A lack of decorum in the House of Commons

Ian Capstick points out this Macleans post which points to this video of House of Commons speaker Peter Milliken reminding members of Parliament that they shouldn’t be attacking each other personally in the House.

It’s kind of sad that this video exists at all. I haven’t watched question period recently, and I don’t know what specific incident prompted this, but I’ve watched enough to say that this could be read after question period on just about every day the House is in session. Members are banging their hands against their desks, applauding, booing, yelling incoherently, and just plain heckling people on the opposing side.

Why is this?

Is it tradition? We take our parliamentary system from the British, and a look at their house shows an even worse situation when it comes to respect of honourary members. But we’ve grown past a lot of our traditions.

Is there some other reason that this background noise is necessary when people are asking others politically-loaded questions? Maybe it’s like a laugh track on a sitcom. The cheers and jeers tell us subconsciously whether we should accept or reject a particular person’s point of view, since we’re too stupid to judge the questions and answers on their own merits. But, of course, for every cheer there’s a boo, so it all kind of washes out in the end.

Is it to keep the ratings up? Nobody wants to hear politicians asking and answering questions. But when they quiz each other to the background noise equivalent of “OH NO HE DIDN’T!”, it suddenly becomes more fun to watch. The rest of parliamentary sessions, which include statements from members, petitions, or the dedication of National Honour Your Garbage Collector Day, are dreadfully boring. The yelling might just be to wake us up so we know to pay attention, the equivalent of those sound effects machines on morning radio.

Sadly, none of these explanations instill in me much pride at being represented by this government.

4 thoughts on “A lack of decorum in the House of Commons

  1. Jean Naimard

    The legend says that the central area of the House of Commons in London is wider than twice the reach of a sword so that members on opposite side will not kill each other during debates… :)

  2. me again

    The bar seems pretty high. Let’s look at what is banned:

    personal attacks
    offencive language
    attacking a senator
    criticizing the actions of the senate
    denouncing a ruling of a court
    attacking the character of a judge
    making defamatory comments about non-members
    using the verbatim remarks of a private citizen as a statement
    statements of a commercial nature

    If these rules applied to the US congress, they’d hardly do anything!

  3. Josh

    You would do well to watch the At Issue panel from The National on March 5th (I believe). It covered this very subject and actually pointed to some reasons that what goes on in London is actually far better than what we have here.

    Like, for starters, a Prime Minister who performs poorly in Prime Minister’s Questions (and fails to, you know, actually answer questions) loses standing in the public’s eye. And the Prime Minister in their House actually has to stand there and answer when someone’s poking at him. Here, Harper can just send up the Under-Secretary for Fisheries and Oceans, or whichever flunky he feels like.

  4. Elizabeth Thompson

    The Speaker’s ruling was prompted by the Conservatives (at least largely the Conservatives) trying a new tactic which was to use the segment for brief MPs statements just before QP to attack the Liberals without fear of reply.
    Traditionally, that is the moment when MPs rise to honor local constituents who have won something or other, praise a local community effort, make brief (and often unheard) statements on the universe as they see it. For the past couple of weeks, though, the Conservatives started attacking Ignatieff, Warren Kinsella etc, thus taking advantage of the fact that everything said in the House is privileged and you can’t be sued for it.
    QP itself was no more raucous than usual.


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