Jane Philpott says the prime minister violated the Parliament of Canada Act by unilaterally turfing both her and Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus.
Philpott rose in the House of Commons Tuesday to ask the Speaker of the House of Commons to examine if her rights as a member of Parliament, and those of Wilson-Raybould, were breached by the nature of the expulsions.
Watch Philpott’s full remarks:
It’s an argument made last week by veteran Conservative MP Michael Chong, who shepherded a private member’s bill into law in 2015 to give more power to MPs and less to party leaders.
Among other things, Chong’s Reform Act set new parameters for how MPs can be booted or readmitted to caucus, so long as those rules were adopted in recorded votes at the first meeting after a general election.
But Philpott said in the House that Trudeau and his office “deprived” Liberal MPs of their rights to vote on those rules at the first caucus meeting on Nov. 5, 2015.
She pointed to recent comments from longtime Liberal MP John McKay to the Toronto Star that when it comes to recorded votes, “nothing like that ever happens in caucus.”
Philpott also said Wilson-Raybould sought clarity on the rules around expulsion from Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia “no less than four times” before both former cabinet ministers were given the boot.
If Trudeau had followed the rules laid out in section 49 of the Parliament of Canada Act, she said, he would have needed at least 20 per cent of the caucus — or 36 Liberal MPs — to write to the caucus chair asking to review of both MPs’ memberships.
Then, the expulsions would only have been approved if a majority of the overall caucus — at least 90 of the 179 Liberal MPs — voted that way in a secret ballot.
Philpott seized on Trudeau’s remarks at an emergency caucus meeting last week that it was his decision and that he met with both MPs before it was announced.
“This confirmed that we were expelled prior to the commencement of the Liberal caucus meeting,” she said.
“The prime minister’s words that night to the Liberal caucus are important to underscore because expulsion should not be his decision to take unilaterally. However, the decision had been already made.”
Echoing Chong’s words in the House on this matter last week, Philpott said it is a constitutional convention that MPs are not accountable to the leader, but that leaders are accountable to MPs.
“The prime minister deprived members of their rights to determine the expulsion of a caucus colleague on a secret ballot vote and their right to determine the readmittance of a Liberal member to the caucus on a secret ballot vote,” she said.
In doing this, she said, he also denied MPs facing a possible caucus expulsion their right to due process that is not “ad hoc, not arbitrary, nor unlawful.”
House Speaker Geoff Regan said he would consider Philpott’s argument and report back at a later date.
Trudeau: ‘It was my decision to make’
Trudeau told reporters that Liberals sent a letter to the Speaker at the beginning of his government’s mandate “expressing the will of caucus” on the Reform Act.
The prime minister added that he “consulted extensively” with caucus before deciding to remove Philpott and Wilson-Raybould from his team.
“I talked with all caucus regional chairs and the will of caucus was very, very clear that they wanted the two individuals removed from caucus,” he said. “It was my decision to make but the fact that the caucus was clear and united on that made my decision easier.”
Chong told HuffPost Canada Tuesday that the courts have made it clear they have no jurisdiction over breaches of law that relate to the internal affairs of the House.
“The only place in the land where Dr. Philpott can get justice is on the floor of the House of Commons and its committees,” he said.
If the Speaker rules that there appears to have been a breach of privilege, Philpott will be allowed to move a motion to refer the issue to the procedure and House affairs committee — or the House as a whole — for further debate and study.
Chong said he believes three breaches took place concerning the Liberal party:
When four recorded votes did not take place during the first Liberal caucus meeting after the 2015 election;
When the prime minister “unilaterally” expelled Philpott and Wilson-Raybould on April 2;
And when Liberal MPs were denied their right to vote on the expulsions in secret ballots.
Chong said Philpott recently reached out to ask about remarks he made in the House about the Reform Act. The Conservative MP said he provided the former Liberal cabinet minister with a transcript.
“This is not a trivial matter. This concerns the heart of power in our democracy,” Chong said. “This concerns who has power and who doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.”
Conservatives adopted many of the changes proposed in Chong’s Reform Act, which explains why Tory Leader Andrew Scheer was unable to simply boot Maxime Bernier from caucus last summer when his tweets about so-called “extreme multiculturalism” caused headaches for Tories.
Scheer also had to ask Tony Clement to resign from caucus last year over a sexting scandal.
But the Tory leader was able to remove Sen. Lynn Beyak from caucus after she refused to remove racist comments on her website last year. The Reform Act changes don’t apply to senators.
Wilson-Rayboud quit Trudeau’s cabinet in February. She testified before the House justice committee that she faced inappropriate political pressure, while serving as attorney general, from Trudeau and other officials to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution with a remediation agreement.
Philpott resigned from cabinet last month, citing lost confidence over how the government responded to Wilson-Raybould’s allegations. She later gave an interview to Maclean’s magazine, saying that there’s more to the story Canadians need to hear.
Both MPs intended to run again under the party banner this fall.
However, Trudeau took action after it was revealed Wilson-Raybould recorded a phone conversation on the SNC-Lavalin issue with Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick in December. The prime minister said it was “unconscionable” that Wilson-Raybould recorded Canada’s top public servant.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau told his caucus members. “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”
With files from The Canadian Press, Zi-Ann Lum