04/23/2013 01:06 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT

Commons Speaker To Rule Today On MPs' Freedom Of Speech


House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer will rule Tuesday afternoon on the Conservative Mark Warawa's complaint that parties are going too far in muzzling their MPs.

Warawa's formal appeal to Scheer, called a "question of privilege" in the language of the House of Commons, stems from being told by his party whip last month he was not allowed to deliver a members statement in support of his now-abandoned motion condemning sex-selective abortion.

Scheer will read his ruling on whether the move by the Tories violated Warawa's privileges as a MP following question period at approximately 3 p.m. ET.

Although Scheer was elected as a Conservative MP, the person who serves as Speaker is supposed to make non-partisan decisions based on House of Commons rules and past precedents.

The 15 minutes before question period each day is allocated to individual MPs who want to make minute-long speeches on topics of importance to them or their ridings. Often MPs rise to pay tribute to the passing of noteable Canadians, highlight significant anniversaries or make the Commons aware of recent achievements by their constituents.

But sometimes, parties ask MPs to use their statements to deliver partisan messages.

At issue in this appeal is the intervention by parties to stop one of their MPs from delivering a members statement the party deems contrary to its own communications strategy.

On Monday, Scheer heard from the Liberals, who recently tabled their own motion on statements by members, proposing an alphabetical list be used to determine who speaks when on the topic of his or her choice.

The Liberals asked Scheer to defer his ruling until after their motion could be debated and vote upon.

"I would urge you, and I believe it would be prudent for you, to wait a few more days, in the hope that this House is able to pronounce itself through a vote ... which we believe would — in a common sense and very democratic way — resolve this issue," said Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc.

The Liberals saw their motion postponed until later this week when the Conservatives suddenly moved up debate on S-7, the anti-terror bill that until recently had languished dormant on the House agenda.

Warawa told the CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Tuesday morning he was leaning towards supporting the Liberal motion.

11 Tories among those supporting Warawa

Independent MP Bruce Hyer also jumped into the fray Monday. Hyer lost the opportunity to deliver one of those statements in the Commons a year ago when the NDP realized he was about to announce he was leaving their caucus.

"We must all recognize that we have developed a problem in Parliament of excessive party control and we must move to fix the problem before it erodes our democracy any further," Hyer said.

The NDP has weighed in, but only to say they feel it is more of an internal issue for the Conservatives. Green party Leader Elizabeth May has made comments supportive of Warawa.

At the same time, Scheer is receiving emails from Conservatives with a viewpoint on the issue, and has so far heard from 11 Tories in the Commons, with some making detailed and passionate statements to support Warawa's cause.

The Conservative backbenchers have not challenged or criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper at any point. The frustrations seem to be directed at the attitude taken by party whip Gordon O'Connor, who told Scheer that it wasn't the job of the Speaker to decide who speaks, but rather to act only as a "referee."

"While each party manages the process from a different perspective, the bottom line is that each party makes these decisions," O'Connor said last month.

"The practice for many years in the House is for the Speaker to follow the guidance provided by the parties on which members to call on any given day."

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