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House speaker rules that Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould's privileges were not breached in caucus ouster

OTTAWA — The House of Commons speaker ruled Thursday morning that now-independent MP Jane Philpott’s privileges were not breached in her ouster from caucus last week, along with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Speaker Geoff Regan, who represents the riding of Halifax West, said it boils down to a jurisdictional issue — the “general restraint on speakers when they are asked to interpret the law,” and his inability to rule on issues outside of the House itself.

Philpott had argued to the Commons on Tuesday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated their rights, and the law, by failing to allow Liberal MPs an opportunity to adopt reforms set out in the Parliament of Canada Act. Instead of the more-democratic process that could have been, she argued, Trudeau was therefore able to “unilaterally” kick them out.

Liberals say the will of the caucus at the start of this Parliament was to decline opting in to the rule changes, which were amended with Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Reform Act in 2015.

Philpott alleged the process did not happen as the law dictates, which prevented MPs from being able to opt in to a system that would require the caucus to express its will on matters including expulsions. In this case, the rules would have required 90 Liberal MPs to vote on the ouster by secret ballot. But no vote was held.

“Secret in-camera meetings or private notices should not be a shield to prevent the upholding of the law and members’ rights,” Philpott said. Chong, reached by the National Post on Tuesday, said, “I hope that our House of Commons is strong enough to adjudicate this and to seek justice.”

The speaker had made a different ruling on Monday that suggested he would not have the ability to find a breach of privilege in this case, which generally refers to MPs being impeded from their duties in some way. He expanded on that ruling Thursday morning.

Regan said it was the responsibility of the Liberal caucus alone, as set out in the Parliament of Canada Act, to ensure that votes were held on the Reform Act provisions in the manner dictated by the law.

“In fact the only role of the speaker is to be advised of the caucus decision,” he said. “The speaker’s role stops there. It does not in any way extend to interpreting the results of the votes, or how the votes were taken, or to interpreting any other relevant provisions.”

Secret in-camera meetings or private notices should not be a shield to prevent the upholding of the law and members’ rights

He called back a previous speaker’s ruling back on April 9, 1991 that “the speaker has no role in interpreting matters of either a constitutional or a legal nature.”

Regan acknowledged Philpott’s appeal to him that it is his responsibility to make all MPs aware of their rights. But his jurisdiction is over the House of Commons only, he argued. Caucuses have the “authority to govern their internal operations” and while they may be creatures of the parliamentary system, their meetings don’t count as the proceedings of the House he oversees.

“With the full authority given to caucuses themselves in such unequivocal terms, it is clear that the chair has no role in the interpretation or enforcement of this statute,” he said. “Even when members feel rudderless without what they feel would be clearly stated and understood rules.”

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