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Speaker turns off microphone in wake of Commons dust-up

House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer delivers his ruling on amendments to the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill on June 11, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Speaker Andrew Scheer hit MPs where it hurts – cutting off a microphone – as he tried to lower the temperature of the House of Commons a day after a heated face-to-face dust-up between senior Conservatives and New Democrats.

For months, Conservative MPs have been using statements before Question Period to criticize NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, even though that time is traditionally used by MPs to highlight local issues in their ridings.

But when Conservative MP Ryan Leef began a statement on Thursday with: "No matter how mad the Leader of the NDP gets …" the Speaker promptly cut him off.

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Whether the Speaker plans to do more is not clear. He met with the NDP on Thursday, and the Speaker's office says Mr. Scheer may address Wednesday's incident later.

Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan apologized on Thursday morning for swearing during a tense exchange with NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen and Mr. Mulcair on Wednesday afternoon.

House of Commons cameras showed Mr. Van Loan crossing the aisle pointing his finger at Mr. Cullen, but Mr. Mulcair could not be seen on camera and has not commented on the incident. Defence Minister Peter MacKay is seen crossing the aisle to guide Mr. Van Loan back to the Conservative benches.

Conservatives say Mr. Mulcair also intervened in the discussion with yelling and bad language and Mr. Van Loan called on him to apologize.

"I do acknowledge that I did use an inappropriate word when I was discussing this matter with the opposition House Leader. I should not have done that and I do apologize for that," Mr. Van Loan told MPs after explaining why he had a procedural disagreement with the NDP. "I would expect the Leader of the Opposition to do the same. And I do hope that at this point we can move forward and get on with the important business Canadians want us to do."

Mr. Cullen says the NDP has no reason to apologize.

"I was there. I was in the moment. [Mr. Mulcair] stood up and said, 'You can't do this here. This is not acceptable. You can't talk to my House Leader that way.' I don't know why standing up to a bully requires an apology. The guy [Mr. Van Loan] was threatening me."

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The NDP House Leader dismissed Mr. Van Loan's apology, saying it was not one swear word, but several, including what Mr. Cullen described as "f-bombs."

Mr. Cullen said it was appropriate for the Speaker to cut off Mr. Leef on Thursday.

"At some point, they will be dragged kicking and screaming to respect this place," he said.

The issue that triggered Wednesday's heated exchange was a point of order from Mr. Cullen that the final of 47 budget votes on Tuesday night should not be allowed because the motion was recorded as being moved by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, even though he was not in the House.

Mr. Van Loan said the mixup happened because of a mistake by Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin, a New Democrat. Under Parliamentary rules and tradition, criticizing the Speaker is frowned upon.

Mr. Scheer, the Speaker, rejected Mr. Cullen's complaint, dismissing the issue as a "clerical oversight."

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In an intervention that was greeted with groans from the Conservative bench, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also added her comments in the House on Thursday.

"I trespass on this very tentatively, but recall that the history of the length between these benches was to be two sword lengths," she said. "We want the notion to be figurative."

The House of Commons is scheduled to recess on Friday, Dec. 14, for a six-week break.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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