House of Commons Speaker Geoff Regan says he doesn't have the authority to rule on whether the law was violated or rights were breached when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled former cabinet ministers Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould from caucus.
Mr. Regan’s decision, delivered on Thursday, came in response to a question of privilege raised by Ms. Philpott in the House earlier this week. The former president of the Treasury Board said on Tuesday that her privileges were breached and the Liberals broke federal law in the process that led to the removal of herself and Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney-general and justice minister, from the party caucus last week.
At the heart of Ms. Philpott’s argument is that, after the 2015 federal election, the Liberal caucus did not conduct a recorded vote, as required under the Parliament of Canada Act, to decide whether to adopt a set of rules governing the expulsion of caucus members and other matters. Liberal MP John McKay has said “there was no vote” when the Liberal caucus met after the 2015 election to decide how to proceed with the rules.
Mr. Regan said in his decision that the authority of the Speaker is “limited to the internal affairs of the House, its own proceedings” and “does not extend to caucus matters.”
He said the law only requires he be informed of whether a party caucus has decided to adopt rules that give rank-and-file MPs more say in matters such as the removal of caucus members.
“The only role of the Speaker is to be advised of the caucus decision. … The Speaker’s role stops there. It does not, in any way, extend to interpreting the results of the votes, how the votes were taken or interpreting any other relevant provisions,” Mr. Regan said.
Ms. Philpott said the absence of a caucus vote in November, 2015, after the federal election, meant the caucus never voted to adopt the rules, including one that said 20 per cent of a caucus must submit written notice to review an MP’s membership, and that MPs can be ejected only if a majority of all caucus members vote to do so in a secret ballot. Ms. Philpott also noted no caucus vote took place before Mr. Trudeau expelled her and Ms. Wilson-Raybould last week. Mr. Trudeau has said he consulted caucus before his decision.
The Liberals say they decided as a caucus not to adopt the rules in November, 2015, and communicated that decision to the Commons Speaker at that time.
“For these reasons, the chair is unable to conclude that the member for Markham-Stouffville has been obstructed in the fulfillment of her parliamentary functions,” Mr. Regan said in his ruling.
On Feb. 27, Ms. Wilson-Raybould told the Commons justice committee that as attorney-general she faced “consistent and sustained” pressure from Mr. Trudeau and top officials, including “veiled threats,” on the need to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott quit cabinet over the government’s handling of the matter.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Liberals used their majority on a House of Commons committee to defeat a Conservative motion calling for an investigation into the leak of confidential information about applicants for a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Canadian Press and CTV reported on March 25 that Ms. Wilson-Raybould recommended Glenn Joyal, Chief Justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench, to become chief justice. According to sources, Mr. Trudeau was concerned about her choice because he believed Justice Joyal favoured a conservative, restrictive approach to interpreting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Trudeau ultimately named sitting Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner to replace retiring chief justice Beverley McLachlin. He also appointed Alberta judge Sheilah Martin to fill Western Canada’s seat on the bench (Ms. McLachlin was born and raised in Alberta and rose through the judicial ranks in British Columbia).
Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who introduced the motion, said the “shocking and unprecedented” leaks smeared respected judges and undermined the independence of the judiciary by publicizing what was supposed to be confidential information about the selection process for Supreme Court appointments.
But Liberals countered that the motion was entirely political, aimed at further dragging out the SNC-Lavalin affair, which has been plaguing the Trudeau government for more than two months.
The committee should take Mr. Trudeau at his word that neither he nor his staffers had anything to do with the leaks, Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi said.
The Globe and Mail reported on March 26, citing an unnamed source, that Ms. Wilson-Raybould wanted to elevate Justice Joyal to the Supreme Court to make way for an Indigenous judge to take his place at the head of the Manitoba court. The source also said Ms. Wilson-Raybould believed Justice Wagner was more conservative in his approach to the charter than Justice Joyal.
“What we have as a result of this leak is an undermining of the integrity of the appointment process,” Mr. Cooper told the committee, adding that Justice Joyal, Justice Wagner and Justice Martin have all had a “cloud” put over them. “Quite frankly, this goes to the heart of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, which has been undermined as a result of this leak.”
New Democrat MP Murray Rankin said he and Conservative MP Rob Nicholson are also under a cloud since, as their parties’ justice critics at the time, they had access to all the confidential information about the finalists recommended by an independent panel for appointment to the top court.
Liberals take Mr. Rankin and Mr. Nicholson at their words that they didn’t leak anything about the appointments, either, Mr. Ehsassi said.
He agreed the leaks were “regrettable,” but said they were not unprecedented. He noted that information about the selection process was leaked in 2014, when the Conservative government of the day named Marc Nadon to the top court – an appointment that was later struck down by the Supreme Court because Justice Nadon did not meet technical eligibility requirements. There was no investigation into that leak.
With files from The Canadian Press