By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - 62 Comments
From Peter Milliken’s conversation with John Geddes, the former Speaker suggests a possible punishment for unparliamentary behaviour.
Q: But why not throw out MPs more often when they get out of line?
A: Before I was Speaker, I said one of the problems with this practice of giving the Speaker the power to throw a guy out is that he’s out of the chamber for a day. No rights or privileges suspended. He gets paid. He can fly to Vancouver. He can go to work in his office. He can go to caucus meetings. He can go and have a press conference in the foyer.
Q: What would be a better punishment?
A: My urging years ago, when I was not Speaker, was the guy should be thrown out of the Parliament Buildings, not allowed in for the rest of the day. All travelling privileges suspended and his pay docked for the day. Then the guy would start listening to what the Speaker says. Otherwise, you just make a saint of the person. He can hold a press conference and say, I called the prime minister a liar, or whatever the offence was, and I was right. Blah, blah, blah. He’ll get more media coverage if the Speaker threw him out. It’s not a very effective penalty.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 33 Comments
From Question Period yesterday, Stephane Dion attempts to expand everyone’s mind on this matter of civility.
Mr. Speaker, I did not hear an answer to the question of the $127 million being cut in this budget compared to the previous budget. Can the minister answer the question? Common courtesy in this House also means getting answers. It is only natural for the opposition to protest if it does not get an answer. Can he give us an answer regarding the $127 million in cuts to aboriginal housing?
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan did not provide such an answer. And so it fell to government House leader Peter Van Loan to explain the Conservative side’s policy on ministerial explanation. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 6:20 PM - 66 Comments
The Scene. The Prime Minister stood and congratulated the leader of the opposition on his election. The leader of the opposition congratulated the Prime Minister on his election. In his front row seat, Tony Clement wrapped his arms around himself and mimed a hug to celebrate this new spirit of mutual appreciation.
The civility that we were promised—and which everyone is now monitoring with the sort of close attention and nervous anticipation usually reserved for the rescue of Chilean miners or small children from holes in the ground—is now almost entirely insipid. Newly elected members and newly appointed ministers are applauded for simply existing. Everyone claps for everything and everyone. David Anderson was widely saluted today for apologizing after suggesting that a member opposite had made a “fool of himself.” It is like being in a kindergarten classroom where encouragement and self-esteem and positive affirmation are paramount.
This Decorous Era achieved total farce this afternoon when Conservative parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover thanked one of her opposition critics for their re-election. “Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague once again for returning to this House,” Ms. Glover said of New Democrat Irene Mathyssen. Presumably she meant to congratulate. Hopefully we will soon enough be sufficiently reacquainted with each other that even that seems unnecessary.
In the meantime, this place remains mostly concerned with serious matters of public policy. And whatever this may lack in salaciousness, it does at least allow members of different parties to acknowledge their critical views of each other’s intentions. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 3:44 PM - 11 Comments
In responding this afternoon to a question from the NDP’s Pat Martin, Conservative David Anderson suggested that Mr. Martin had, in the past, made a “fool of himself.”
At this the Speaker cut Mr. Anderson off and called on the next questioner to rise.
After Question Period, Mr. Anderson rose on a point of order and apologized. This was duly applauded by members on all sides.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 6, 2011 at 6:20 PM - 50 Comments
The Scene. Buttoning his jacket preemptively, Jack Layton did not bother to contain his grin as he looked up at the Speaker in anticipation of an invitation to stand.
Indeed, here the Speaker announced that the House had arrived at the time set aside for oral questions and called on the leader of the opposition to begin. And here Mr. Layton, having earned this hallowed and cursed title, thus stood to bask in the applause of his bountiful caucus.
When the ovation had subsided, he congratulated the Prime Minister and the members opposite on their recent election results. And yet, he noted, something like 60% of Canadians had not voted for a Conservative government.
“Ahh,” groaned various government members at Mr. Layton’s insistence on math.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Layton continued, had promised to work with all members of the House. But, in Mr. Layton’s estimation, the Speech from the Throne had failed to reflect this turn toward sweetness and light. “Where,” Mr. Layton wondered aloud, “is the government’s willingness to work with others?”
As if to demonstrate his own commitment to a new, more civil, House of Commons, the Prime Minister had excused himself from this day of normal business so that he might view the flooding in Quebec. In his place stood Peter Van Loan, that universally revered champion of noble discourse. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 6, 2011 at 11:46 AM - 7 Comments
Elizabeth Renzetti argues for incivility.
Perhaps our politicians can work on being less sensitive, not more. The House of Commons is meant to be a deliberative assembly, not a place of all-too-sober second thought. Disraeli, who preferred the swordplay of a heated argument, once recalled the mediocrity of some Victorian Parliaments: “You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest.” However rude and partisan, a fiery debate is preferable to the cold stone of loyalty. Let’s keep it burning.
See previously: On civility
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 12:41 PM - 4 Comments
Andrew Scheer’s remarks to Parliament yesterday as he sought the Speaker’s chair.
In the last Parliament, I also noticed the way toxic language has crept into debate. We have a list of unparliamentary words but we need to go beyond that. I do not think unparliamentary language should be constricted to only a technical list. The speaker should ensure that members follow not just the letter of the rules regarding unparliamentary language but the spirit as well. Base name calling and questioning the motives of other hon. members create a toxic environment, which I think is what Canadians feel let down the most about. By showing each other the mutual respect that we would expect from anyone else is very important.
Bill Curry briefly profiles the new Speaker.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 3:16 PM - 49 Comments
The official opposition and the government are both apparently interested in fostering a dignified Parliament.
“We were distressed by the erosion of decorum in the last Parliament,” the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, said in an e-mail. “Our hope is that the new Parliament can turn a page, and the PM has certainly expressed this hope and expectation to his caucus, which is firmly united on this point. There will always be give-and-take on issues, but it can be, and should be, respectful both of individual Members and of the dignity of the House.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 2:11 PM - 18 Comments
McMaster University analysis rated MPs’ conduct in Question Period
Jack Layton was the most uncivil politician in the House of Commons during Question Period before this spring’s election, according to a recent analysis conducted by researchers at McMaster University. The researchers created a civility index that rated each MP’s behaviour on a scale of one to 100. Included in the scores were factors such as the level of rudeness, aggression and anger. Only politicians who spoke at least 50 times were given a score. Layton, who was pegged lowest on the civility index, was given a score of 39. Conservative MP Rona Ambrose had the highest score for an MP, while Speaker Peter Miliken was rated the most civil person in Parliament with a score of 80. Researcher Alex Sevigny said its not surprising that opposition leaders would have a low score, since they’re often forced into a more combative position by questioning the actions of the MPs in government.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 1:21 PM - 8 Comments
Once more unto the civility question. For previous entries in this series see here.
Close study of our Parliament is to be encouraged, but I’m not sure what to make of this attempt to chart civility during Question Period: except, perhaps, that it demonstrates how variously fraught the whole discussion of “civility” is.
If one polled MPs and the few of us who regularly attend QP, I’m not sure Jack Layton would get many votes as the “least civil” participant and I’m not sure how chastened opposition (note that word) MPs should be to learn that they are generally more negative than government MPs. I’m actually most curious to understand how Speaker Peter Milliken doesn’t somehow rate a perfect score.
The problem with analyzing civility is how to define it. A government minister might stand and offer a smiley faced response that expounds on the government’s great successes, but should that be considered “civil” if it ignores entirely the question asked? Is an opposition MP being uncivil when he points and shouts and fumes across the aisle about the government’s refusal to account for itself?
Personally I’d suggest we try to avoid intellectually dishonest character assassination and leave the discussion at that—not just because the discussion tends toward the silly, but also because there are much more relevant matters of Parliament and democracy that should be occupying our time and energy.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 4:39 PM - 54 Comments
On the eve of Parliament’s return, we return to our episodic consideration of the House, this time to consider the frequently discussed, but poorly specified, question of civility.
In theoretically good news, the 41st Parliament promises to be a civil one. In theory.
The official opposition is presently promising to pursue a civil tone, even banning its members from heckling. Most of the leading candidates to be Speaker have publicly committed to establishing a more civil House. Various observers have even mused that the Prime Minister, luxuriating in the comfort of a majority government, might be somehow less prone to partisanship. This is all well and good and we should encourage these feelings no matter how much precedent makes it difficult to believe that anything will come of any of this.
But we should also, while we’re at it, come to some agreement on what exactly we mean by “civility” and what reasonably we should expect of Parliament in a robust democracy. Keeping in mind that decorum should be the least of anyone’s democratic concerns at the moment—that civility is more symptom than disease—if we are to deal with the problem, we should first agree on what precisely the problem is. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:32 PM - 4 Comments
Next in our series on the prospective speakers, Barry Devolin, the MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. His answers are after the jump.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 3:27 PM - 6 Comments
Ahead of the election of a new Speaker on June 2, I’ve sent each of the candidates a set of questions about the job and promised to post here all responses in their entirety. First up, this morning, was Lee Richardson. Here now is Bruce Stanton, the MP for Simcoe North. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 8:52 AM - 7 Comments
Andrew Scheer sounds ready to be a tough(er) Speaker.
“In some ways Canada’s debate in the House of Commons has slipped,” he said, noting he would “call a tighter game” so that those who spend question period “hooting and hollering” while others are trying to speak, for example, are barred from getting up to ask their own questions. ”I think if a Speaker were to establish that type of tone early on in a parliamentary session, then the MPs would adapt. They’d understand ‘O.K., this Speaker’s not going to tolerate behaviour like that’ and I think they will adjust their behaviour accordingly.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 3:03 PM - 7 Comments
Glen Pearson notes the misdirection inherent in fretting about decorum.
I’m all for more decorum – been fighting for it for four years – but it’s useless if the Parliament of Canada can’t discover compromise and move ahead progressively with legislation. My friend had only taken a placebo and was imagining the rest. The true test of professional political behaviour is whether representatives can find accommodations on the vital issues of the country. That is not happening in Ottawa.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 4:47 PM - 24 Comments
From a speech delivered by Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie in 1877.
I know it is the tactics of those by whom we are opposed – I know it was their tactics twenty years ago, and thirty-five years ago-to drive their opponents out of public life by the grossest slanders, in order that they may have the field left clear for themselves. I say to them, “Gentlemen, you can’t do it. (hear, hear, and cheers) Your slanders shall fall harmlessly against us, your tactics shall prove a failure, because you have not the people with you.” Sir John Macdonald never did have the people of Ontario with him; he never commanded a majority of the people of this Province, and he never will (cheers) He represented a retrograde policy from first to last.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 4:50 PM - 40 Comments
In post-Tucson America, the President’s health care reforms don’t kill jobs, they merely destroy them.
As evidence of a slight rhetorical shift, House Speaker John Boehner abandoned labeling the current health care law as “job killing,” and instead called it “job crushing” and “job destroying” in a new message posted on his webpage.
“Repealing the job crushing health care law is critical to boosting small business job creation and growing the economy,” Boehner wrote in the post. Boehner also said “job destroying” in his closing remarks at the GOP retreat Saturday.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 9:35 AM - 14 Comments
Matthew Yglesias makes the case for labels.
Normally, how much you’re willing to pay for a good or service depends on the quality of the good or service in question. But there’s no way to sample the quality of a can of soda without buying it first. So how am I to know whether or not I want to buy that can of Diet Coke? Well it’s simple. I may not have had that can of Diet Coke before, but I have had many other cans of Diet Coke. And I can infer that the Coca-Cola corporation, having invested a great deal of time and money in building the Diet Coke band is going to make a good-faith effort to turn out a consistent product … The rise of recognizable and coherent parties creates some challenges for American political institutions, but the correct response is to tweak the institutions not to spend time wishing for label-free politics.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 5:06 PM - 13 Comments
I wasn’t in the House this afternoon on account of other commitments, but I’m told that shortly after Question Period, Speaker Peter Milliken rose to rule on a point of order previously raised by Liberal Derek Lee. Mr. Lee complained last month that a statement by Conservative MP Phil McColeman should have been ruled out of order as a personal attack on Liberal Mark Holland. That the time allotted for statements by members—15 minutes each day normally reserved for noting charitable causes, the accomplishments of constituents and such—was being used to launch partisan attacks was identified as a problem last March by Speaker Milliken, a problem he attempted to addresses with limited success.
The prepared text of Mr. Milliken’s ruling today follows. Coincidentally, in an essay for the current issue of Canadian Parliamentary Review, former government House leader Jay Hill calls for the Speaker to more strictly enforce order upon the proceedings. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 3:56 PM - 21 Comments
Christopher Beam picks apart the No Labels movement. His argument that it’s the incentives that have to change could be copy-and-pasted to the present situation in Ottawa.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of No Labels is to show why labels exist in the first place. They’re so busy talking about what they’re not—not Republican, not Independent, not conservative, not liberal—you never get a handle on what they are. Labels are a useful shortcut for voters who want to know what a group is all about. The lack of a positive mission beyond bipartisanship and civility (which both Republicans and Democrats also call for) makes it hard to know what they really want.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 6, 2010 at 11:19 AM - 7 Comments
Peter Wehner notes the difference between civility and weakness.
Civility is not a synonym for lack of principles or lack of passion. They are entirely separate categories. Civility has to do with basic good manners and courtesy, the respect we owe others as fellow citizens and fellow human beings. It is both an animating spirit and a mode of discourse. It establishes limits so we don’t treat opponents as enemies. And it helps inoculate us against one of the unrelenting temptations in politics (and in life more broadly), which is to demonize and dehumanize those who hold views different from our own.
By Andrew Potter - Monday, March 22, 2010 at 8:45 PM - 46 Comments
Mark Kingwell’s latest essay says Canadian civility is in decline
1. Cripes, Mark is a beautiful writer. This is the best-written and best-argued essay of his that I’ve read in ages.
2. As it happens, I was at the table, sitting beside Joanne Chianello, as he was giving his talk on civility and political discourse on Parliament Hill. I can attest that Mark (and Joanne) are not exaggerating, that the behaviour of the two Liberals (one of whom is a former cabinet minister and now big shot Senator) was fantastically rude. People were actually shushing them, not that they cared, or even noticed.
3. Here is Mark’s argument as I understand it:
P1. Civility is a necessary condition for healthy liberal politics in a a pluralistic society, like Canada, where the citizens have deep disagreement about the good life. (Or, as Mark puts it, civility is “the political air we must breathe to negotiate our differences.”)
P2. Civility is in decline in Canada.
C. Healthy liberal politics is becoming increasingly impossible in Canada
Does the conclusion seem obvious to you? Our politics certainly isn’t in the best of shape, you’ll get no argument from me there. But I’m more interested in the stronger set of claims: that it is in bad shape, is getting worse all the time, and that we are on the verge of ceasing to become a self-governing people. About these claims, I’m a bit more skeptical.