If it comes down to it, newly-elected House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota says he will evict Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Independent MP currently locked in a dispute over office space with her former party.
“I mean, obviously we have a process in place, there’s a tradition in place,” he said in a recent interview with Power and Politics host Vassy Kapelos. “Eventually, yeah, if she doesn’t [vacate], it’ll be someone from my office who has to enforce the rules so that Parliament can function.”
The timeline is “malleable at this point. We’re working on it,” he said.
Parliamentary offices are re-assigned after every election; the Speaker’s office is ultimately in charge of those assignments. Traditionally, priority is given on the basis of seat count — that means the Liberals get first pick of offices this time, followed by the Conservatives, then the Bloc.
Wilson-Raybould, an Independent MP who resigned from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair, has been refusing to move out of the entire office space assigned to her in 2018, when she was a cabinet minister. The move was due to Centre Block closing down for renovations.
She currently occupies a series of six offices equipped with a private bathroom on the fourth floor of the Confederation Building in the Parliamentary precinct. It’s classified as a ministerial suite, but Wilson-Raybould said Thursday she disagrees with that description because it’s two adjacent MP offices without a connecting door. She said she has volunteered to give one of the spaces up as long as she can keep the other.
“I’m not trying to prevent somebody from having been out in the cold without an office. I’m just trying to find a reasonable solution,” she told CBC News in an earlier interview, adding that she considers the situation to be “petty.”
In an email sent to CBC News today, Wilson-Raybould said that she was given a list of alternative office spaces on Thursday and is considering her options.
Wilson-Raybould invited Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda to bless the offices after her swearing-in following the October election. She said he had no “formal notice” at that point that she was required to move out, adding that she got the notice on Dec. 5.
Wilson-Raybould’s behaviour ‘speaks for itself,’ says Joly
The minister looking to move into the suite is Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal, a Métis MP from Manitoba. He said he’s not involved in the dispute.
“I’m just waiting for an office. We’re hiring staff, we need an office. We have work to do,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to getting going on that. So I’m just waiting for an office.”
Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly, however, had more pointed comments to make.
“I think there is a clear protocol and I think her behaviour speaks for itself. That’s it. It’s sad that we’re there. We don’t need to be,” she said.
While Wilson-Raybould said she would like to stay where she is, Rota said it’s not up to her.
“There’s a minister who wants to go in there and that minister has the right to go in because it’s been chosen as his office,” he said. “As an Independent, unfortunately, [Wilson-Raybould] is at the bottom of the list or near the bottom of the list.”
Rota: Non-partisanship is an ‘attractive’ part of being Speaker
The situation could be Rota’s first test as Speaker. He was elected to the post by his peers through a secret ballot process on Dec. 5.
First elected to the House of Commons in 2004, Rota represents the Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming. He served until he lost by 18 votes in the 2011 election, then was re-elected in 2015. In October, he captured 40 per cent of the vote in the riding.
Rota was assistant deputy Speaker in the last Parliament and previously served as the Liberal caucus chair. As Speaker, his job is to ensure the rules are followed in the House of Commons and to lead Commons administration.
The Speaker’s salary comes with a $85,500 top-up to an MP’s $178,900 salary, an apartment on Parliament Hill, an official residence in Chelsea, Que., and an office budget of $1.2 million that includes up to $196,091 for hospitality and a car.
The job means that he can’t participate in caucus and can vote only to break a tie. He said the non-partisan nature of the role appeals to him.
“It was an attractive part of the job,” he said. “I am not a very partisan person to begin with.”
So far, he said, he’s seen a spirit of collaboration among the parties in the House and hopes it will continue.