School’s out for the summer and, although it’s been a few years since I’ve been in the school yard myself, the taunts and jeers from juvenile bullies occasionally still echo in my ears. Since I have lately taken to studying the debates of the House of Commons, those jeers have begun to reverberate throughout my cranium with an increased frequency. Within the debates, member statements, and other House related content, I see unequivocal proof of the shameful state of our politicians and our political system. The source of such shame: the un-parliamentary language used within these documents, language that is allowed to continue being used under our current Speaker, Andrew Scheer.
Most Canadians recall Pierre Trudeau’s infamous “Fuddle Duddle” comment. A few may still recall Justin Trudeau calling Peter Kent “a piece of shit” in 2011. One of my favourite historical example of un-parliamentary language dates back to 1917 when one member rose and referred to another as “the political sewer pipe from Carleton County.” Another favourite arises from the established rule in parliamentary systems where one cannot refer to a fellow MP or political party as a liar. To circumvent this rule, Winston Churchill coined the term “terminological inexactitude.” Now, whether or not Canadian politicians have made use of that term, I haven’t read far back enough to ascertain. What I can see is a growing number of lapses in the enforcement of the standing rules of procedure and decorum within our House of Commons when compared to elsewhere.
In Australia, New Zealand, and India, it is offensive to call a fellow MP a ‘commie,’ a ‘commo,’ or anything of the sort . Say what you will about socialist parties throughout the world but, in Canada, not even the NDP can be considered communist—they’ve even removed ‘socialist’ from their constitution! And yet, government members in this parliament have been incredibly active in calling opposition MPs commies. Conservative MP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Cheryl Gallant, when she was a humble Alliance MP in the Opposition, she told former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham, to “ask [his] boyfriend.” This incident occurred way back in 2002 during the long tenure of Peter Milliken, who forced her to apologize.
Milliken, the longest serving Speaker in Canadian History, retired in 2011. He was well thought of by all parties for his fair and even handed rulings, and he kept parliamentarians behaving well, no matter their party. At the time of his retirement in 2011, he was praised by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, and then-Government House Leader John Baird .
Milliken’s successor, Andrew Scheer, notably the youngest Speaker in Canadian history, has not called out government members for hurling accusations such as “Goebbles” or “Nazi-like tactics” at the opposition. The most recent member to make these statements was not called out . This lack of accountability is an insult to the millions of people who died under Nazism and Communism—particularly when, whether you like the Liberals and NDP or not, their programs are a far, far cry from the horrors executed in Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia and China.
In 1964, during Liberal Alan Macnaughton’s tenure as Speaker, Conservative MP Louis-Joseph Pigeon was called out for saying Social Credit Leader Real Caouette was “a Canadian Mussolini.” Pigeon promptly apologized saying he “meant to say Canadian Hitler”. The Speaker at the time ordered both remarks withdrawn on the spot, according to a reflection on parliamentary behaviour in the Montreal Gazette on May 8th 1980.
These examples of alluding to fellow MPs as some of the greatest monsters of history violate the House of Commons; Procedure and Practice. Members are not allowed to reflect disrespectfully upon the House of Commons or the Senate, past or present. Members are also not allowed to reflect upon previous decision of the House, as it will have been agreed to by a majority, and should stand regardless. Yet, Conservative MP’s keep bringing up events, actions, resolutions, and bills from the not so recent past. Little since 2006 is mentioned by the government, but everything from past administrations are up for grabs. They aren’t supposed to be, but, under Mr. Scheer, they are. According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, these rules regarding relevance now rarely take the attention of the Speaker. The most recent edition was published under Peter Milliken in 2009 yet sadly Mr. Scheer has continued the devolution of parliamentary decorum.
Jeers come from both sides of the House, but I believe the question of the Speaker’s impartiality must be considered. Both school and the House are out for the summer. Much like children need to be given time to reflect on their behaviour, maybe our politicians should do the same. Maybe they need a time out. Who will send them on one? Forgive me for using the B-word—that too is on the list of un-parliamentary language . Were I a Conservative MP under Mr. Scheer, I would get away with it, but, alas, I am not. As Parliamentarians are not allowed to critique their Speaker while in the House, does that not mean it’s up to us to watch the watchdog?