Inside Politics

Speaker to backbench MPs: Stand up to be counted -- and heard

If backbench MPs want to the right to speak freely in the House, they're going to have to start standing up to be counted -- even if it means ignoring the speaking lists prepared by the party whip to compete against their caucus colleagues for the attention of the speaker. 

That, it seems, is the gist of House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer's much-anticipated ruling on the point of privilege raised by Conservative MP Mark Warawa after his pre-Question Period speaking slot was abruptly yanked by his party's whip due to his choice of subject -- specifically, his similarly scuttled attempt to bring a non-binding motion to condemn sex-selective abortion before the House.

Although he ultimately found that no prima facie breach of privilege had occurred, Scheer made it clear that, as far as he and his predecessors are concerned, the speaker has never ceded the right to choose which member should be recognized -- not just during the fifteen minute block designated for members' statements, but, in theory, during QP as well. He just hasn't yet been put in a position where he would have to do so, as -- again, at least as yet --  no members have ever attempted to circumvent the whip-created list. 

[A]s Speaker I cannot exercise my discretion as to which Member to recognize during Statements by Members or at any other time of the sitting day if only one Member is rising to be recognized. As previously mentioned, due to an over-reliance on lists, more often than should be the case, even those Members on the list do not always rise to be recognized.

Were the Chair to be faced with choices of which Member to recognize at any given time, then of course the Chair would exercise its discretion. But that has not happened thus far during Statements by Members, nor for that matter, during Question Period. 

Until it does, the Chair is not in a position to unilaterally announce or dictate a change in our practices. If Members want to be recognized, they will have to actively demonstrate that they wish to participate. They have to rise in their places and seek the floor. 

In other words, if an MP wants to challenge the party-controlled lists, he or she had better be ready to rise up -- in full view of the whip and everyone -- and try to catch the speaker's eye, just like in the now semi-mythical olden days of Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. 

So, will any of the dozen-odd Conservative MPs who stood in support of Warawa's point of privilege take the speaker up on his challenge? We'll soon find out. 

In the meantime, here's a sampling of tweets from MPs -- before, during and after the ruling was delivered: 

Comments are closed.