The House of Commons punted aside its daily business Monday to debate whether a Conservative backbencher misled Parliament, after the Speaker found there were sufficient grounds to consider the case.
The ruling by Speaker Andrew Scheer agreed with an NDP motion that there was a prima facie, or apparent, question of parliamentary privilege following contradictory statements by Conservative MP Brad Butt.
Mr. Butt twice told the House of Commons last month he personally witnessed voter ID cards being stolen from garbage and recycling bins to be used fraudulently. He later said he had not witnessed that.
That led the NDP to argue last week Mr. Butt misled the House, and Mr. Scheer had reserved a decision until Monday. In a carefully worded ruling against his own party, Mr. Scheer sided with the NDP, citing a 2002 ruling by then-speaker Peter Milliken, but stopped short of saying explicitly Mr. Butt misled the house.
While Mr. Scheer said he was prepared to accept Mr. Butt's insistence that he didn't deliberately mislead the House, "at the same time, the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements."
Mr. Milliken referred the matter to committee "if only to clear the air." Mr. Scheer quoted that in saying: "I am prepared in this case, for the same reason, to allow the matter to be put to the House." That sparked a debate that chewed up the final few hours of Monday's proceedings. Debate is expected to resume Tuesday.
A vote on whether or not to send the issue to committee is also expected as soon as Tuesday.
The Conservatives will be able to vote for or against sending the matter to committee for consideration, but their arguments Monday suggested the party was satisfied Mr. Butt had already corrected the record.
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, the parliamentary secretary to the government House Leader, said the rulings "did not find that the member in question had deliberately misled the House" and said Mr. Butt already admits his error.
"He has corrected the record. He has apologized, and now all facts are known in this case," Mr. Lukiwski said, later adding: "When is it the right thing to punish someone for correcting the record? When does one become a victim for speaking what one needed to say, which was to correct the record?"
Mr. Butt made the statements on Feb. 6 and retracted them Feb. 24. The retraction followed a complaint to Elections Canada, though the agency would not say if it was investigating.
The NDP applauded the ruling and have argued Mr. Butt deliberately made the claim to boost support for the government's Fair Elections Act, which overhauls Canadian electoral law.
"We see this as grievous. We see contempt for Parliament as one of the worst things a member of Parliament can do to this place and its reputation. We need to restore it, not bring it further down," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen, who made the motion, said in debate Monday.
In the earlier case cited by the speaker, the Liberal government agreed to send the matter to a committee, which ultimately found that the statement in question a decade ago was not made to deliberately mislead the House.