By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 11, 2011 - 6 Comments
The heckles that MPs said resonated the most were personal attacks. Often, MPs were reluctant even to divulge examples of heckles they recalled, while some would refer vaguely to “racism and sexism” or “homophobic” remarks. However, specific examples of personal attacks include a comment from a male Conservative MP who recalls heckles “Targeting a Conservative’s religious beliefs” and “Labelling a rural MP from the prairies a redneck.” Another MP noted that heckles sometimes touch on physical disability as well.
One female Conservative MP heard someone yell at her, “That was dumber than you look.” This MP raised other points as well: “Personal attacks like ‘idiot, liar, stupid, chicken’ and heckling about gender (usually aimed at women by women), for example alleging the women are puppets, stooges, robots under the direction of men [are] particularly offensive.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 20, 2011 at 11:49 AM - 31 Comments
The 15 minutes immediately preceding Question Period each day are set aside for “statements by members.” These statements generally involve members saluting recently passed constituents, championing dearly held causes or making note of momentous sporting events.
In the last two parliaments, the Conservative side also took the opportunity to take free shots at whoever happened to be Liberal leader at the time. And now, however much cross words make the Foreign Affairs Minister cry, the Conservative side has taken to sending up backbenchers with scripted harangues. Here, for instance, is Scott Armstrong. And here is Jacques Gourde. And here, from Wednesday, is the newly elected David Wilks.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP of the radical hard left do not know the first thing about governing. Ask a British Columbian or Ontarian who had to put up with its members in power. While Canadians remain concerned about jobs and the economy, the NDP is having a gut-wrenching debate about whether or not it should remain committed to its reckless, hard left, high tax, socialist principles. The NDP radical left remains committed to pro-drug policies and anti-trade policies. The NDP opposes Canada’s leadership as a clean energy superpower. It even questions its commitment to federalism, with calls to repeal the Clarity Act. The NDP proposed child care from birth to age 12, a 45-day work year and a 50% hike in the pension plan, policies that would cost billions. The radical hard left NDPers should stop and think about the real priorities of Canadians: jobs and the economy.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 2:58 PM - 2 Comments
Kate Heartfield considers civility.
If you really want your MP to be an amateur off-colour comic, a lack of heckling doesn’t have to get in the way of that. A ban on heckling doesn’t mean a ban on humour, snappy comebacks and sharp critiques. I have no doubt that NDP MPs such as Charlie Angus, Pat Martin and even Jack Layton will continue to include highly partisan zingers in their questions in the House of Commons. They’ll just do it when they’ve got the floor. That is what grown-ups do.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 2:35 PM - 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 John Geddes - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 2 Comments
How minority Parliaments lower the tone, why tossing out MPs fails, and his favourite Scotch
When the House of Commons resumes sitting this week, the first order of business for MPs will be electing a new Speaker. It will seem strange not to have Liberal Peter Milliken striving to keep order from the big chair. Milliken, 64, didn’t stand for re-election in his Kingston, Ont., riding this spring, ending his record decade-long run as Speaker. Maclean’s spoke to him in the elegant wood-panelled office he’s now leaving, sitting under a large framed print of Yousuf Karsh’s famous wartime portrait photo of Winston Churchill, which was taken on that very spot.
Q: When did you first become interested in the goings-on of the House of Commons?
A: The first visit I remember would have been in Grade 7 or 8. After I got into high school, my cousin John Matheson got elected from Leeds, right next door to Kingston. Once I got my driver’s licence, I started to come up to visit. He told me I could subscribe to Hansard and I started in 1962. I might have been 16. It was that period when I started following what went on in the House.
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 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 - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 12:12 PM - 38 Comments
The NDP is apparently keen to be a civil official opposition.
Moments after leader Jack Layton publicly addressed his caucus for the first time since a record 103 New Democrats were elected, self-proclaimed “loudmouth” Pat Martin pulled out a set of colourful buttons bearing the words “Opto Civitas.” ”I choose civility. That’s the new me,” he proclaimed.
He apparently made 300 of them in various party colours. There’s even one for Green Party leader Elizabeth May. He plans to hand them out when Parliament resumes June 2 … [Layton] later noted that the “heckling” that’s become commonplace during question period over the course of several minority governments, needs to stop and that it’s time for “respectful discussions” that don’t drive school groups out the door in shame.
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, May 13, 2011 at 12:24 PM - 17 Comments
Jack Layton promises a measured opposition.
The NDP will ask “tough” questions but will not resort to “antics.” “That certainly is my commitment. Our party didn’t have a reputation of being mad dogs in the House of Commons. We tended to be, I think, pretty well-controlled when it comes to the heckling that goes on. I feel that it is vitally important that the whole tone of Parliament change. I think Canadians are fed up with the kind of juvenile behaviour that we were seeing.”
Presumably this means no more puppet shows.
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 - 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 - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 9:25 AM - 50 Comments
I don’t agree with everything Andrew Potter says here—I think there are legitimate complaints to be made about how our system presently functions and a serious discussion about solutions that should be had—but I have found the recently fashionable hand-wringing over partisanship and decorum to be both over-wrought and shallow.
Why is everyone so convinced our democracy is ruined? There are at least two reasons. The first is the widespread tendency to mistake the work environment for the institution. That is, a lot of the hand-wringing over our democracy is actually just a dislike for the nasty tone of Question Period, or the partisanship of committees. But a lack of decorum is not the same as institutional dysfunction. Our members of Parliament treat one another with disrespect. So what? Why should that bother anyone off the Hill? If MPs want to run their workplace like it’s always last call on Friday night at YukYuks, that’s their business.