Speaker shuts down Philpott's claim that PM contravened law with caucus expulsions

Speaker Geoff Regan ruled that he has no jurisdiction to rule on Jane Philpott’s claim that the prime minister broke parliamentary law when he booted her and Jody Wilson-Raybould from Liberal caucus.

“The Chair is unable to conclude that the member from Markham-Stouffville has been obstructed in the fulfillment of her parliamentary functions. Accordingly, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege,” Regan said in the House of Commons on Thursday.

He also said the Speaker has no role in interpreting internal caucus votes.

Philpott stood in the House of Commons Tuesday, to argue that PM Trudeau had trodden on her rights as a member of Parliament when he expelled her from caucus without a vote.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were removed by the prime minister with the backing of Liberal MPs who said that the trust between the Liberal team and the two once-prominent women on Trudeau's front bench had been "broken" over the course of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet amid the controversy.

Philpott argued that Trudeau contravened the Parliament of Canada Act because the Liberal caucus did not hold a vote at the beginning of this Parliament to determine how caucus expulsions would be handled, and because he ultimately made the decision to remove them without a caucus vote.

"Expulsion should not be his decision to take unilaterally, however the decision had been already made," Philpott said.

The Liberals pushed back, arguing that, at the start of this Parliament, the Liberal caucus decided to opt out of adopting the part of the law that would require a vote. Had they adopted it, MPs would have been legally required to vote on whether or not a colleague should be booted from caucus.

In his ruling, the Speaker explained that it isn’t his responsibility to ensure such votes are held. The only role of the Speaker, he explained, is to be advised of the caucus decision.

"The Speaker’s role stops there. It does not, in any way, extend to interpreting the results of the votes, how the votes were taken, or interpreting any other relevant provisions," Regan said.

"With the full authority given to caucuses themselves in such unequivocal terms, it is clear that the Chair has no role in the interpretation or enforcement of this statute, even when members feel rudderless without what they feel would be clearly stated and understood rules."

The Speaker's decision quashes Philpott’s argument that Trudeau broke parliamentary law, leaving her with little recourse to fight her caucus expulsion.

It also dampens Erin Weir’s efforts to push back on his ejection from the NDP caucus, which took place in May 2018. He tried to deploy the same argument as Philpott, arguing in a Wednesday press release that it is "equally unclear whether NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had the legal authority to expel him."

He said the NDP caucus voted to reject the rule that would have required a vote for his ejection, but did so far later than required in the Parliament of Canada Act.

"Nevertheless, Singh unilaterally expelled Weir last year for the non-criminal activities of having an argument, standing too close to people and talking too long. There was no written notice or caucus vote," Weir’s press release said.

With the Speaker's ruling, however, Weir’s latest bid to return to the NDP caucus has also been shut down.

With files from Rachel Aiello.