Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould says she is considering her options now that she has received a list of potential offices for her to move into — but she doesn’t have many. The former Liberal cabinet minister says she was originally told she could stay in her offices, located on the fourth floor of the Confederation Building in Ottawa, but that changed, on Dec. 5. Since then, she has just been “trying to get clarity — given there are no written rules and given the mixed messages I was receiving about the office,” she said in an email to the National Post. CBC first reported that Wilson-Raybould was refusing to vacate the ministerial suite with six offices and a private washroom. She described the space as two MP offices side by side and told the CBC that she offered to vacate one of them. She has occupied these offices since 2018, when she was relocated from Centre Block ahead of extensive renovations. She was allowed to stay after she was ejected from the Liberal caucus in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. She reportedly called the process “petty,” but Wilson-Raybould is just one of countless parliamentarians expected to relocate after each election, and, if it comes to it, the Speaker has the authority to kick her out. Here’s what you need to know about how offices are assigned.
How do MPs get assigned to offices?
The Speaker of the House of Commons overseas the allocation of office space in Ottawa, but delegates this duty to the whip for each party, said Robert Marleau, who served as clerk of the House of Commons from 1987 to 2000, reporting to the Speaker. He is currently the City of Ottawa’s integrity commissioner.
The party forming government gets first dibs, then the official opposition chooses from what’s left, then the party with the third-most seats, etc. If a party has fewer than 12 members, it does not have official standing or a party whip, so its members are grouped together with the Independent MPs, and the Speaker’s office oversees their office allocations. Those members will receive office space in order of seniority and may be offered the chance to choose between a few options.
This time, the Liberals get to choose first, then the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and then everyone else. Forty-eight incumbents lost their bid for re-election in October, freeing up 48 offices, but that doesn’t mean that parties have to choose from those offices.
Where are the offices located?
There are offices located in the Centre Block, East Block and West Block on Parliament Hill, and the Valour, Wellington, Confederation and Justice buildings. The most prized offices are often considered to be located in the same building as the House of Commons, but with the closure of Centre Block for the next decade, and the relocation of the House to West Block, Parliament Hill has fewer offices to offer these days.
Is it uncommon for re-elected MPs to be asked to move?
Not at all, especially if their party has gone from government to opposition, or if they have left a party to become an Independent. “We were all moved out of our offices in 2011. NDP making a point about being Official Opposition,” former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae tweeted in the wake of the news about Wilson-Raybould. “Happens after every election. And, there are no bad seats in the House of Commons, or bad offices either.”
We were all moved out of our offices in 2011. NDP making a point about being Official Opposition. Happens after every election. And, there are no bad seats in the House of Commons, or bad offices either. https://t.co/OfSGIhAAC5
— Bob Rae (@BobRae48) December 12, 2019
What if an MP really, really doesn’t want to move?
Tough luck, basically. MPs can be asked to vacate their office for a member of the same party or a different one, and they’re expected to do it without fail. If the MP’s own party wants to reassign them, they can try reasoning with their party whip, but there is no appeals process.
Chapter six of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice mentions two cases where MPs tried and failed to overturn a decision regarding the reassignment of their offices. In 1991, Louis Plamondon raised a question of privilege over the matter after he left the Progressive Conservative Party to form the Bloc Québécois and lost his office. In 1997, John Nunziata, a former Liberal MP, was reassigned office space by the Speaker “against his will” after he was re-elected as an Independent.
If a member refuses to vacate, they can be evicted, and newly elected House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota told the CBC that’s an option in Wilson-Raybould’s case.
Marleau said he recalls having to make an order to the Sergeant-at-arms to go in the middle of the night and strip the office of a member, whom he did not name, who was refusing to move out after leaving their party. The Sergeant-at-arms put the MP’s furniture and belongings in another area for safekeeping and changed the locks.