House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer was a client of the firm linked to calls in Irwin Cotler's riding that falsely claimed he was about to step down, Elections Canada records show.
Cotler asked Scheer to rule on whether the calls breached his parliamentary privilege, interfering in his ability to do his work as an MP. Cotler said his office was forced to deal with calls and emails from people in his Montreal riding wondering whether it was true. He also argued it made Parliament as a whole look bad, breaching privilege for all parliamentarians.
Scheer ruled Tuesday that he didn't have the authority as Speaker to deal with calls made without using parliamentary resources, and ruled that there was no case on the face of Cotler's arguments for a breach of privilege.
Conservative MPs defended the calls as protected under free speech and a legitimate means to identify potential voters for the next election in 2015.
He said the calls were "reprehensible" and a "questionable" way to try to identify potential supporters.
Cotler says the calls were traced to Campaign Research, a firm with links to the Conservative Party.
Records submitted to Elections Canada by Scheer's campaign show he wrote cheques worth $8198.79 to Campaign Research.
Scheer didn't mention in the ruling that he had used the firm's services.
Cotler said procedural rules prevented him from commenting on whether Scheer should have disclosed that he'd hired Campaign Research in his own riding, but pointed to a rule in the book that guides House procedure.
"If you look to page 313 ... of O’Brien and Bosc, it says that the speaker has an obligation to be impartial and to appear to be impartial. More than that, I can’t comment by way of response," Cotler said.
A spokeswoman for Scheer says Campaign Research is a supplier like any other and was publicly disclosed in his election expenses.
"Speaker Scheer’s ruling, like all Speakers' rulings, are based on parliamentary practice and precedents," Heather Bradley said in a statement.
Scheer was elected as a Conservative MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle, but as Speaker doesn't attend caucus meetings or vote in the House.
'These things won't happen again'
Cotler says a number of Conservatives have expressed regret or said they had nothing to do with the phone calls in his riding and he believes them.
"They not only expressed honest regret but indicated to me that these things won’t happen again," he said.
Cotler wouldn't say who told him privately that those types of calls wouldn't happen again, but said they are people of authority inside the government.
But he still wants to hear a public declaration that it was wrong and won't be repeated.
"I appreciated the members who have come over to me from the Conservative Party and I have a fair number of friends in that party…We’re public servants serving the same cause," Cotler said.
Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau says Scheer was one of 39 Conservative candidates who used Campaign Research and may not have known he had used their services.
"I will give Mr. Scheer, the speaker of the House, the benefit of the doubt in his judgment," he said.
"I think he tried to do his work in an impartial way."