CANADA

The House Speaker under fire

MICHAEL ROSE July 29 1985
CANADA

The House Speaker under fire

MICHAEL ROSE July 29 1985

The House Speaker under fire

Since he was appointed Speaker of the House of Commons nine months ago, John Bosley has set aside the brash style he adopted as a Conservative member of Parliament and assumed the careful neutrality required in his job as the chief arbitrator and administrator of the Commons. But some of Bosley’s no-nonsense rulings in the House—including reprimands to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and members of his cabinet—have angered some of his former party colleagues. At the same time, the Speaker has come under fire as the result of newspaper reports suggesting that he wants to adopt a grander style of living. When Bosley appeared on an Ottawa street last week to inaugurate a speakers’ corner modelled on the one in London’s Hyde Park, he made no secret of his frustration at not being able to speak his mind. Declared Bosley to the audience of passers-by: “There may even be times when I will choose to come here myself to say the things I can’t say elsewhere.” The latest in the series of problems besetting the 38-year-old Bosley arose from reports in The Toronto Star, “relying on government sources,” saying that Bosley had requested $400,000 in public funds for renovations to Kingsmere, the Speaker’s official country residence in the nearby Gatineau Hills, and a $140,000 increase in his $60,000 budget for entertaining visiting dignitaries. The reports also said that Bosley wanted to expand his apartment in the Parliament buildings. Bosley angrily dismissed the charges. “At no time,” he told reporters, “did I ever request an increase in actual expenditures. Never. Not once.” But the attempt by one of Bosley’s former colleagues to damage his reputation with embarrassing allegations suggested that animosity toward the Speaker had reached a serious level in certain Conservative circles.

In fact, there have been complaints about the way Bosley presides from both sides of the House almost from the time that the current parliamentary session —now adjourned for the summer— began last fall. Members of the Liberal opposition’s youthful “Rat Pack” have accused Bosley of favoring government members in his rulings during Question Period. But Bosley, who often insists that MPS keep their questions and answers brief, has annoyed senior Tories as well—to the point that tempers have sometimes flared. Last April Bosley interrupted Mulroney to warn him that “this House is not a place for members to shout at each other across the aisle.” Then, in June Bosley interrupted Fi-

nance Minister Michael Wilson in the course of a rambling response to a question to insist that the minister provide “short and relevant answers.” Obviously piqued, Wilson sat down and mouthed an obscenity to the Speaker.

This spring Bosley gave in to pressure from the three party House leaders to ease off slightly on his strict application

of the rules. But the often-chaotic Question Periods that resulted led to charges that he had lost control of the House. Though most Liberal and New Democratic Party members insist that there has been no suggestion in their caucuses that Bosley is unfit for his job, at least one Conservative insider claims that Bosley has lost the support and respect of a large number of his former colleagues: “They think he is too autocratic and irrational.”

A potentially more serious problem facing Bosley stems from resentment

over the businesslike way in which he administers the House of Commons, which is operated by a staff of 3,000 on a current annual budget of $163 million. Since taking office he has doubled the price of full-course meals in the parliamentary restaurant and eliminated about 60 blue-collar jobs on the Hill. Bosley also has insisted on continuing the reform of the House of Commons administration begun by former Speaker Jeanne Sauvé, who launched a cleanup in 1980 after Auditor General James Macdonnell reported a serious lack of financial controls and irregular hiring procedures on Parliament Hill.

To help carry out her reforms Sauvé appointed Art Silverman, a career civil servant from the communications department, as administrator of the House of Commons, with a mandate to institute strict financial accounting and establish hiring criteria. Under Silverman the high style of living—with frequent parties and poorly controlled spending—vanished, and impartial procedures were set up to hire translators, maintenance and security personnel and other employees.

Now, according to sources in the House of Commons administration, Bosley is under pressure to replace Silverman with an appointee favored by Conservatives. Explained one of the sources: “Some of the veteran Tory MPS had the whimsical and fairy-tale notion that there might be a return to the old days with one of their people in the Speaker’s chair. But Bosley said no.” Said the Speaker: “Those who were unhappy with the system Jeanne Sauvé and Art Silverman put in place are unhappy because I still believe in it.”

Bosley acknowledged last week that he made some mistakes as Speaker during his first months in Parliament. But he insisted that he is still sufficiently respected by MPs to function effectively as Speaker. As for suggestions that some of his former colleagues have started a campaign to discredit him, Bosley told Maclean's, “It hurts, but I don’t think it’s coming from a large number of people.” As Bosley headed to his cottage in Ontario’s Muskoka region last week to rest and prepare for the fall sitting away from the swirling rumors in Ottawa, he might have recalled the remarks he made to the House on his first day on the job last November. “I am very conscious as I stand here,” Bosley declared then, “that it is not easy to be a good Speaker and that the responsibilities will call for all of the strength and abilities I may possess.”

-MICHAEL ROSE in Ottawa.