House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus says it’s “very clear in hindsight how wrong” his video tribute to an Ontario Liberal MPP was.
Fergus made the remark to MPs sitting on the House Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) on Monday, which is meeting to decide what punishment, if any, Fergus should face if it finds he broke parliamentary rules with his now-controversial video tribute.
Fergus said he would accept any decision made by the House of Commons on the matter.
“The very moment that it was reported to me that it had been aired publicly, it all of a sudden, Mr. Julian, became very clear that that was just wrong,” Fergus said in response to a question by NDP MP Peter Julian.
“It became very clear in hindsight how wrong that was.”
The controversy surrounding Fergus stems from a video tribute he made to John Fraser, former interim leader of the Ontario Liberals.
The video was played at the provincial party’s convention on the Dec. 2 weekend, where Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie was named leader of the party.
Fergus, who appeared in the video wearing his ceremonial Speaker robes, thanked Fraser in the recording. Fergus has said he was asked to record a video message for an intimate gathering to honour Fraser, whom he called a long-standing friend.
Fergus has apologized for the video, and has told MPs he regrets the video was used in other ways. He added it should not be seen as partisan to recognize a colleague’s career. Fraser has said there was a miscommunication with Fergus’s office over when it would be played.
The House of Commons voted last Wednesday to have PROC probe the matter amid outcry that has clouded Fergus’ role in the non-partisan position he’s held for more than two months.
He apologized again to committee members on Monday.
“I am sorry. I recorded a video message to John Fraser, a long-time friend. Despite assurances to the contrary, it was shown at a public partisan gathering,” he said.
“Most importantly, regardless of it being aired privately or publicly, I should never have recorded it. I apologize unreservedly. I know I messed up and I won’t do it again.”
Fergus said he was asked to record the video by one of Fraser’s family members. He said he quickly recorded it in between two meetings, saying it took one take to do.
He added he was putting in place a “rigorous communication protocol” to make sure this never happens again.
“I will rely heavily on the services of the House administration under the leadership of the clerk to review these kind of requests. I’ve also been reaching out to speakers and parliamentary experts in Canada and in other Westminster parliaments. My work will benefit from their advice and counsel,” Fergus said.
Eric Janse, acting clerk of the House of Commons, testified before Fergus that he was never consulted on the matter, and said he would’ve advised against it if asked.
Fraser, who also appeared at PROC, told the committee his wife contacted Fergus’ office. He said the Ontario Liberal Party asked his family to coordinate a personal video for him as a surprise. The video was assembled by a party volunteer, he added.
House Speaker missteps again in the spotlight
The House of Commons Speaker is typically not under scrutiny — until recently.
Fergus, a Liberal MP who represents the National Capital Region Quebec riding of Hull—Aylmer, just across the river from Ottawa, replaced Anthony Rota as Speaker in October following another controversy surrounding the Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming MP.
Rota resigned as Speaker in September after inviting and acknowledging a Ukrainian-Canadian Second World War veteran in the House of Commons during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Ottawa.
It turned out that the veteran had served in a Nazi unit during the war. Rota apologized but ultimately stepped down amid international scrutiny and condemnation from MPs across the aisle, including members of his own caucus.
Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer, a former speaker during Stephen Harper’s government, has said that given that Speaker is supposed to be an explicitly non-partisan role, Fergus’ conduct was a “breach of the impartiality” of the position.
The Conservatives then echoed a call from the Bloc Quebecois asking the Speaker to resign.
NDP House leader Peter Julian joined Scheer in calling for a parliamentary committee to study the incident, saying he was “dismayed” by the video.
After hours of debate last Wednesday, MPs unanimously voted to have PROC explore whether Fergus violated conventions that require him to be non-partisan.
The House of Commons agreed to require PROC to meet within 24 hours, which it did last Thursday, ensure the issue takes priority over all other business, and report back by Dec. 14 — the day before the House is scheduled to rise for the holidays.
Fergus said Monday he would accept the House’s decision on whatever recommendations the committee makes.
“I will have to accept the process and the decision. I am a servant of the House of Commons,” he said in French.
“I truly wish to rectify the problem and to regain the trust of the House of Commons, but if the House decides that this isn’t possible, that the issue can’t be remedied, of course I will leave.”