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Tories appear set to reject Speaker’s finding on MP’s voter-fraud reversal

Conservative MP Brad Butt responds to a question in Ottawa on Oct. 24, 2011.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Conservative government is signaling it will vote down a motion to study whether one of its MPs misled the House of Commons, rejecting a finding by the Speaker that the issue deserves a closer look if only to "clear the air."

A vote is expected by the opposition later Tuesday on a motion to refer the case of Brad Butt to a parliamentary committee, and the government on Tuesday made a motion to limit debate on the subject.

Mr. Butt, a Conservative MP from Ontario, is under fire for twice saying he personally witnessed voter fraud, then later saying he had not. He made the comments in support of a contentious government bill, the "Fair Elections Act."

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House Speaker Andrew Scheer, who is a Conservative MP but holds a non-partisan role, on Monday sided with an NDP motion that there was a prima facie, or apparent, question of parliamentary privilege as to whether Mr. Butt deliberately misled the House of Commons.

Mr. Scheer's ruling triggered a debate that will lead to a vote on whether the Procedure and House Affairs committee should study the issue. But that vote doesn't appear set to pass.

A spokeswoman for Conservative whip John Duncan said she couldn't say how MPs will vote, but that there is little to be gained by sending the issue to committee.

"It will be up to the Members of the House of Commons to vote on the motion before them. However, I would point out that Mr. Butt has apologized and voluntarily corrected the record. All of the facts are known on this issue, so there is nothing for a committee to study," Laura Smith, a senior adviser to Mr. Duncan, said in an e-mail.

A spokesman for Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said it was too early to say when the vote would take place. On Tuesday, Mr. Van Loan gave notice of closure, limiting time spent on the debate. He said it was unnecessary.

"The question you have to ask is if that is actually going to serve any utility? There's really no dispute," Mr. Van Loan said. "…Certainly, one cannot picture anything that will come of great utility from further discussion of the matter."

Earlier in the day, the Conservatives rejected an NDP motion to, in effect, continue debate of Mr. Butt's claims. Instead, government opted to instead discuss a committee report on Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern nations. Mr. Van Loan urged the opposition to discuss the report, and not Mr. Butt.

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After the vote, however, in response to a question from Green Party leader Elizabeth May, the NDP simply continued to comment on Mr. Butt's case, followed thereafter by the Liberals.

"This is what they've resorted to – because they don't have the facts on the side, they don't have the evidence on their side, they have to make up stories about elections fraud that they claimed to have witnessed," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said.

Mr. Cullen accused the Conservatives of trying to dodge the debate over Mr. Butt with the report. "They know what they're doing. Shame on them for doing it," Mr. Cullen charged.

Formal debate resumed later in the day.

In such types of "privilege" cases, the common practice is for the House to agree to send it to committee, said Rob Walsh, the retired law clerk of the House of Commons.

"When there is a prima facie finding by the Speaker, usually the matter is referred to the Procedure and House Affairs committee for review and report back to the House," Mr. Walsh said. "And then, with that report, the House will consider whether to go further."

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That was the case in a ruling Mr. Scheer relied on, a 2002 decision involving then-speaker Peter Milliken and then-defence minister Art Eggleton, both Liberals. A speaker agreed there was a prima facie case and MPs agreed to send it to a committee, which ultimately concluded Mr. Eggleton did not mislead the House.

Mr. Butt made his statements on Feb. 6 and retracted then Feb. 24. It's unclear what prompted the reversal, but a complaint had been filed to Elections Canada, which declined to say whether or not it was investigating Mr. Butt's claim.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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