Calls placed by the Conservatives to MP Irwin Cotler’s riding to falsely inform his constituents that he was preparing to leave politics were “reprehensible” but did not breach the veteran Liberal’s parliamentary privileges, the House of Commons Speaker has ruled.
Andrew Scheer said Tuesday it was impossible to say the calls had actually impaired Mr. Cotler’s abilities to perform his duties as the federal representative for Mount Royal.
Several constituents and members of a neighbouring Montreal riding contacted Mr. Cotler this fall to say they had been called by a company called Campaign Research Inc. asking if they would support the Conservative Party in the “imminent” by-election that would result from the Liberal MP’s resignation.
Mr. Cotler, a former justice minister, told the House the telephone campaign had led his constituents to believe he had deserted his post and overshadowed his parliamentary work.
The Speaker said the matter was significant and deserved serious consideration. But he said he had “great difficulty in concluding that the member has been unable to carry out his parliamentary duties as a result of these tactics. The Member for Mount Royal has been extremely active in the House and in committee.”
And, Mr. Scheer said, by raising the matter in the House, Mr. Cotler has garnered extensive sympathetic media coverage across the country. So he could not find that Mr. Cotler’s abilities to do his job had been impeded.
On the other hand, the Speaker added, “I am sure that all reasonable people would agree that attempting to sow confusion in the minds of voters as to whether or not their member was about to resign was a reprehensible tactic and the Member of Mount Royal has a legitimate grievance.”
Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House Leader, told the House two weeks ago that the calls to Mr. Cotler’s riding were merely repeating long-standing rumours and to prohibit them would be to curtail freedom of speech.
But the Speaker said he hoped that Mr. Cotler’s airing of his issues with the Conservatives would convince political parties to be more careful in the information they disseminate to voters. He also said Canadians should be wary of information about politicians that comes to them by unsolicited callers.
Mr. Cotler had argued that the actions of the Conservatives had only contributed to voter cynicism. But Mr. Scheer said his powers to act in these circumstances were limited.
Mr. Cotler rose after the ruling to say the Speaker seemed have agreed with his own arguments on both technical and substantive matters. He said he had no recourse but to accept the decision but told Mr. Scheer that, if he were to “revisit the principles and precedents,” he might “at some point in the future reconsider this ruling.”