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In Canada on September 17, 2010 at 21:38
Back to Tory MP takes a crack at restoring civility in Ottawa

Tory MP takes a crack at restoring civility in Ottawa

September 16, 2010

Susan Delacourt

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Speaker Peter Milliken, centre, has his hands full in the House of Commons, where tempers can run high. A new poll shows Canadians want greater decorum during Question Period. Clockwise from upper left: Liberal Mark Holland, Conservatives John Baird and Jim Flaherty and the NDP’s Jack Layton.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTOS

OTTAWA – Conservative MP Michael Chong believes that his fellow members of the House of Commons are ready to get behind his efforts to present a better face of politics to Canadians.

Chong, who’s put together a six-point plan (see below) to improve civility during the daily Question Period in the Commons, said on Thursday that his procedural motion could start making its way through Parliament within weeks.

And in as little as six months, with support from other parties, Canadians could see a markedly different style of Question Period – one in which antics are discouraged and answers are demanded.

Calling his plan a “viable and reasonable” suggestion to make Question Period less of a partisan spectacle, Chong told a parliamentary reform conference that he hopes it will pass.

Jay Hill, who up until recently was the Government House Leader for the Conservatives, also appeared on Thursday to be throwing his endorsement behind Chong’s bid to improve Question Period.

“The motion he’s brought forward is an ambitious one,” said Hill, who is retiring from politics after 17 years and who has been replaced by John Baird as House leader.

“If Mr. Chong is successful and his motion passes … it will be one of the largest overhauls (of) Question Period in our nation’s history.”

Partisan sparring in the Commons has always been high and intemperate explosions aren’t unusual, even from prime ministers. Pierre Trudeau once insisted he’d only said “fuddle duddle” in the heat of the moment in the chamber, while Brian Mulroney was once accused of calling a Liberal MP a swear word that implied dubious parentage.

The famous Liberal “Rat Pack” of opposition MPs raised the partisan temperature of the House in the 1980s on a daily basis, while at one point in the 1990s, a Reform MP, Darrel Stinson, tried to goad Jean Charest, then-leader of the Conservatives, into a fistfight, taunting him as a “chubby little sucker.”

Hill said on Thursday that sometimes the yelling and insults are so loud between the parties that the “barroom” solution seems the only sensible one – “punching out” the rival across the aisle.

“In my experience, being a ‘redneck’ from northeastern British Columbia, that would probably be the outcome if in any other place of work if you were subject to the insults that you are daily in the House of Commons during Question Period,” Hill said.

About 20 MPs from all parties have backed Chong’s motion, which should come to a vote soon after Parliament resumes after the summer break next week. If it passes—and chances are believed to be good it will—then it will be further studied by a Commons committee and could be put in place by early 2011.

Chong and Hill were among the marquee speakers at a Public Policy Forum conference in Ottawa which explored ways to make Question Period and Commons committees more effective.

There was virtual unanimity at the Thursday conference about the need for Question Period to be less partisan and childish, but an acknowledgement that the problems are long-standing and not easy to fix.

One major topic of frustration was the media and how it depicts and rewards bad behaviour. Speaker after speaker at the conference on Thursday lamented how politicians play to the camera and how the media likes to report only on the most outrageous and angry moments in the Chamber – not the constructive work that is done outside the glare of the cameras and microphones.

Several of the speakers also said that Commons Speaker Peter Milliken must bear some of the blame for the current climate in the Commons, arguing he should be exercising more discipline on both sides. Milliken, who’s announced he’s not running again for office, was in the room when these remarks were made, but he didn’t respond.

 

The six specific proposals in Michael Chong’s bill to reform Question Period:

  • Elevate decorum and fortify the use of discipline by the Speaker;
  • Lengthen the amount of time given for each question and answer;
  • Require that ministers respond to questions directed at them;
  • Allocate half the questions each day for backbench members;
  • Dedicate Wednesday exclusively for questions to the prime minister;
  • Dedicate the rest of the week to questions for ministers other than the Prime Minister.

Famous Question Period slurs

Fuddle Duddle
1971: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau allegedly mouths the words “F— off” to Conservative MP John Lundrigan. Lundrigan told reporters, “He mouthed two words. The first started with the letter F, the second (with) the letter O.” Trudeau denied swearing inside the House of Commons, replying he had only said, “Fuddle duddle.”

Baby
1985: Conservative MP John Crosbie tells Liberal MP Sheila Copps to “Quiet down, baby.” Copps retorts: “I’m not his baby and I’m nobody’s baby.”

Bastard
1991: A visibly angry Prime Minister Brian Mulroney allegedly calls Winnipeg Liberal MP David Walker a “F—–g bastard” during an attack by Walker on the government’s child-poverty record. Opposition MPs and a Canadian Press photographer in the Commons say they clearly heard Mulroney utter the phrase but the comment didn’t turn up in Hansard, nor was it audible on the sound recording.

Slab of Bacon
1997: Reform MP Deborah Grey is criticizing changes to the Canada Pension Plan when Liberal Defence Minister Doug Young responds: “I’ll tell you what. There’s more than a slab of bacon talking there.”

Chubby little sucker
1997: Reform MP Darrel Stinson calls Progressive Conservative Leader Jean Charest a “fat little, chubby little sucker” in the Commons, while the Canada Pension Plan is being debated.

Dog
2006: Liberal David McGuinty, in a spirited back-and-forth in the Commons over the environment, taunts Conservative Peter MacKay by asking if he’s worried about his dog. MacKay retorts “You already have her,” an apparent reference to his former partner, Belinda Stronach, who had crossed the floor to sit with the Liberals.

Don’t we pay these people to act like grown ups?

OCC

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