Joe Comartin wants to give the House of Commons Speaker more power to punish and discipline MPs who behave badly.
The Opposition House Leader, reflecting on the fall session and the performance of the young rookie Speaker, Andrew Scheer, told The Globe that overall “he’s done a fairly good job.”
But the Commons referee needs to have more enforcement power in order to keep the chamber civil, the veteran Windsor New Democrat argued. His party is now looking at ways to give the Speaker clearer authority.
Much of the fall session’s Question Periods saw Mr. Scheer up on his feet shushing MPs for heckling and personal attacks.
The young Speaker is under fire after his ruling on dirty tricks employed against Irwin Cotler. Mr. Scheer called the Conservative Party’s tactics “reprehensible” but went no further.
He was referring to Tory efforts to identify the vote in Mr. Cotler’s coveted Montreal riding. The party had hired a firm to call constituents about their support. During those calls it was falsely suggested Mr. Cotler was resigning his seat and a by-election was imminent.
In his ruling, Mr. Scheer had the power to send the matter to a Commons committee for further investigation. But he didn’t – and this raised eyebrows and disappointment.
Of particular concern were revelations that, in the last election, he had used the same marketing firm that was spreading misinformation in Mr. Cotler’s riding. Some MPs argue that Mr. Scheer, who was elected to the Speaker’s chair in June, should have recused himself given the potential conflict of interest.
Mr. Comartin, meanwhile, told The Globe he believes Mr. Scheer’s rulings show he is acting independently but needs more clout. The Windsor New Democrat said the two powers the Speaker now has are either to refuse to recognize an MP or throw him or her out of the Commons. “That’s just not a broad enough way of enforcing discipline,” Mr. Comartin said.
He says through private members bills or opposition day motions, the NDP wants to debate and study how the Speaker can be given “more authority, more clear authority to be able to bring into line recalcitrant members and having the authority to discipline them in a greater variety of ways that we have now.”
Mr. Comartin doubts the government will take much notice or listen to their proposals, but they would be measures the NDP would adopt if and when it forms government.
The session broke for the Christmas holidays on a low note. Liberal MP Justin Trudeau called Enviroment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit” and a few weeks earlier, NDP MP Pat Martin tweeted a profanity as a result of his frustration over debate being limited – yet again – by the Tories.
The Harper government was heavy-handed in its use of time allocation to limit debate on bills it wanted passed quickly. Last month, the NDP used an opposition motion to look at the government’s “gross overuse” of debate limits. It called on the Speaker conduct a study of its use and argued ministers ought to have to justify imposing closure or time allocation. But given the Tory majority in the Commons, it went nowhere.
In addition, Mr. Comartin said the Tories set a pattern this fall of using members statements for partisan attacks.
In the 15 minutes before Question Period, MPs are allowed to make one-minute statements. Traditionally they are to praise a member of their constituency or mark a community event. But the Tories have used them to personally attack opposition MPs. “Just about every day there was a personal attack on one of our members,” Mr. Comartin said.
Former Speaker Peter Milliken had tried to address this but was not that effective. The problem has worsened under Mr. Scheer and Mr. Comartin wants it addressed as well.