Speaker accepts 'ayatollah' remark

A Liberal MHA's use of the word "ayatollah" to describe the transition team setting up a new school board has offended the government side.

Muslim Association president feels comment was not meant to demonize anyone

The speaker of the house of assembly has ruled that the use of the word "ayatollah" by Liberal MHA Jim Bennett was not out of order.

Ross Wiseman made the ruling on Thursday, a day after Bennett used the word to describe the transition team setting up a new province-wide school board.

"The minister is often on record defending our school boards as democratically elected, which they are supposed to be," Bennett told the legislature during question period.

Liberal MHA Jim Bennett sparked an uproar Wednesday in the house of assembly. (CBC)

"Yet, the Tory transition team is not democratic. Instead, they are the new ayatollahs of education."

While Bennett then asked whether "democracy [will] flower in our school system again," his choice of words brought a reaction later from Government House Leader Darin King, who asked for Bennett to withdraw the remark.

"[Bennett] referenced volunteer trustees, as well as a former member of the house, as an ayatollah, and I believe used it in a negative sense. In the negative sense, Mr. Speaker, ayatollah would reference violence, an individual who was connected with mass murder and death," King told the legislature.

"From our perspective, I believe it was a very inappropriate characterization."

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says neither Bennett nor Justice Minister Darin King know what they're talking about. (CBC )

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said neither Bennett nor King seem to know what the word "ayatollah" — a high-ranking religious authority in the Shia branch of Islam — actually means.

"We have many people here [who] are Shiites and who are Muslims and for them to hear these uninformed comments by two members of the house of assembly, for me, was extremely embarrassing," Michael told CBC News.

But Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland, said he did not see the comments as offensive.

"I can only smile at the exchange of conversation at the house of assembly," Pirzada said in an email to CBC News when asked for comment. 

I do not think that this conversation was meant to demonize any body or any person," he said, adding, "As a member of the community I feel that, when we are given any position of importance no matter in the community or in the government we have an obligation to be responsible in our actions, behaviours and public speaking."