OTTAWA - The Speaker of the House of Commons has cleared the way for a bit of free-for-all politicking prior to the daily question period.
Andrew Scheer has told MPs if they want to deliver a member's statement in the House and aren't on a party-approved list, they'd better get up on their feet and compete for a chance to be heard.
Tuesday's ruling could well mean MPs might soon be seen bobbing up from their seats trying to catch Scheer's eye in order to get the floor.
The decision, intended to settle a dispute that pitted backbench Conservative MPs against their party's tight control over who can speak prior to question period, Scheer said members need only rise to signal their intent.
"If members want to be recognized, they will have to actively demonstrate that they wish to participate," he said. "They have to rise in their places and seek the floor."
Conservative MP Mark Warawa complained a month ago that his privileges were breached when the party whip refused to allow him to make a statement in the House about sex-selective abortion.
Whip Gordon O'Connor said it's up to parties to decide who delivers these statements and urged the Speaker to leave the matter alone, calling him a "referee."
Eleven other backbenchers have supported Warawa by making comments in the Commons, with others offering support behind the scenes. Green party Leader Elizabeth May and Independent MP Bruce Hyer also backed Warawa's position.
Scheer said Warawa has made speeches, asked questions and offered comments in various debates, suggesting his free speech hasn't been cut off, but said he may have a legitimate concern about the equitable allocation of statements.
"This goes to the unquestionable duty of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of members and of the House as an institution," Scheer said.
"This includes ensuring that, over time, no member wishing to speak is unfairly prevented from doing so."
Scheer can't exercise discretion if only one MP rises to be recognized, he noted.
"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," he said.
Scheer said he will continue to follow the party lists, but they won't be the last word.
"I will continue to be guided by the lists that are provided to me and, when and if members are competing for the floor, I will exercise my authority to recognize members — not in a cavalier or uninformed manner, but rather in a balanced way that respects both the will of the House and the rights on individual members."
Warawa did not speak to reporters Tuesday, but praised Scheer's ruling on Twitter.
"I'm pleased with Speaker Scheer's ruling that MPs have the right to seek the floor at any time," he tweeted.
Colleague James Rajotte called it a "sound, very wise" ruling.
"He affirmed the right of members of Parliament in terms of the right to speak and he also said that the Speaker never actually gave this (right) to the whips of the House," said Rajotte.
Conservative cabinet ministers, however, were mum on the ruling. Prime Minister Stephen Harper read papers throughout Scheer's lengthy ruling, while MPs in the backbenches listened intently.
O'Connor said he accepts the decision: "The Speaker's made his ruling and that's it. I live by the Speaker's ruling."
While the decision may loosen the iron grip that party whips have exercised in doling out spots on the list, it will leave those off the lists to try and catch the Speaker's eye and be recognized.
Scheer's ruling may have offered a compromise, but it remained unclear whether a Justin Trudeau motion on the subject that was to be debated on Wednesday would go ahead. Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc said his party still wanted to push ahead with the motion.
The Liberal leader's motion proposes to strip the party whips of the right to allocate statements.
It would require the Speaker to recognize MPs in alphabetical order, by party. MPs would be able to trade their speaking orders, providing some flexibility for those who might be out of town when their turn comes up or who want to address an urgent issue from home. Independent MPs would be considered as a group, in alphabetical order.
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