Speaker accused of ‘favouritism’
An increasingly bitter dispute is developing in the Alberta legislature, with opposition MLAs accusing Speaker Gene Zwozdesky of failing to remain impartial, deliberately stifling controversy, and wasting time with lengthy and unnecessary interjections.
The growing acrimony has grown more heated each day in question period but finally came to a boil Wednesday when Zwozdesky forced a Wildrose MLA to apologize after Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith directly challenged the speaker to allow her members more leeway to hold the government to account.
Smith suggested Zwozdesky was unfairly muzzling the opposition by rejecting any questions related to controversial subjects such as party finances, ethics investigations and the actions of legislature officers.
“Far too often when we attempt to do our jobs in this legislature, we are unable to ask the government the questions that need to be asked,” she told the Speaker. “We understand these questions are often uncomfortable. They often deal with scandal, impropriety and personal misconduct. But they simply must be asked.
“Shutting down questions because they make the government uncomfortable, angry or unruly is not within our tradition.”
An example of the dispute occurred on Tuesday, when Zwozdesky halted a series of Wildrose queries that were critical of Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson — particularly his recent decision not to sanction former Conservative MLA Peter Sandhu for conflict-of-interest violations.
Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson responded angrily to the Speaker’s move, provoking a heated exchange.
“What precedent is there for a Speaker, frankly dominating and wasting time of this assembly with constant lectures and frankly, selfrighteous interruptions that are costing us question after question?” Anderson asked. “You are showing gross favouritism, sir.”
Zwozdesky shot back that it was his duty to enforce the rules, which includes a mandate to rein in language that leads to disruption in the house, and to protect the reputation of officers who are not present to defend themselves.
The Speaker slammed Anderson’s remarks again Wednesday, describing them as “offensive,” “personally insulting,” and a “direct affront.” He told Anderson that his decision to challenge the chair was verging on contempt, but then gave him an opportunity to withdraw and apologize for the comments.
“I withdraw and apologize for those comments,” Anderson said sullenly.