CANADA

Silencing the Speaker

MICHAEL ROSE September 15 1986
CANADA

Silencing the Speaker

MICHAEL ROSE September 15 1986

Silencing the Speaker

It started with criticism of his job performance: Parliament had become unruly and the daily Question Period had turned into a sophomoric free-for-all. Then, last spring there were stories about his expense accounts—and his appetite for the good life. Finally, subtlety abandoned, Conservative sources last week said that John Bosley, Speaker of the House of Commons, would soon accept a diplomatic assignment overseas. For Bosley, 39, the signals were unmistakable: the Mulroney government wanted him to step down. Late last week, in an abrupt end to his tumultous two-year term, Bosley complied, submitting a terse three-sentence letter of resignation to House of Commons clerk C.B. Koester.

But after Bosley and his wife, Nicole, climbed into a waiting limousine outside the private door to the Speaker’s offices, aides distributed a two-page letter of explanation. “The House of Commons,” Bosley wrote, “is in a crisis of our own making. Restoring the selfrespect of Parliament requires both a fundamental change of attitude and a catalyst.” Clearly, observers said later, Bosley believed his own departure would provide the catalyst. For Prime

Minister Brian Mulroney, Bosley’s resignation from the $110,000-a-year job complemented this summer’s sweeping attempt to improve the government’s image. It may also have been a response to repeated complaints from Tory MPs who had been angered by the way Bosley handled the business of the House. But opposition MPs immediately attacked the events as an unprecedented infringement of the traditional independence of the Speaker. And the swiftness of Bosley’s exit raised the possibility that the government’s attempts to make a fresh start will be overshadowed by another controversy.

Bosley, himself a Tory MP for seven years, had been a frequent target of attacks from his colleagues. Last summer an anonymous prime ministerial aide disclosed—inaccurately—that Bosley had demanded $430,000 in renovations at Kingsmere, the Speaker’s official residence, as well as a 233-per-cent increase in his entertainment budget. Then, last week the government appeared to intensify its attempts to discredit Bosley. Interviewed Aug. 31 on CTV’s Question Period, Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski delivered a pointed attack on Bosley’s handling of

parliamentary debate. Said Mazankowski: “Quite frankly, a lot of the questions that are put by the oppposition probably should have been ruled out of order.”

Three days later, Quebec’s Frenchlanguage Radio-Canada reported that the Prime Minister’s Office had decided Bosley should be given a diplomatic posting. Then, The Canadian Press said that the Speaker was considering resigning because of attempts by the PMO to remove him. In Montreal to attend a cabinet meeting last Thursday, Mulroney did not try to discourage the speculation. Said the Prime Minister of the Speaker’s future: “That’s for Mr. Bosley and the House of Commons to decide.” And a senior aide to Mulroney confirmed to Maclean's last week that the government’s strategy was to prompt Bosley’s resignation—Speakers cannot be fired by the Prime Minister—by making it clear that he was no longer wanted.

Bosley himself last week declined requests for interviews. He went into seclusion at a friend’s home in Toronto, before a planned vacation. But one colleague told Maclean's that by last Thursday Bosley had decided he could no longer resist the efforts to dislodge him. Declared the source: “He decided to leave out of respect for the institution of Parliament.” Bosley’s letters

last week made no mention of the whisper campaign against him. But he said that a new Speaker, elected by secret ballot by the entire House under new rules introduced last year, could expect that all MPs would assume “a direct personal responsibility to uphold the authority of the chair.”

The PMO issued a brief statement Friday night. In it Mulroney acknowledged that “the House has not been an easy place these past few years” and he applauded Bosley’s decision as “an act of unselfish leadership.” But the statement contained none of the customary expressions of regret. Opposition Leader John Turner, who had tried to persuade Bosley to stay, declared: “Never before has a Speaker been forced to resign by the clear manipulation of a Prime Minister or the people for whom he is responsible.” But it was a small group of freshmen Liberal MPs—the notorious “Rat Pack”—that created many of Bosley’s troubles in the early days of the present Parliament.

Bosley’s problems as chief arbiter of parliamentary debate and administrator of the Commons budget—$163 million last year—began soon after his appointment. MPs on both sides of the House criticized his insistence that questions and answers be kept short. Others accused him of bias and inconsistency in his rulings. And he angered

Tory ministers by cutting off their responses or insisting they retract unacceptable language. Question Period soon turned into a shouting match, with damaging effects on the image of Parliament and on the government.

At the same time, Bosley upset veteran Tory backbenchers by refusing to undo reforms to the Commons administration introduced by Liberal Speaker Jeanne Sauvé in 1980. An auditor general’s report that year had uncovered an alarming lack of spending control and widespread patronage in hiring staff. As a result, Sauvé hired a career civil servant, Arthur Silverman, as the Commons administrator to help restore order. Bosley, under intense pressure to replace Silverman, reluctantly relented. Last January the no-nonsense Silverman was transferred to Indian Affairs.

Bosley’s likely successor is 42-yearold Marcel Danis, a Montreal lawyer and now the deputy speaker. Bosley, who said in his letter to Mulroney that he would not resign his seat as MP for Toronto’s Don Valley West riding, will preside over the election soon after Parliament reconvenes on Oct. 1. But in a tone of sadness, he added, “I love this House of Commons and will never feel more honored than to serve as Speaker and to administer its affairs.”

MICHAEL ROSE