Speaker ac­cused of ‘favouritis­m’

Edmonton Journal - - ALBERTA - KEITH GEREIN kgerein@ed­mon­ton­jour­nal. com

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.

Gene Zwozdesky

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