POLITICS
12/11/2018 13:50 EST | Updated 12/11/2018 17:28 EST

Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio Defends Lengthy Absence From Parliament

He has not spoken or voted in the House since June.

Nicola Di Iorio/Facebook
Nicola Di Iorio is shown in an image from his Facebook page.

OTTAWA — Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio pointed the finger at his party Tuesday, saying it was to blame for his lengthy absence from the House of Commons, as he defended himself against NDP calls for an investigation into his delinquent attendance record.

Di Iorio has not spoken or voted in the House since June. He has not actively participated in committee since April, the same month he sent out a press release saying he was resigning his seat for "family reasons," though the date of his departure had "not yet been set."

Last month, the NDP called for an ethics probe into Di Iorio's absence. Ethics critic Nathan Cullen also asked the Speaker of the Commons to find Di Lorio in breach of privilege. Cullen argued that the Liberal MP's behaviour showed "contempt against the dignity of Parliament." He hoped the Speaker would let a parliamentary committee study the situation so MPs could decide whether Di Iorio should face some type of punishment.

The initiative to not be present in the House is not mine.Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio

"For working Canadians," Cullen said, Di Iorio's failure to appear in Parliament for months, "is not an experience they are familiar with. If they go to their boss and say they are quitting and say goodbye, that is usually the end of it. They do not continue to receive a salary for not showing up to work."

If MPs do not act on this behaviour, Cullen said: "we are simply condoning it by our inaction."

In a rambling speech to the Speaker, Di Iorio insisted his lengthy absence from the Commons was not his fault.

"The initiative to not be present in the House is not mine," he said, in French. "The circumstances that have led to my not sitting do not have anything to do with my will nor any actions from my part," he said.

Di Iorio said he had not been reproached about his absence by anyone other than Cullen. "My behaviour at all times has been without reproach," he said.

Nicola Di Iorio/Facebook
Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio initially said he was resigning from his position for "family reasons" back in April.

The Montreal MP said he was not collecting a salary from the House of Commons. The Liberal whip, Mark Holland, told HuffPost Canada that the Grits understood the "member is giving that back."

Holland's response suggest that the Liberals are not registering Di Iorio's absence with the House of Commons, thus giving credence to his argument that he is not MIA but has permission to be absent from Parliament. According to Commons rules, MPs who are absent without cause after 21 sitting days are docked salary for every day they miss.

Holland told HuffPost Di Iorio's absence is "considered an internal related matter and therefore something we do not comment on." The Liberal whip said there was much he could not discuss.

"We treat all such conversations as confidential, and the matters surrounding this are complex and personal," he said. "[Di Iorio] had indicated that he was retiring. We have been working to facilitate that. It is up to members to decide departure dates from office (retirement and other), and personal things of that nature, not the whip."

Nicola Di Iorio/Facebook
Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio is pictured in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Di Iorio told the House that because he is still a member of the Grit team — his profile is still on the party's website and he hasn't been thrown out of the caucus — unspecified restrictions have impinged upon his freedom of speech.

He insisted that despite his absence from the House, he had continued to represent the interest of his constituents in Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel, and of others who requested his assistance. The personal and family reasons that had led him to announce his intention to eventually resign were "most serious," he added. He did not say what they were.

After announcing his planned resignation in the spring, Di Iorio toured his riding and said he had heard from constituents that wanted him to find a way to continue his mandate while being relieved from obligations to do his work in the House. He said he spent the summer working on constituency matters, and even had to cancel his vacation.

'I respected the direction of the whip'

Then, he said a series of events happened over which he had no control — events he did not describe — and which culminated in the Liberals' requesting he keep his seat. He said he was informed that the party whip would let him know when he was needed in the House.

"At every moment, and no matter the circumstances, I respected the direction of the whip," Di Iorio said.

In the fall, Di Iorio said, it became clear that his "decision to stay away" from the House was posing a challenge to the government. He said he was told he would resign on Oct. 17 and that the government would make an important announcement towards his pet project — public awareness against impaired driving.

Then, Di Iorio said, the government changed its mind. He was he would instead resign several weeks later and was given a specific project to work on. That's when, he said, he decided to stop accepting a salary.

In the past few weeks, HuffPost Canada has learned that Di Iorio has confided that he believes the party is muzzling him while at the same time spreading rumours that he is mentally ill or suffering from unnamed afflictions.

Speech left observers baffled

With former Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier's application to form a political party filed on Sept. 14, it's possible the Liberals asked Di Iorio remain in his seat to allow the People's Party of Canada to run a candidate in the riding's byelection — and give Bernier a better shot at appearing in party leader debates and take votes away from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during the 2019 campaign.

According to Elections Canada rules, a party can run candidates in a byelection only if its application for registration is made at least 60 days before to the election call (in this case after Nov. 14).

On Nov. 14, Di Iorio released a statement that, he said, was issued with the permission of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing he would resign on Jan. 22, 2019. He noted in his statement he was donating his salary to efforts to combat impaired driving. He also praised Trudeau for pledging to provide National Impaired Driving Prevention Week with a substantial, ongoing budget so it could carry on and achieve its goals for years to come.

The Jan. 22 date likely means a byelection won't be called. The law currently does not force the government to call the vote before the Oct. 21, 2019 federal election. An update to the election act currently before Parliament would also prevent the calling of a byelection when a vacancy occurs within nine months of the date fixed for a general election.

More from HuffPost Canada:

One Liberal source told HuffPost Di Iorio was refusing to resign without having a grand project to showcase to his constituents.

Di Iorio's speech Tuesday left several parliamentary observers baffled.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who live-tweeted part of Di Iorio's intervention, wrote: "...This is perhaps one of the most out of touch, entitled, laughable, speeches that Parliamentarians have ever had the misfortune of listening to in this place."

"In what has to be the most galling moment I've seen, Di Iorio is wrapping himself in the historic 1940 persecution of Italians! Outrageous!," NDP staffer Anthony Salloum wrote.

Di Iorio defended his outside legal work, saying practicing, teaching and publishing was something he had been open about during his nomination meeting. "I've been very clear about that all along my mandate... .I am, and I remain convinced, that Canadians would be best served if MPs kept a job, whatever it is, that anchors them in the real world."

Becoming emotional, the MP then recalled how on June 10, 1940, when Italy declared war on France, and Britain and Canada prepared to declare war on Italy, the Canadian government had interned many Italian-Canadians without due process.

To this day, he said, Italian-Canadians suffer the stigma of this collective trauma.

He spoke about the Canadian government taking over Casa Italia, a Montreal landmark in Little Italy, to house Canadian soldiers that, he said, pillaged it before abandoning the site. "No reparation has ever been given," he said. "To this day, no apology has come from the House of Commons."

Then, he noted how there are no Italian-Canadians sitting in the upper house, despite the community's counting 1.5 million Canadians.

The last Italian-Canadian senator, Consiglio Di Nino, retired in 2012 at 74 after serving nearly 22 years in the upper chamber.

Earlier: Liberal MP roasts floor-crosser in House