Independent MLA Steven Fletcher frustrates 1st day back at Manitoba legislature

The first day of the fall session at the Manitoba Legislature was all but shut down by a single MLA who raised nine points of privilege.

Ousted from Conservative caucus, arguing his rights as MLA are being violated

Steven Fletcher cited the Magna Carta as he raised several points of privilege to stall question period at the first day of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly session on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The first day of the fall session at the Manitoba Legislature was all but shut down by a single MLA who raised nine points of privilege, frustrating party members and people waiting in the gallery.

Independent MLA Steven Fletcher disrupted business-as-usual during question period with the points of privilege, which are raised when legislators believe their rights as parliamentarians have been violated.

The Assiniboia representative was booted from the Progressive Conservative caucus in June after he challenged the party on a bill to create a new Crown corporation on energy efficiency. He's in the process of a lawsuit seeking to overturn a 2006 law that prevents him from joining another party as soon as possible. 

"The issue is, we know that there is an unconstitutional provision in the Legislative Assembly Act," Fletcher told reporters after question period.

"How can anyone, in good conscience, continue on an issue where we all agree that our constitutional rights are being violated, so how can you continue when all that needs to be done is an agreement from the government?"

Fletcher argued each of his points of privilege stand on their own merits, although Speaker Myrna Driedger overruled all of them. He says independent MLAs need more rights to represent their constituents.

Among his points of privilege, he argued his rights are violated by the lack of access for independent MLAs to recordings posted to social media by the parties and said another MLA tarnished his reputation with statements to reporters outside the House when he was ejected from caucus.

Fletcher challenged all of Driedger's rulings, asking first for support from the house and then for a recorded vote, which he lost in each case.

Members of the Liberal Party and independent MLA Mohinder Saran supported Fletcher in the votes, while the entire Progressive Conservative caucus and other NDP members supported the Speaker's rulings.

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard told reporters that doesn't mean the party is joining forces with Fletcher.

"Steven Fletcher has said that he's not looking to join another party," Gerrard said. "We're doing this on a matter of principle."

'Filibuster' could hold up government work: NDP leader

Fletcher said he's not sure if he'll continue to raise points of privilege on Thursday.

"I need to reflect on what has transpired today, and see if all the issues that affect my constituents are being addressed," he said.

NDP leader Wab Kinew said if the tactic continues, it will derail other important business.

"If this filibuster continues, we are not going to get a chance to talk about the concerns we have around tuition going up, around some of the conditions we'd like to see happen before ride-hailing apps can move into Manitoba, as well as three other bills," Kinew said. "These are important issues."

'Egotistical,' says woman who waited in gallery

Fletcher's points of privilege took up nearly all of question period and prevented members from making their customary member statements at the beginning of the session.

Hours later than planned, PC MLA Sarah Guillemard took the group into the foyer where she read them her statement in honour of her assistant Charlene Stoneham, who died from breast cancer in June. But many of Stoneham's friends and loved ones who had come to hear her honoured had to leave before they could hear it.

Linda Rigaux said she and 20 others, including Stoneham's husband and children, waited at the legislature Wednesday for three hours before leaving, and called Fletcher's delays "disrespectful."

"What we were subject [to] is almost beyond words and left us all angry and very sad that the opportunity to honour Charlene never happened in the time frame we were able to be there," she told CBC News. 

Rigaux said Guillemard and Premier Brian Pallister met with the group outside the Chamber to make the tribute.

"How sad that the work of government is railroaded by this act of pure selfishness," she said.

Before he started with his points of privilege, Fletcher gave the floor to other MLAs to make statements in honour of the new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Awareness Day and to welcome new pages to the House.

But he opposed a motion from Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard a few hours in that would have made room for more member statements.

He said other MLAs shouldn't be giving guests guarantees they'll be heard, because there's no guarantee legislative proceedings won't be interrupted like they were on Wednesday.

"I think I was very proactive in ensuring that people were able to say things and make their statements," he said.