The Conservatives are calling on the Liberals to release emails and text messages between the party and the Clerk of the House of Commons, Charles Robert, following allegations he crossed a line and broke the cardinal rule of his job by acting partisan.
Robert’s job description is to advise the Speaker and all MPs on parliamentary procedure “regardless of party affiliation” and “with impartiality and discretion.”
But CBC News reported last week that Robert is facing claims he made partisan comments and shared confidential information with the Liberals that could have given the party a strategic advantage over the opposition in the House.
The Conservatives’ deputy leader, Candice Bergen, house leader Gérard Deltell and ethics critic John Brassard released a statement Monday calling the allegations “troubling” and demanding answers.
“The non-partisan administration of the House of Commons which supports MPs from all political parties must be above reproach,” reads the statement signed by the three Conservative MPs.
“The simple fact is that the Trudeau Liberals must know that receiving confidential information from the Clerk was the wrong thing to do, but they are accused of doing it anyway.”
The Conservatives now want the prime minister’s office, Liberal house leader and whip’s offices to release correspondence with Robert.
CBC News reported last week on a series of claims based on written complaints and letters to Robert’s supervisor — the Speaker of the House of Commons. Ten sources with knowledge of the inner workings of the office and issues corroborated the claims and provided additional examples.
Staff witnessed Robert make comments they deem partisan, including saying during a speech that he was happy with the 2019 federal election results that saw the Liberal’s win a minority government, according to multiple sources.
Robert is also facing claims of sharing confidential information that opposition parties gave him with the Liberals. And in one case, of sharing the outcome of an unfavourable ruling by the Speaker about medically assisted dying with the Liberals ahead of time, and asking when they would like the Speaker to deliver it in the house so it didn’t disrupt the party’s agenda.
That move went against normal practice and could have given the Liberals an advantage, said multiple sources.
WATCH | Clerk of the House accused of favouring Liberals:
Robert is also facing claims that he’s treated some staff with disrespect and staff regularly see him sleeping on the job while in the chamber during Question Period when he’s supposed to be alert in case he needs to advise the Speaker.
Robert says he has served with integrity
CBC provided Robert a detailed list of the allegations ahead of the story airing. In response, Robert wrote in a statement that he’s devoted his career to serving Parliament and also provided a copy of his CV.
“For more than 40 years, I have served Parliament and parliamentarians of both Houses with integrity and to the best of my ability,” wrote Robert. “Prior to my appointment as Clerk of the House of Commons, I was for several years the interim Clerk of the Senate providing advice and counsel to three Speakers, Conservative and Liberal.”
Robert said he has addressed the sleeping matter.
The Trudeau government selected Robert using a new competition process in 2017 that triggered criticism.
Multiple sources question why the government considered Robert for the role when, at the time of his appointment, he was the interim clerk of the Senate and in a longtime relationship with a Liberal-appointed senator. Robert said in a statement to CBC News that his personal relationship was known on Parliament Hill and was disclosed with the Senate, House and several senior officials.
Robert also said in his defence that he made significant changes to the office when appointed and claims a group of senior managers resisted change.
According to sources and a written complaint, the concerns are more widespread.
Claims staff complaints mounted and situation became ‘untenable’
The five senior managers worked closely with Robert and filed the first complaint in 2018 on behalf of their staff, the complaint said. The manager wrote to Robert’s boss — the Speaker of the House of Commons at the time, Geoff Regan— that they were dealing with mounting complaints from staff about his work and the situation had become “untenable.”
“The amount of time and energy that is expended on stepping in to do the job of the Clerk and in discussion, including with staff, about how to keep going forward in this toxic environment is currently staggering and not sustainable,” reads the complaint.
The complaint and further letters expressing concern issues had not been resolved have been sent to the current Speaker of the House, Anthony Rota. A spokesperson for Rota said the protocol is that he tells human resources if concerns are brought to his attention and HR recommends if action should be taken. That protocol was followed in this case, said the spokesperson.
Auditor walked away, 3 senior managers left
Three of the senior managers since last year have taken sick leave and early retirement. A fourth manager is currently on sick leave.
Robert’s chief audit executive also walked away from the job over a concern about a conflict of interest, multiple sources said. Robert severed the reporting structure, removing the ability of the auditor to take concerns directly to the Speaker. If the auditor ever found wrongdoing, the report would only go to Robert.
Two of the senior managers who left sent letters to Rota saying they were retiring early because they had no other option, since the issues were not being resolved.
The letter said Speaker Rota knew about the concerns and urged him to take action for the sake of the integrity of the institution.
The Clerk met “efforts to uphold the principles of political neutrality, good governance, transparency and sound management with disapproval,” read the letter. The senior manager wrote they couldn’t abandon their principles and keep looking the other way.
NDP says new reports ‘raise serious questions’
The NDP’s house leader, Peter Julian, said his party has raised concerns about the turnover of senior staff and believes the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) is the right venue for parties to discuss the claims.
The BOIE oversees the administration of the House and in July dealt with the matter in-camera, which means it’s confidential and not on the public record.
“These new reports are concerning and raise serious questions,” wrote Julian in a statement to CBC News.
Regan brought in an outside firm, Filion and Associates, to conduct the external review of the clerk’s office, according to a letter. But a complainant wrote to the Speaker in January 2019 and said the workplace assessment report had disappointing conclusions and contained “erroneous facts and suppositions.”
The review looked into a variety of concerns about Robert’s performance, including sleeping on the job and treatment of staff, but not the claims of partisanship that later arose.
CBC News requested a copy of the report, but Robert said because it contains “personal information and deals with employment matters, it cannot be made public.”
Conservatives calling for next speaker of house to investigate
In a statement to CBC News, Robert said the review “concluded that the bond of trust between Procedural Services executives and me was not present,” adding that other claims about his ethics and integrity were “baseless.”
Opposition parties have called for a new review into allegations during an in-camera session of the BOIE, according to multiple sources. But the Liberals voted against it, the sources said.
The Conservatives sent a letter to all MPs on Friday calling for the next Speaker of the House to investigate the claims against the clerk.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said it would require cross-partisan support and leadership from the next Speaker to meaningfully address the situation.
MPs cast their ballot for the next Speaker of the House on Nov. 22, when Parliament returns.