The Canadian New Democrat Party has launched The Civility Project, branded as an attempt to eliminate rude and unprofessional behavior in the House of Commons. Tabled by MP Nathan Cullen, who is also the Speaker of the House, the official petition asserts
- that the decline of civility in the House of Commons weakens the quality of debate and degrades our democracy;
- that MPs should treat their colleagues as any other Canadian does in the workplace—with civility and respect; and
- that MPs who abuse their privileges should periodically lose those privileges as a consequence.
The NDP party frames this issue in terms of workplace professionalism, workplace health and safety, and harassment. Although we perhaps tend not to think of political debates or House meetings in terms of employees at a workplace, that is, in fact, exactly what it is. Of course, it’s also the place where the political process takes place, a public forum populated by our elected representatives, which, if anything, should probably suggest a greater amount of decorum is called for.
According to details Cullen gave to the CBC, this is a project intended to carry on the legacy of late NDP leader, Jack Layton, who considered political civility in the House a high priority. The tabled motion is intended to expand the powers of the House Speaker, allowing greater latitude in disciplining MPs who behave inappropriately.
At present, the Speaker can simply choose not to call on an individual whose language or tone is inappropiate (by not powering their microphone), and MPs can be kicked out from a House session. The new, expanded powers would include penalties to the party of the offending MP, such as losing time at question period.
Of course, as the opposition party, the obvious question is whether the NDPs are either jockeying for power (since one of their own is the present Speaker) or pulling off a publicity stunt, especially as they involved the electorate via their petition and a Facebook page, to what is essentially a House motion. If not, it might have been nice to see a non-partisan approach, rather than an exclusively NDP movement.
Cullen reports that MPs have been leaving the House in tears after some recent sessions, which certainly sounds ridiculous on the face of it. A bunch of middle-aged politicians can’t get into a room together and do their job without name-calling and yelling? Without making each other cry? It sounds like an elementary school recess.
But this isn’t a new thing. Heckling and name-calling in the House of Commons is like fighting in NHL hockey: in theory it shouldn’t happen, but it’s a long-standing Canadian institution.
It makes you wonder how our country is even able to function, when our politicians can’t manage to be articulate enough to give at least the outward appearance of intelligence.
Photo credit: New Democrat Party