Ottawa Citizen

NDP proposes docking the pay of unruly MPs

Chamber becoming house of ‘ disrepute’

- BY JANICE TIBBETTS

Federal politician­s who shout racist or sexist slurs in the House of Commons should be docked a day’s pay for every day that they refuse to apologize, including Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, says the NDP.

The call to punish MPs who engage in name- calling follows days of relentless pressure on Mr. MacKay to say he is sorry for allegedly referring to his former flame, Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, as a dog.

The New Democratic Party wants the Commons to adopt a new code of conduct for parliament­arians, saying that the chamber is deteriorat­ing into a house of “ disrepute” in which insults and a lack of respect are part of the daily debate in the epicentre of Canadian politics.

“ As the rules stand, you can call a female member of Parliament a dog in the House of Commons and the only punishment you will receive is a slap on the wrist,” said Dawn Black of the NDP. “ We’re hopeful that the fear of a financial penalty would put a sock in it.”

There are already existing rules of decorum in the Commons banning certain words, but the NDP specifical­ly wants racist and sexist comments prohibited, with escalating sanctions of forced apologies, suspension­s and fines.

Mr. MacKay, for instance, who earns $ 220,622 annually, would lose $ 604 daily under the NDP proposal.

Ms. Black, a British Columbia MP who was re- elected in 2006 after a 13year hiatus, was part of a committee in the early 1990s that recommende­d the House of Commons clean up its manners. A 1992 report was compiled at the time of a growing problem of name- calling and churlish behaviour.

Among the more high- profile taunts were a Tory backbenche­r calling thenLibera­l MP Sheila Copps a “ slut” and Jack Shields, another Progressiv­e Conservati­ve, allegedly telling New Democrat Howard McCurdy, the only black MP of the day, to “ Shut up, Sambo.”

The report on decorum was derailed by the 1993 general election. The NDP said yesterday it would take about two weeks for the Commons to adopt the shelved recommenda­tions.

It is unclear how much support the move will receive from other parties. Liberal leader Bill Graham, who has repeatedly called on Mr. MacKay to apologize, was skeptical that fining MPs is the answer.

“ In this case, the best thing would be if the government stepped up and said, ‘ Look, we know what happened, we ’ fess up to it, let’s just deal with it’,” Mr. Graham said.

During a debate last Thursday on the government’s proposed clean- air legislatio­n, which was denounced for not being tough enough on polluters, Liberal MP David McGuinty asked Mr. MacKay: “ Don’t you care about your dog?”

The Liberals say that Mr. MacKay gestured toward Ms. Stronach’s vacant seat and retorted: “ You already have her.”

Mr. MacKay and the rest of the Conservati­ves publicly deny he made the comments, based on the fact that they were not recorded in Hansard, the official record of House proceeding­s. Mr. MacKay, who is currently out of the country, has not returned to the House since his remark.

NDP MP Joe Comartin acknowledg­ed that the code of conduct would be hard to enforce when remarks are not recorded in Hansard.

For instance, Mr. MacKay’s heckle is not recorded in the written transcript, but it can be faintly heard on an audio tape of the proceeding­s.

Mr. Comartin said that in the absence of a clear ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons — the guardian of manners in the chamber — an all- party committee could look at individual breaches, weighing the facts in each case.

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