PEI

Procedural wrangling dominates hearing on Speaker Buck Watts' impartiality

P.E.I.'s Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges spent more than an hour in procedural wrangling Friday but got no closer to settling issues around the impartiality of Speaker Buck Watts.

Members of the public, media asked to leave so Friday's meeting could resume in camera

Speaker Buck Watts raised his own point of privilege in the legislature last week. (Courtesy Prince Edward Island Liberal Party)

P.E.I.'s Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges spent more than an hour in procedural wrangling Friday but got no closer to settling issues around the impartiality of Speaker Buck Watts and whether he was the subject of so-called intimidation by the Opposition.

Last week, Speaker Buck Watts surprised many by raising his own point of privilege in the legislature, saying he felt speculation over a possible non­-confidence motion by the Opposition amounted to intimidation of the speaker. He asked the rules committee to conduct a review, and asked that his own conduct be included as part of that review.

On Friday afternoon, a group of 12 MLAs sat down around the committee table, half of them members of the committee and the other half there just to take part in the debate.

Voting to adopt the agenda for the meeting, something usually accomplished in mere minutes, took the better part of half an hour as the meeting got bogged down over a letter written by Opposition Leader Jamie Fox raising questions about the speaker attending partisan events.

Letter comes up again

Opposition MLAs wanted to know how a letter Fox wrote to committee chair Kathleen Casey ended up in the speaker's hands. Meanwhile, government MLAs wanted to know how the letter ended up leaked to the media.

Fox, who is a committee member, recused himself from the meeting, sitting instead in the small public gallery, which was nearly full.

In the letter, Fox asked the committee to bring in a rule to prevent the speaker of the legislature from taking part in partisan and party events. The lack of a rule, Fox argued, could lead to questions around the impartiality of the speaker.

After the question of how the letter was shared with both the speaker and the media, debate turned to a motion to hold another future meeting in private so the committee could discuss which witnesses to call as part of its review.

The details of the second, in-camera meeting won't be released to the public. (CBC)

Media, public asked to leave

Ultimately, members of the public and the media were asked to leave so Friday's meeting could resume in camera.

The details of the meeting won't be released to the public, but Casey said future meetings in which witnesses are called would be open to the public.

At Friday's meeting, committee members were also provided with an overview of rules across the country regarding the position of the speaker and attendance at partisan events.

According to that review, in six other provinces and in the House of Commons in Ottawa, the speaker does not attend party caucus meetings. In Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan the speaker attends caucus meetings except when the provincial legislature is sitting.