Speaker Ross Wiseman formally admitted he was wrong, and apologized Tuesday for throwing New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers out of the House of Assembly last week.
The stunning about-face for Wiseman capped a week of controversy and criticism about the government’s handling of social media and alleged death threats against Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“I have become aware of considerably more information regarding the complexities and the nuances of this new evolving social media and its use, particularly as it pertains to legislatures and particularly the manner in which individuals may find themselves attached to a group without their explicit consent,” Wiseman said.
“Consequently, my finding of contempt in this situation was erroneous and I offer my own apology to the member for St. John’s Centre,” the Speaker said.
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Rogers accepted Wiseman’s apology, but said it was really the government that should be saying sorry.
“I believe that the government attempted to misuse the House by doing a very transparent, political manoeuvre,” Rogers said. “Not only am I owed an apology from government members, but I do believe the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are owed an apology.”
On April 16, Government House Leader Darin King raised the issue of a Facebook group — “Kathy Dunderdale must GO!!!” — which included at least one violent, threatening comment from a user.
At the time the controversy first erupted, the group contained more than 1,600 members.
King argued that because Rogers was also a member of the group, she tacitly endorsed the violent posting, which involved a user musing about Dunderdale being assassinated.
Rogers was not given an opportunity to make an argument on the issue before Wiseman ruled that she must apologize for being a member of the group. When she refused to apologize, Wiseman found her in contempt and threw her out of the House.
Rogers has maintained that she was added to the group by another user without her knowledge or consent, and that the government’s attitude of guilt by association smears the other users who did not make threatening comments about the premier.
Meanwhile, Dunderdale and King have insisted for the past week that MHAs must avoid the appearance of associating with distasteful commentary online, even in the face of revelations by the CBC that Dunderdale’s Twitter account was associated with a pornographic user, and Tory MHA Paul Lane apparently endorsed Labrador Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones.
King wasn’t in the legislature Tuesday, but deputy House leader Keith Hutchings said he still stands by that position.
“We’re all responsible for associations we have as an elected official, or in any other capacity,” he said. “As an elected official, it’s up to us to communicate in the manner that we see fit, with those that we represent.”