Dean Del Mastro had just announced his resignation and now he gestured to the empty chair he stood beside.
“I hope some day to be back in this place, but if I am not, always keep in mind it is a simple chair,” he said, “but it represents the hopes, dreams and futures of the thousands that members represent, millions across the country. Never take it for granted.”
With that he was done, his remarks to the House concluded, his claim to a seat in the House relinquished, his right to speak here surrendered. The Conservative side stood and applauded and there was some amount of applause on the opposition side and at least a couple stood there too.
The man being applauded here has been found to have transgressed against the Canada Elections Act, he was facing suspension from the House of Commons, and, if the judge’s ruling is upheld, he could have become just the fourth MP in the history of this place to be forcibly expelled from it. That this man would be applauded might thus seem a bit odd.
There is generally too much applause in this place, but we might spend awhile trying to parse this clapping. Perhaps it was applause for the sentiments expressed. Perhaps it was, in some cases, something to do with a personal affinity for Del Mastro. The standing ovation was “probably our way of saying goodbye to a friend,” says Conservative MP Brad Trost. “Because I like Dean,” Liberal MP Scott Simms says of his applause. “He did his work and he took his job very seriously. I didn’t have to agree with him to applaud his work ethic and dedication.” NDP MP Glenn Thibeault says he too was saying goodbye. “Dean and I worked together on committees. I knew him for six years,” he says. “So I was applauding the somewhat high road he took by resigning.” Perhaps there was empathy or even support here somewhere somehow.
It is, for sure, periodically useful to remember that the 308 members of the House of Commons are human beings.
Which is not quite to say that that should ever obscure the very serious business they are involved in.
Del Mastro’s final intervention was a remarkable 14 minutes and 20 seconds—the soon-to-be former MP for Peterborough unexpectedly appearing along the back row of the near left corner of the House. He stood, he said, pursuant to Standing Order 20. That particular statute provides that “if anything shall come in question touching the conduct, election or right of any Member to hold a seat, that Member may make a statement.”
The statement here would be something of a life story about how a man who “grew up picking stones in the fields of Peterborough County” came to be the thrice-elected and still-undefeated MP for the place he loved. He had ushered the Peterborough airport into existence. There came public investments in local infrastructure—the curling club was renovated, a lawn bowling club was built, there were now new wastewater treatment facilities. He was told to go to Bay Street, but stayed in Peterborough. He set a new record for votes received by a candidate for the riding.
He recalled the death of his father and apologized to his mom for getting emotional and asked his wife, apparently watching at home, to kiss his three-day-old daughter (there was applause on all sides when he mentioned the birth of his daughter).
He vowed to fight the charges against him. “I wish it was not something that I had to fight, but it is and I will fight,” he said. “People in this House know one thing about me: they know I am no shrinking violet. I have a big heart, but nobody should ever confuse that with any willingness on my part to ever back down. I often tell people that I have a distinct design flaw. It is that I was not built with a reverse gear. I only know how to go forward, and I will press forward.”
He attempted some defence of his position. “To begin with, I want to make one thing clear, and I stand by this: I did not donate too much money to myself. I did not, and I stand by my filings in 2008,” he said. “When people say that I am guilty of fraud or whatever comments that were made the other day, they disrespect the more than 27,000 people in 2008 who voted for me and the almost 29,000 people who voted for me in 2011.”
He lamented “that a day in the life of the House was wasted on this issue.” He said he did not want to be a distraction for Parliament or Peterborough. He said he did not want to divide the Conservative caucus (who would have otherwise had to have voted on suspending Del Mastro this evening).
And on that note, he resigned his seat. “With appreciation, humility and gratitude,” he said, “I tender my resignation, effective immediately, in the House. I stand before the House as one of the most fortunate and blessed individuals that the good Lord has ever put breath into. Nothing will ever change that.”
However blessed to date, his ultimate guilt or innocence will be established by the courts. A confirmed conviction would seem, by the letter of our elections law, to require expulsion from the House of Commons. And before then, likely just hours from when he spoke, Del Mastro would have been suspended from the House, possibly never again able to address this place.
All of which is rather serious—perhaps nothing being more serious than the question of who gets to sit here. Whatever anyone’s story, that looms largest.