Mr. Speaker: How much freedom of speech is an MP guaranteed?

Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer in a political pressure cooker

OTTAWA – It’s not easy being Andrew Scheer these days.

The 33-year-old Speaker of the House of Commons is now getting pressure from all corners as he considers the question of how much freedom of speech an MP is guaranteed in Parliament.

Scheer, a Conservative, first heard colleague Mark Warawa formally complain a month ago that he had been denied the privilege of making a statement in the House by the party whip.

Now Scheer is hearing from the Liberals, who recently tabled their own motion on statements by members, those minute-long speeches MPs make in the few minutes before question period begins each day.

Independent MP Bruce Hyer 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 Liberals saw their motion on members’ statements postponed until later this week after the Conservatives suddenly moved up debate on an anti-terror bill.

It’s expected more Liberal MPs will stand to support the spirit of Warawa’s grievance over the next few days, if only to try to delay Scheer’s ruling until after a debate on their motion.

“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 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 who demand guarantees of their freedom to speak freely.

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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