Monday that Fergus "greatly" undermined his office. 

"If we think, what would happen if an NHL referee appeared in a locker room for one of the teams, wearing his referee's outfit and giving a bit of a pep talk? How long do we think that NHL referee would continue in that post?" 

NDP House leader Peter Julian joined Scheer in calling for a parliamentary committee to study the incident, saying he was "dismayed" by the video since a Speaker is required to maintain impartiality at all times. 

"To take part while wearing his Speaker's robes in a video shot in this building makes the situation all the more clear."

Fergus was elected Speaker in early October after his predecessor, Liberal MP Anthony Rota, stepped down amid controversy. 

During Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Ottawa in September, Rota had recognized in the House of Commons a man who had fought for a voluntary unit created by the Nazis to help fight the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023. 

— With files from Allison Jones in Toronto.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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