Heck­ling De­means the House

“I take my re­spon­si­bil­ity as Speaker very se­ri­ously …. I as­sure you I will not re­lent in my ef­forts to im­prove tone and deco­rum so that sub­stan­tive de­bates are con­ducted with ci­vil­ity.”

Policy - - Canada And The World - El­iz­a­beth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Is­lands. el­iz­a­beth.may@parl.gc.ca House Speaker Geoff Re­gan, in cor­re­spon­dence with a con­cerned cit­i­zen, copied to all par­ties, Novem­ber 17, 2017

On Nov. 30, 2017, the crescendo of ques­tion pe­riod heck­ling fi­nally proved more than Speaker Re­gan was pre­pared to tol­er­ate. Heck­ling vi­o­lates two of the Stand­ing Or­ders of par­lia­men­tary con­duct (SO 16 and 18). Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment are not to in­ter­rupt any­one who is speak­ing, nor are we to speak dis­re­spect­fully. I have hated heck­ling since long be­fore I en­tered the cham­ber as an MP. I vowed never to heckle and not to con­tinue speak­ing when the heck­ling around me hit a deci­bel level that made it im­pos­si­ble to be heard with­out rais­ing my own voice.

The noise in the cham­ber is dispir­it­ing. As bad as heck­ling has been his­tor­i­cally, the heck­ling of a prime min­is­ter has never as bad as it has been to­ward Justin Trudeau. Some­times, even with my ear piece in, I can­not hear the prime min­is­ter’s voice over the roar. When Stephen Harper was prime min­is­ter, his replies in QP were usu­ally de­liv­ered to a quiet House. On Nov. 30, sev­eral clear warn­ings were is­sued—and ig­nored—and then the Speaker named the mem­ber and had the Sergean­tat-Arms es­cort him from the House.

Pub­lic re­vul­sion with pol­i­tics is fairly wide­spread. Even with a surge in voter turn-out in 2015, the par­tic­i­pa­tion levels of the Cana­dian elec­torate in elec­tions re­main stub­bornly low.

Are­cent study on heck­ling by the think tank Sa­mara found that Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment are also dis­gusted by heck­ling. More than half say heck­ling is a problem, even those who also ad­mit to yelling across the aisle. MPs with more ex­pe­ri­ence in the House tend to sup­port it more than rook­ies. Half of new MPs favour abol­ish­ing heck­ling, while only 19 per cent of veteran MPs agree.

The Sa­mara study pro­posed some so­lu­tions: re­duce the con­trol ex­er­cised by party whips over op­po­si­tion MPs ask­ing ques­tions; ex­tend the amount of time al­lowed to pose a ques­tion (cur­rently limited to 30 se­conds); re­duce the read­ing of speeches; and con­sider seat­ing MPs by re­gion in­stead of by party.

Re­duc­ing the con­trol of party whips over ques­tions should be easy. No rule re­quires it. Al­low­ing the whips to sub­mit a list to the Speaker of their al­lot­ted MPs for QP started in­no­cently enough un­der Speaker Jeanne Sauvé. She could not see well enough to iden­tify MPs by name (of their rid­ings) from a dis­tance. She asked the party whips if they would be so kind as to give her a list in ad­vance of which MPs were to ask ques­tions— and in what or­der. An un­in­tended con­se­quence was that more power was con­ferred on po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The con­ven­tion was es­tab­lished that whips con­trol who can ask ques­tions.

Con­trol of the party whip over free speech was chal­lenged in the 2011 Par­lia­ment by Mark Warawa, Con­ser­va­tive MP for Lan­g­ley. He had been on the list to make a state­ment un­der Stand­ing Or­der 31. Just be­fore QP, his party whip told him he was not al­lowed to speak. Warawa raised this as a point of or­der, com­plain­ing that the whip had de­nied his free­dom of speech.

An­drew Scheer, then Speaker, did not rule on what had oc­curred, but he did clar­ify that “the right to seek the floor at any time is the right of each in­di­vid­ual Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and is not de­pen­dent on any other mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.”

What if Speaker Re­gan ceased to fol­low the lists? What if, af­ter an open­ing round for lead­ers, any and all MPs of all par­ties could try to catch his eye? Know­ing that the Speaker con­trolled if and when they would get the floor, would they be as likely to break other stand­ing or­ders on a rou­tine ba­sis?

Sim­i­larly, the cur­rent rules al­ready pro­hibit read­ing speeches—or ques­tions. Re­sort­ing to pre­vi­ous prac­tice and only al­low­ing speak­ing from a base of knowl­edge would also im­prove the dis­course. As would fol­low­ing Sa­mara’s ad­vice to al­low greater flex­i­bil­ity in the amount of time al­lowed for pos­ing ques­tions. Could we go to 45 se­conds?

I think we would see far more re­spect­ful be­hav­iour with changes emerg­ing from the Sa­mara re­port.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.