Should Shelly Glover and James Bezan still be sitting in the House of Commons?

The Speaker’s decision is questioned

<p>Conservative MP Shelly Glover arrives at a committee meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday June 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p>

Conservative MP Shelly Glover arrives at a committee meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday June 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

John Geddes reviews the curious cases of Conservative MPs Shelly Glover and James Bezan.

Having reached an impasse, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand did what the Canada Elections Act says he must. Mayrand wrote to Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House, and told him where things stand, pointing out that the act states clearly that Glover and Bezan “may not continue to sit or vote as a member” until they fix their campaign returns.

But Scheer chose not to immediately suspend the two. Instead, taking into account the fact that Glover and Bezan are both challenging Elections Canada’s interpretation of the rules in court, Scheer decided to wait and see what decisions the judges hand down. The Liberals have formally contested Scheer’s right to allow the MPs to keep sitting in the House while the matter is before the courts. Scheer will have to rule on that sometime soon.

In his letter to the Speaker about Mr. Bezan, the chief electoral officer cited Subsection 463(2) of the Elections Act.

(2) An elected candidate who fails to provide a document as required by section 451 or 455 or fails to make a correction as requested under subsection 457(2) or authorized by 458(1) shall not continue to sit or vote as a member until they are provided or made, as the case may be.

That letter was dated May 23, but the matter was not reported publicly until Postmedia’s story on June 4.

Liberal MP Scott Andrews rose in the House on Wednesday on a question of privilege to suggest that neither Mr. Bezan nor Ms. Glover should be sitting in the House and that the question of whether they should be allowed to sit in the House should be put to the House (conceivably the Conservative majority would vote to allow them to remain).

The Speaker’s office says Mr. Scheer will wait for the court proceedings to conclude before taking any action, but questions are now being raised about how he has handled the matter.

Thomas Hall, who worked in the House of Commons for 30 years and was a Commons clerk, was taken aback by Scheer’s behaviour. “I was very surprised that he didn’t inform the House on it … just the fact that it was keeping information from the House that [MPs] were entitled to know.”

Hall cites a precedent in 1966, when an MP had similarly gotten into trouble with the election law. In that case, the Speaker at the time said it was up to the House to decide what should happen to the transgressor and that the Speaker had a role to play in such matters…

Michael Behiels, a professor of Canadian political and constitutional history at the University of Ottawa, says Scheer is wrong to cede authority to the courts. “By being deferential to the courts, the Speaker is undermining the sovereignty of Parliament and his authority as Speaker of the House,” he says.