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Absentee Liberal MP defends himself in House of Commons speech

The mysterious tale of a Liberal MP who was missing from Parliament Hill for months took a new turn Tuesday when the politician in question defended his absence and then was cleared of obvious wrongdoing by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Montreal MP Nicola Di Iorio appeared in the Commons on Tuesday to explain why he hadn’t been there since June, saying he has been busy with other important work, especially on the government’s cannabis legislation.

During his wide-ranging speech, which even touched on the historical mistreatment of Italian-Canadians in the Second World War, Di Iorio said he believed there had not been enough awareness raised about the dangers of legalizing the drug.

He said the timing of his resignation is challenging because he is involved in promoting awareness about impaired driving.

Di Iorio said he has also been working as a lawyer outside politics, arguing it is valuable for a politician because it grounds a person in the real world.

“Time spent in the House is a part of a member’s work, but despite that I decided to do something concrete for a cause I truly care about,” he said.

The New Democrats raised a question of privilege in November, charging that Di Iorio’s absence meant his constituents haven’t been properly represented. If Di Iorio had been away for inadequate reasons, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen said, perhaps he should be expelled from the Commons.

Watch below: Nicola Di Iorio reacts to parole of man who injured daughter

Parliamentary rules do require MPs to be in the House of Commons, unless they are on official parliamentary business that requires their absence.

While Speaker Geoff Regan said it didn’t appear Di Iorio has violated parliamentary rules, he still issued a warning about attendance in the Commons.

“At the core of this matter is the obligation of members of Parliament to fulfil their parliamentary duties in part by attending sittings in the House. This seemingly simple statement carries with it enormous responsibility from which even larger expectations emanate” Regan said.

Questions about Di Iorio’s salary during his absence could still be looked at by a cross-party panel of MPs tasked with overseeing Commons spending, Regan said.

First elected to represent St. Leonard-St. Michel in 2015, Di Iorio has sent mixed messages about his future in politics since April, when he announced he was leaving. More recently, in a long Facebook post, he said he would resign on Jan. 22.

Di Iorio said he has been open about his evolving plans to leave office, noting he raised the issue in the House in June before heading back to his riding to talk to his constituents. Di Iorio said his work continued throughout the summer and he had to cancel his vacation plans.

By late August, he suggested publicly that he might stick around a little longer.

“During that time I have worked on behalf of my constituents and my community, over the past few months I have undertaken work on issues that I truly care about,” Di Iorio said in the House. “Many of those issues are taking up all my time right now.”

In December, he said, he was told  –he didn’t say by whom– that he would be absent from the House for a few weeks, during which he would focus on various other tasks and would not receive a salary.

Then he began talking about history.

“On the 10th of June, 1940, our government interned Canadians of Italian origin on no grounds, with no charges and no trial,” he said. “I have known many of these people. I knew them as a child, but it was only when I became an adult that I understood why people were talking about it  –but at the time these people were already seniors and to date, Canadians of Italian origin still suffer from the stigma of that collective trauma at the time.”

To this day, he said, nobody has apologized.

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