Disappointed but not defeated, Irwin Cotler bluntly calls the Speaker of the House of Commons “mistaken” for not ruling that Conservative Party tactics prevented him from doing his job.
The veteran Liberal MP and human-rights expert told reporters he couldn’t understand why Speaker Andrew Scheer called the Tory tactic “ reprehensible” but would not go so far as to find that his privileges were breached.
Asked if Mr. Scheer’s political affiliation – he’s a Tory from Saskatchewan – played a role in his ruling, Mr. Cotler was careful to say that he does not want to “impute ... bad faith.”
“I think that the judgment, his judgment today, his ruling was mistaken, both in relation to the facts, in relation to the principles, in relation to the precedents, in relation to the law on breaches of privilege,” the Montreal MP said. “So I think it was a mistaken judgment taking all those things into account.”
Mr. Scheer made his ruling Tuesday. This, after several weeks of arguments and interventions in the House from Mr. Cotler, who was incensed after constituents in his Montreal riding began to receive phone calls from a consulting firm, hired by the Conservative Party, suggesting he was poised to retire and a by-election was imminent.
Mr. Cotler argued that these calls – and the confusion that resulted – impeded his ability to do his work as a member of Parliament. Constituents were confused as to whether he was about to retire and his work as an MP was overshadowed by persistent questions from reporters as to his future.
The party admitted it was making calls but said it was merely trying to identify the vote in his riding between elections. An official said the telephone script read to constituents did not say that Mr. Cotler was retiring – but if asked why the call was being made, the official said constituents were told of rumours that Mr. Cotler was stepping down.
The Liberal MP, 71, is not leaving politics and he has a busy agenda. The Tories, however, desperately need seats in Quebec – and Mr. Cotler’s historic Mount Royal riding, which was once held by Pierre Trudeau, is considered a real prize.
“We gave abundant evidence,” Mr. Cotler told reporters. “[The Speaker]did not deal with this matter. I also dealt with the matter that this caused damage to the reputation of Parliament as an institution. He did not deal with that at all. There’s a whole serious issue here about the integrity of these practices and the integrity of the institution not deal with.”
Mr. Scheer criticized the Tory tactic as “reprehensible” but did not find Mr. Cotler’s privileges were breached. “That is important that he did make the characterization of it as being reprehensible but having made that characterization, I’m sorry and regret and don’t understand ... why he did not make the proper ruling,” Mr. Cotler said.
The Speaker said it was impossible to determine whether the calls, which were placed by marketing firm Campaign Research Inc., actually affected Mr. Cotler’s performance as a politician.
Interestingly, the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor noted the same firm did nearly $400,000 of research for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives during the May election. The tally includes about $8,100 of work for Mr. Scheer in his Saskatchewan riding.
Although the Speaker’s ruling did not go his way, Mr. Cotler is now hoping the calls will cease. He believes they sowed “confusion in the minds of my electors” It was important the Tories were “called out” for this strategy, he said, and he hopes “we’ll not see the likes of these practices again.”
He added: “I hope the Conservatives learned a good lesson from this.”