Tory MP Garnett Genuis Defends Drinking With Staffers At Parliamentary Meeting

Tory MP Garnett Genuis Defends Drinking With Staffers At Parliamentary Meeting
Allegations of a coup and feeding vodka to staffers fly after contentious Hill meeting
Global News has obtained video of a Conservative MP and staffers pouring and drinking an unknown clear liquid from a glass bottle into red cups while breaking into song during a parliamentary meeting.

That is the question after a meeting to elect a new MP as chair of the Canadian NATO parliamentary association descended into chaos Tuesday night with what appear to be Conservative staffers and at least one Conservative MP, Garnett Genuis, seen in video obtained by Global News breaking into a rendition of Stan Rogers’ Barrett’s Privateers while pouring and passing around a bottle of unknown liquid.

Several other Conservative MPs including Shannon Stubbs and Kellie Leitch are seen to be nearby but do not participate.

Another Conservative MP, Stephanie Kusie can also be seen whispering something to Genuis before declining what appears to be an offered cup and walking away.

Wine and alcohol is commonly served at receptions hosted on Parliament Hill, but Tuesdays singing and drinking happened at a parliamentary association meeting. Genuis said the meeting had been adjourned, despite other Tory MPs lingering in the room.

When asked what was in the cup, Genuis said on his way into question period “it tasted like gasoline” and had been purchased by one of his staffers.

OTTAWA — Conservative MP Garnett Genuis got in a testy exchange Wednesday with a reporter who asked him about the optics of indulging in some after-hours drinking with staffers on Parliament Hill.

But he pushed back against questions about whether it was appropriate for an MP to be drinking in the workplace given the number of concerns raised over the past year about the prevalence of alcohol and the need for workplace cultural shifts on Parliament Hill.

Is your objection that you think when MPs are at social event with staff they should drink out of glass cups?

The disruption was triggered by a contentious vote to replace Tory MP Leona Alleslev as chair of the NATO parliamentary association. She crossed the floor from the Liberals last month.

The meeting room, however, was not hosting a reception or party; it was hosting a parliamentary association meeting.

Conservative MP Peter Kent also defended his colleague, Genuis, prior to the beginning of question period.

“Of all of the concerns that we have on the Hill, I dont think that the pouring alcohol in a room after a committee has adjourned is the top of the priority list of concerns.”

When asked if that meant he thought the behaviour was acceptable, he said, A lot of things happen on the Hill that shouldnt happen on the Hill,” and added there are other issues that deserve attention.

Hundreds of Conservative and Liberal MPs met just down the hall from the House of Commons on Tuesday evening for the annual general meeting of the NATO parliamentary association, which consists of MPs and senators who work on promoting closer ties between Canada and the organization.

“Is your objection that you think when MPs are at social events with staff they should drink out of glass cups instead of red Solo cups?” Genuis responded.

Up until last night, the association had been chaired by Leona Alleslev, the former Liberal MP for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill who crossed the floor to join the Conservatives last month.

WATCH BELOW: Leona Alleslev explains why she’s leaving the Liberal party to join the Conservatives

“It was purchased by one of my staffers and they were serving drinks of some kind,” he said “It tasted like gasoline, it wasnt very expensive.”

But the Liberals moved at the meeting to replace her with another Liberal MP, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who one government official says then was jeered by opposition members in the room as “Putin.”

Wrzesnewskyj is a Ukrainian-Canadian MP who announced last week he will not seek re-election in 2019.

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Conservative MP Erin O’Toole accused the Liberals on Twitter of using the “farcical meeting tonight for no other reason than to extract political revenge on an MP who had lost confidence in them.”

At one point, there appears to have been confusion among Parliamentarians if the meeting was officially over.

So, our self-declared feminist Prime Minister has ordered his MPs to take out the Chair of the non-partisan NATO Parliamentary Association. The current chair is a female Veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. #SunnyWays pic.twitter.com/WxilQi3LsS

“Sometimes after-hours drinking happens on Parliament Hill,” the MP acknowledged. “Is that a surprise?”

The other 11 parliamentary associations are also either chaired by a government MP or co-chaired by both a government MP and a senator.

Keeping Alleslev in the chair position would have made the association the only one currently being led by a non-government MP.

However, Alleslev is also a veteran of the Canadian Forces, something O’Toole said should have merited her being able to keep the job.

Following question period, the Conservatives raised a point of order in the House of Commons arguing that the Liberals rammed through the vote.

Several members rose to speak about the point of order, calling it “illegitimate” and saying they had not been given adequate notice.

They also argued the vote to replace Alleslev did not follow the rules of the association and that Alleslev’s adjournment in her role as chair before the ousting should have marked the end of the meeting.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback also rose to say, “I think a lot of members need to take a lot of thought what their behaviour was on both sides of the aisle.”

OTTAWA – The aftermath of an acrimonious parliamentary association meeting spilled onto the floor of the House of Commons Wednesday, with Conservative MPs accusing the government of "hijacking" the meeting, and the Liberals alleging the Tories were "feeding vodka" to their staff who interrupted the proceedings.

A special meeting of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association was called for Tuesday night as the Liberals pushed to remove floor-crossing MP Leona Alleslev from her position as chair. By the end of the night Parliament Hill security had to be called in to diffuse the situation after Conservative MPs protested their newest caucus members ouster by breaking into song, alongside staffers, with songbooks and red cups in hand.

"Ive never seen anything like that in my 19 years here," said Liberal MP Wayne Easter, rising to speak to the incident in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon.

Easter was responding to a point of order that was raised by Conservative MP John Nater, who denounced what he called the "unlawful and illegitimate" meeting that was held Tuesday night.

The details of the evening are in dispute, but in a nutshell: Alleslev had held the role as chair of the non-partisan Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, but following her September defection from the Liberals to join the Conservative Party, the governing party wanted to replace her with Liberal MP and vice-chair Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

A special meeting was called for Tuesday night, to hold a vote on a new chair, citing that the existing chairperson "no longer has the confidence of the members." The room was packed, with more members than typical for the associations semi-regular meetings, with both sides hoping to have the numbers to either keep, or oust Alleslev.

Alleslev called the meeting to order, and immediately procedural wrangling began over whether or not the rules were being followed. She attempted to adjourn the meeting, and at some point Wrzesnewskyj took over chairing, keeping the meeting going. There was a balloting process overseen by another member, and eventually Wrzesnewskyj was named the new chairperson.

In protest of this process, which Conservative MP Erin OToole has called "farcical", a handful of Conservative MPs, including Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, Todd Doherty, Cathay Wagantall, and Garnett Genuis, and staffers broke out into song in the room.

As seen in a video taken by one Liberal MP, the Conservatives were singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver, holding binders which appeared to hold lyrics, some with red cups in hand.

Parliament Hill security was called in to try to get the situation under control, as the staffers were in the room at what the Liberals still considered an ongoing meeting of parliamentarians.

While the chair position does not come with any additional salary, it offers opportunities to travel globally to meet with fellow NATO groups and be a part of policy conversations.

Historically, the chairs of these kinds of parliamentary associations are members of the governing party.

Now, the Conservatives are questioning the validity of the entire process. Several MPs spoke to this in the Commons on Wednesday.

Nater called the entire meeting a "coup" to dethrone Alleslev, arguing that she properly adjourned the meeting, and it never should have bene re-convened by Wrzesnewskyj because at that point many members had already left the room. He called the re-convened portion of the meeting in which he was elected chair, a "sham" that was done in complete breach of the associations bylaws.

He accused the Liberals of orchestrating a "political show execution" to knock out Alleslev from a position she previously was acclaimed to.

Conservative MP Mark Strahl noted that it is quite rare for association goings-on to boil over into the House in this way, but it was necessary because, as he alleged, the Liberals violated the rules in multiple ways.

OToole is asking for Wrzesnewskyjs actions to be looked into, describing his taking over of the chair as "hijacking."

The Liberals believe the rules have been followed and Wrzesnewskyj is now the chair. The associations parliamentary website has been updated to reflect this change to their executive.

In her floor-crossing speech, Alleslev took issue with Canadas current foreign policy and defence commitments. Liberals consider her to be someone who broke their trust and with a NATO Parliamentary Assembly gathering happening in Halifax next month, one source speaking on background said there was a desire to make sure Canadas current position is being put forward.

Now, the Conservatives are exploring every avenue to dispute the validity of the election, and uphold her title as chair, including "judicial recourse."

They are asking for the Speaker to undo any parliamentary records related to this meeting and have the Speaker advise that parliamentary assembly that Alleslev will lead the Canadian delegation.

After several Tory MPs offered their side of the evenings events, Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who was in attendance, offered a rebuke of the Conservative outrage, pointing to the singing and drinking that was happening in the room.

When the Conservative MPs and staffers broke out into song in protest, many were holding red cups, which Easter alleged contained vodka.

"I saw young staffers in that room and I was going to say being ginned up. But I know it wasnt gin. When you check the video… The process certainly wasnt enhanced when members of the Conservative party were feeding vodka to their staffers who were singing and had to be escorted out by security," Easter said.

"It was one of the most shameful and deliberate attacks on the democracy of those types of groups and they should apologize to the House for it," he continued.

The Canadian Press spoke with Genuis who admitted to drinking alcohol alongside Conservative staffers at the meeting. He defended it by saying there are regularly events on the Hill where MPs, staff, and others consume alcohol, but that its done so legally, as he said it was on Tuesday night.

CTV Power Play host Don Martin asked Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to comment on there being vodka being passed around, to which he replied: "I imagine everyone needed a stiff drink after they saw the undemocratic actions of a Liberal MP dumping a well-respected former armed services veteran," Scheer said.

Parliament Hill security are seen speaking with Conservative MPs and staff who interrupted a NATO parliamentary association meeting by singing, in protest of the ousting of a floor-crossing MP as chair. (Peter Schiefke / Facebook)

The aftermath of an acrimonious parliamentary association meeting spilled onto the floor of the House of Commons Wednesday, with Conservative MPs accusing the government of “hijacking” the meeting, and the Liberals alleging the Tories were “feeding vodka” to their staff who interrupted the proceedings.