I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised on June 20, 2023, by the chief opposition whip concerning the enforcement of the rules of decorum.
In her intervention, the whip explained that she was rising with respect to the right of the member for Lethbridge to speak in debate on business then before the House. Earlier in the sitting, a series of exchanges led the member for Lethbridge to accuse the Minister of Canadian Heritage of lying. The member was called to order by the Assistant Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole. The chief opposition whip indicated that she accepted this decision. However, she felt that, given the member subsequently apologized, there was no reason to continue to bar her from participating in the proceedings. The whip finished her intervention by emphasizing the need for an “even-handed application of the rules”.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader countered that the Assistant Deputy Speaker acted appropriately. He pointed out that she made several attempts to bring the member for Lethbridge to order, before informing the member that she would not be recognized for the remainder of the day. The members for New Westminster—Burnaby and Elgin—Middlesex—London also made interventions.
When this point of order was first raised, I committed to review what occurred. I have now done so.
The member for Lethbridge, while the Minister of Canadian Heritage was responding to her question during debate, persisted with the heckling, ultimately accusing him of lying. The Assistant Deputy Speaker, who was in the chair at the time, repeatedly asked the member to cease with the heckling. The Assistant Deputy Speaker informed the member of the consequences she would face, namely that the member would not be recognized for the remainder of the sitting. Since the heckling did not cease, the Assistant Deputy Speaker indicated that this sanction would be applied. Moreover, following a point of order from the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, she was asked to apologize for using unparliamentary language, having accused the minister of lying.
The member did make an apology but qualified it by using a different formulation of words. The Assistant Deputy Speaker commented on the nature of the apology. She reiterated that the member would not be recognized for the rest of the day, as had been decided prior to the request for an apology for the use of unparliamentary language.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 646 states, and I quote:
Members rarely defy the Speaker's authority or risk evoking the Chair's disciplinary powers. If a Member challenges the authority of the Chair by refusing to obey the Speaker's call to order, to withdraw unparliamentary language, to cease irrelevance or repetition, or to stop interrupting a Member who is addressing the House, the Chair has recourse to a number of options. The Speaker may recognize another Member, or refuse to recognize the Member until the offending remarks are retracted and the Member apologizes. As a last resort, the Chair may “name” a Member, the most severe disciplinary power at the Speaker's disposal.
As a result, I cannot find fault with how the Assistant Deputy Speaker handled the situation. Having called the same member to order four different times in the space of about a minute, it should not come as a surprise that she chose to apply a sanction. The chief opposition whip may find the sanction excessive, but I trust each chair occupant to do what is appropriate in the circumstances. I also trust members to do their utmost to maintain order and decorum at all times, and when it has been given, to heed the direction of the Chair.
I note that later in the sitting yesterday, some members equated the sanction applied with censorship, which only serves to undermine the Chair's authority. If members wish to participate in debate, they need to respect the rules that we have all agreed to.
Presiding over the House can be a challenge even at the best of times. The chair occupants, to whom members have entrusted the conduct of our proceedings, depend on the co-operation of all members in maintaining order. Over the course of the past weeks, we have seen examples from both sides of the House of how various accusations quickly devolve into a difficult work environment, which borders on bullying, I might add. In each instance where the chair occupant has been called to intervene, they have attempted to restore order and ensure our rules are respected. Once a ruling is delivered, the matter is considered closed.
I take the remark seriously of the need for the Chair to be always even-handed, as voiced by the chief opposition whip. I will take the opportunity to state firmly that I and all chair occupants strive to be fair, balanced and equitable when presiding over the business of the House. We endeavour to do this every day. We will continue to do so.
I thank the other chair occupants for their support and commitment to the House, and all members for their attention.