OTTAWA – A contrite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized yet again Thursday for a physical encounter with two opposition MPs that touched off an unprecedented fracas on the floor of the House of Commons.
Trudeau rose in the House to apologize to all MPs, the Speaker and also Ruth Ellen Brosseau, with whom he collided on Wednesday while trying to hurry Conservative whip Gord Brown to his seat.
“I sincerely apologize to my colleagues, to the House as a whole and to you, Mr. Speaker, for failing to live up to a higher standard of behaviour,” Trudeau told a rapt Commons as the shockwaves from the scene continued to reverberate.
“Members, rightfully, expect better behaviour from anyone in this House. I expect better behaviour of myself.”
“I apologize for crossing the floor,” Trudeau said. “That intervention was not appropriate, it was not my role and it should not have happened.”
Trudeau also directly addressed Brosseau, saying he failed to live up to the standard of behaviour to which all MPs should adhere, and that there was no excuse for what he did.
“The way that members behave in this House is important,” he said.
“It is important because we are here to serve Canadians, and Canadians deserve to have their concerns expressed fully and fairly in a direct and dignified manner. I know, and I regret that my behaviour yesterday failed to meet this standard.”
Trudeau said repeatedly that he made a mistake — “poor choices,” he called it — and that he wants to make amends.
The unprecedented scene erupted Wednesday in the House when Trudeau pulled Conservative whip Gord Brown through a clutch of New Democrat MPs to hurry up a vote related to doctor-assisted dying.
Footage from the Commons television feed showed Trudeau wading into a clutch of MPs, mostly New Democrats, and pulling Opposition whip Gordon Brown through the crowd in an effort to get a key vote started.
In doing so, he appeared to collide with Quebec MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who reacted with visible discomfort Trudeau pushed past her, forcing her against an adjacent desk.
“It is troubling we are having this debate; what happened last night was very unsettling for everyone in this chamber,” said interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.
“It is troubling, but it is our duty to have this debate if we take seriously our obligations to uphold the respect for one another required in this House to our jobs. The prime minister’s behaviour in the House last night was a violation of that respect. His behaviour was unbecoming of a leader who has the privilege — and let’s never forget it is a privilege — bestowed on him by the people of Canada to sit as a prime minister in this place.”
Conservative MP Peter Kent went so far as to suggest that Trudeau’s actions were in contempt of Parliament.
NDP MP Tracey Ramsey told the Commons in the immediate aftermath of the incident that Trudeau uttered a profanity as he approached her caucus colleagues standing in front of Brown.
“He said, ‘Get the bleep out of the way,'” Ramsey said in the House. An NDP source who spoke to Ramsey afterwards confirmed the MP had heard Trudeau say “get the f— out of my way.”
Brosseau said she was shocked by the encounter.
“I was standing in the centre talking to some colleagues,” Brosseau told the House after calm was restored. “I was elbowed in the chest by the prime minister and then I had to leave.
“It was very overwhelming and so I left the chamber to go and sit in the lobby. I missed the vote because of this.”
The incident — coming amid the superheated atmosphere of the doctor-assisted death debate — had MPs in an uproar as they shouted and pounded their desks in a display of antipathy rarely seen in the parliamentary chamber.
Tempers ran high in the Commons all week as the government pushed through a motion to limit debate on its controversial assisted-dying legislation, Bill C-14. It was that motion the members were gathered to vote on before the confrontation took place.
Speaker Geoff Regan could barely make himself heard as he tried to read the text of the motion on C-14. It was defeated by a margin of 172-137, although Brosseau wasn’t able to register her vote.
The acrimony was likely spillover from Wednesday, when the Liberals revealed their unpopular plan to change parliamentary procedures — an effort to wrest greater control over how and when things are done in the House of Commons, and stifle political gamesmanship.
The Speaker concluded there was a prima facie case that Brosseau’s privileges as an MP had been breached, which means the encounter will be examined by an all-party committee.
—with files from Kristy Kirkup