Tuesday brought significant moves by the Speaker in two different legislatures, provincial and federal.
In the Newfoundland House of Assembly, Speaker Ross Wiseman rose to say that he had made a mistake in censuring NDP MHA Gerry Rogers for something she plainly did not do, while in Ottawa, House of Commons Speaker Andrews Scheer took a significant step towards preserving the right of members of Parliament to speak out on issues that matter to their constituents.
The Wiseman issue needs little explanation because it has been dealt with exhaustively ever since he threw Rogers out of the House. Here’s a thumbnail sketch: Rogers was added, unknowingly, to a Facebook group that included a comment advocating violence against Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Government House Leader Darin King rose from his seat in high dudgeon, demanding that Rogers be disciplined. While he didn’t completely agree with King, Wiseman asked Rogers to apologize for something she didn’t do. She — rightly — refused, and got tossed.
Wiseman explained Tuesday that he didn’t have all the facts, and apologized to Rogers. (No apology yet from King for wasting the House of Assembly’s time with such puffery, but don’t hold your breath on that one.)
The decision would have been bad precedent, and Wiseman did the right thing. More power to him.
On to Scheer: in the House of Commons, members of Parliament get to stand and raise issues that concern them and their constituents. It has been a softball part of the House, with MPs standing to welcome centenarians to their 100th year, and so on. It lets the folks back home preen a bit and see that their MPs are at least aware of local events.
The statements have grown into a field that’s controlled by party brass; they say who will stand, approve statements ahead of time and order MPs to stay seated with their mouths shut.
As a result, there’s been a big increase in MPs standing, not to raise their own issues, but to pour praise on government initiatives. At the same time, MPs who want to raise issues the government wants off the table — like abortion — have had their right to be heard quashed.
Scheer ruled Tuesday that the person sitting in the Speaker’s chair — not party whips — gets to decide who will have the floor. If MPs want to make statements, they can stand at the opportune time, and he will make the decision on who will get to speak.
It’s a small blow against the expanding stage-management of Canadian politics, but a good one. MPs are elected to serve their constituents and to speak their convictions, not to be desk-slapping puppets for the executive decisions of the party brass.
Yes, sometimes MPs will embarrass their leaders. And, yes, they may speak frankly about uncomfortable issues.
That’s far better than a false world where everyone in a political party has a cookie-cutter, stage-managed presence. If we wanted sheep, we’d elect a shepherd.
Two different Speakers, two good decisions — and all in one day.