OTTAWA — Testy exchanges between the prime minister and his chief opponent ended with the Opposition leader and one of his MPs being ejected from the House of Commons on Tuesday — and the rest of Conservative caucus walking out of the chamber in protest.

The unusually tense events saw Speaker Greg Fergus caution both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to rephrase their comments to avoid making direct accusations about the character of another MP.

Fergus issued a warning to Poilievre after he referred to Trudeau as "the guy who spent the first half of his adult life as a practising racist," referring to photos that emerged during the 2019 election of Trudeau dressed in black and brown face.

Fergus warned Trudeau after he said Poilievre was "showing us exactly what shameful, spineless leadership looks like," and accused him of shaking hands with "white nationalists."

The tense back-and-forth came as Poilievre and the Conservatives were attacking the Liberals for having allowed British Columbia to allow the decriminalization of hard drugs like heroin and fentanyl in public places, which the provincial NDP government is now asking Health Canada to reverse.

The Conservatives argue the policy has caused great harm.

Trudeau ignored that issue completely, responding to each question about drugs by accusing Poilievre of associating with far-right extremists.

He said a person who does so is not fit to be prime minister.

He made the remarks after videos circulated online of Poilievre last week stopping at what protesters described as an anti-carbon price protest in Atlantic Canada.

Immediately before the events, Justin Trudeau had accused Poilievre of associating with far-right extremists and said a person who does so is not fit to be prime minister.

The scene featured expletive-laden flags bearing Trudeau's name.

At one point, videos show Poilievre exiting a trailer belonging to one of the protesters. Its exterior featured many images, including a symbol belonging to the far-right online group Diagolon.

The trouble in the House began to escalate when Fergus ejected Conservative MP Rachael Thomas after she said he was "acting in a disgraceful manner."

The tense exchange continued after her departure, with Trudeau saying Poilievre is a "19-year" politician who made a choice to associate with that encampment.

"Any leader that needs the support of a far-right white nationalist group to fundraise and get closer to power does not deserve elected office," the prime minister charged.

Poilievre said the prime minister's words were only his "latest distraction" from his own "extremist policies."

"When will we put an end to this wacko policy by this wacko prime minister?"

Fergus then drew the line.

"No, no," he said. "That is not acceptable."

He asked Poilievre to withdraw his comments, saying they were unparliamentary.

Poilievre didn't withdraw, but said he would replace the word with "extremist," which Fergus also rejected.

He then said he would replace it with "radical," which Fergus did not accept either.

He asked the Conservative leader to "simply withdraw" the comment.

When Fergus asked Poilievre for a final time to take back his comment, the Conservative leader said, "I simply withdraw and replace with the aforementioned adjective."

Fergus then ordered him to leave the chamber and not participate in further debate Tuesday, either in person or virtually.

Much of the Conservative caucus exited at the same time, and all of them eventually left before question period was over.

Government House leader Steven MacKinnon emerged from the House a few moments later, calling what had just unfolded a "disgrace."

"It's a disrespect for our institutions, a disrespect for the Speaker," he said.

After leaving, Poilievre posted on X that Fergus "censored" him for calling Trudeau's drug policies "wacko." The Conservatives also launched a fundraiser off the incident within an hour of Poilievre's ouster.

In a written statement, the Conservatives doubled down on the use of the word "wacko," saying it's been uttered in the House of Commons many times in the past without being considered unparliamentary.

The party said Fergus kicked Poilievre out to protect the prime minister.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said the incidents in the House showed evidence of a double standard and said Poilievre was speaking the truth.

"If you look at the definition of wacko, it is literally what the Liberal government is doing in terms of holding onto the policies of decriminalizing hard drugs like heroin and crack," she said.

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen said watching Poilievre get ejected was upsetting.

"The Speaker is supposed to be a referee, not a participant," he said.

Health Minister Mark Holland defended the Speaker's call, saying Poilievre was removed because he refused to retract his language.

"When the Speaker, who is the adjudicator of rules in the House, asks for you to retract a comment, it's important that you respect his office and that decision."

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree also rejected the idea that Fergus treats Tories differently.

"He has called out members of the Liberal party, he's called out members of the Conservative party; he even called out members of the other parties today," he said.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet was clearly pleased by the events, thanking Fergus in French for showing "common sense" in the chamber.

Bloc MP Louis Plamondon, the longest-serving MP in the House having been elected in 1984, said Poilievre's comment was "insulting."

He said he has not seen a party leader ejected in 40 years on the Hill and doesn't remember a party staging a mass walkout either.

The Liberals continued their attacks on Poilievre outside the chamber. Liberal MP Charles Sousa said it is noteworthy that the Conservative leader refused to answer questions about why he chose to associate with a group displaying symbols of the far-right Diagolon group.

"I think that speaks a lot about who he is and his character," he said. "And I think that's the real question today."

Immigration Minister Marc Miller ultimately dismissed the notion that Poilievre was being silenced by anyone.

"I think it would be good if he shut his yap once in a while," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

— With files from Mickey Djuric, Laura Osman, Dylan Robertson and Simon Hopkins.

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Pretty basic parliamentary procedure you can attack the idea or the action but not the person. Skippy has a potty mouth and a bad habit of calling people names. I am from Alberta, and took my Dad to question period in the 1970s. He was impressed with the debate, the clever way questions were answered, particularly Trudeau senior's sense of humour, even though he loathed the man's politics. Now all MP's are after are sound bites they can fundraise off. Pity

I was kind of hoping Poilievre would be a credible alternative to Trudeau but now he appears to be modelling himself after Trump, another "wacko".

So Poilievre wants his new meme to be accusing Trudeau of being a wacko. That will probably work fine for the committed, echo-chamber Conservatives. For everyone else, I think Poilievre repeatedly saying the word "wacko" is just going to remind them that Poilievre is a wacko.