Where Parliament isn't a joke - Macleans.ca

Where Parliament isn’t a joke


The UK Parliament spent half an hour today debating the prison break from Sarposa prison in Kandahar. Alistair Burt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, took fourteen questions from Labour and Conservative MPs on topics including how it happened, to how it might affect the political negotiations with the Taliban, and the impact it will have on morale of UK soldiers in Afghanistan.

Canadians will notice a few curious things about the exchanges. First, the Afghan file is actually one that relates to Burt’s assigned portfolio—something rather unheard of in Ottawa. More oddly still, at no point did Burt accuse the opposition members of disloyalty to the troops or to the UK, nor did he take the occasion to bray like a donkey about how everything his government had done on the file was noble and pure, while everything the previous government had done was villainous and incompetent. Instead, Burt frequently thanked the opposition member for the question, and even—get this—agreed on occasion with the point the opposition member was making. At one point Burt and a Labour MP even shared a joke about which Pitt they were talking about.

But more importantly, Canadians will observe a foreign parliament treating with great seriousness an event that speaks directly to the country’s national security interests. I read on Twitter today that Michael Ignatieff made a few remarks about Sarposa . If Stephen Harper, Bev Oda, Lawrence Cannon, or Peter MacKay have addressed the fiasco, I’d appreciate a pointer to their remarks.

Meanwhile, here’s a transcript of the debate at Westminster.


Where Parliament isn’t a joke

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have just printed and will read the debate at Westminster.

    The pointer from Canada's PM:

    "But, you know, this is a long learning experience and we'll continue to plug away and continue to work with Afghan authorities to make progress on these issues.”

    • Oh good — thanks for the link.

  2. Mutual respect in Parliament starts with the opposition refraining from shrieking about every imagined fragment of a micro-scandal for days. None of them stick anyway, and the scandal-a-day strategy is overtly hostile in a way that doesn't promote open, adult conversations.

    Do you really think that, if issues were raised in sincerity without any trace of partisan attack, the government wouldn't tend to cooperate more? The siege mentality is a genuine side effect of – wait for it – being constantly besieged, every QP.

    • You mean the way Cons did in Opposition?

      • Why don't we agree that parliament has become a Mexican standoff, with neither side willing to dial down the rehtoric and return to more civilized debate?

        • Oh I'll agree they all do it, and the place ends up sounding like a zoo at feeding time.

          But I also remember a party that promised to change the way such things were done.

        • The Dion family dog speeches before QP; the manual to disrupt the work of the committee; the rulings from the president of the HoC that there is ground for contempt of parliament… Sorry, some have abused more than others here.

    • Thats horseradish. While everything you say about the opposition is true, it is inexcusable for a GOVERNMENT to say, well, since we have a lousy opposition we're just not going to be open and honest with the country about the situation in which their GD SONS ARE BEING SENT TO FACE KILLERS OVERSEAS.

      • and daughters, my apologies.

        • Well said,

          • Indeed. Me too!

    • There have been numerous suggestions on how to clean up QP. I think it's time we started to try a couple of them. Suggesting that the opposition has to start being nicer to the government–while admirable–isn't really getting to the root of why they aren't being nice in the first place.

    • Except Ignatieff tried that early on. The CPC team gave the same non-answers they give to everything.

    • Ignatieff started off with respectful hold-them-to-account questions that could be answered with factual information, or at least the reiteration of a policy position, and the government responses were silly partisan muck. The Tories looked like idiots for a few days.

      Sadly, Ignatieff did not persist.

    • Honestly now, you're not seriously going with: "awwww mooooom, he/she started it!" are you?

      Really? Good grief, I really hope you're taking a shot at being ironic.

      All sides have racheted this problem up over and over again, and you sure as hell don't solve it by pointing fingers and lamenting how "if the other side just did…blah blah blah" right?

      The only way this type of thing gets solved is for one of these parties, preferably the government of the day, to decide to grow up and act like adults with some sense of self-respect and the ability to take their job and their constituents seriously enough to care how they make our government look to others, especially our children.

    • Any party can take the lead on this. No party has chosen to.

  3. Another point of difference being that the British aren't being bombarded daily by vitriolic political rhetoric emanating from the United States. After a while, we begin to think that it's the only way to interact in the political arena.

  4. So what are the differences that might lead to a real discussion over there?

  5. "…. Canadians will observe a foreign parliament treating with great seriousness an event that speaks directly to the country's national security interests."

    All we need is for MPs to take themselves and their jobs seriously instead of big joke, which is how it appears they think of themselves now. If MPs took themselves more seriously, public would be engaged and pay attention more. Virtuous circle.

    Potter – A few weeks ago I read this article by C Booker at Sunday Telegraph and it freaked me out after I looked into it a bit. Parliament needs to be serious and stop trend of State stopping people from normal democratic rights. Frightening.

    " …… On the same day, as it happens, John Hemming MP introduced a remarkable three-hour debate in Westminster Hall, on the growing pressure there has been of late to deny constituents the right even to approach their MPs, in trying to complain about the actions of social workers and other “apparatchiks of the state”. He used parliamentary privilege to discuss several such cases, naming names, including that of one of his constituents who had been falsely accused of rape." Sunday Telegraph, March 26, 2011

    • Yoiks.

    • It goes back a little further than that. We need MPs to take *us* seriously.

      And the way we do that?


  6. Canadians will notice a few curious things about the exchanges.

    Why yes we did. The questions were polite and to the point with no tourqued headline, no windy partisan speech, no half-truths, no slurs, no slanders, good questions that got answers.
    It was almost like the opposition showed some kind of civil respect for the government, strange, huh.

    • It's like Planet of the Apes.

    • Your post was perfect until the last sentence. I'd change that sentence to read "It was almost like MP's showed some kind of civil respect for the House of Commons, strange, huh."

    • Except, I'll point out again, Mr. Ignatieff tried that tactic early on in his dealings. Respectful questions got the same CPC braying then that that gotcha questions do now.

      It's hard to stay respectful when the other side doesn't respect you or parliament to begin with.

    • Respect is a two way street. It devolves because both sides allow it to.

      If even only one side of the debate refused to be baited, the other side would eventually be shamed into acting like adults.

  7. Yeah, they actually have to work with other people, and learn to find common ground!

  8. I think MPs have to start respecting themselves. No one can behave the way they do in QP and elsewhere and still have any self-respect.

  9. How does the media respond to such substantial discussions in the UK?

    Do local papers dismiss it, in favour of headlines like "Mr. Bean invited to Royal wedding"?

    Do they speculate on the inevitable election that's just around the corner?

    Do they report small soundbites which don't give the overall picture, or maybe focus on some irrelevant moment during the discussion that might be humorous or unusual?

    You linked to a transcript, and not a newspaper article. I'd be interested in a link to a newspaper article, to prove that the media encourages an engaged public.

    I'm not trying to be harsh to the media, believe me it's not my intention. I'm just asking some honest questions: Does the media treat the UK parliament as a serious institution, with respect? If not, does anyone expect the public to do so?

  10. Why would any Canadian in their left mind vote NDP?!…

    A party who has forced MEDICARE on every CDN?, only people who can pay out of their own pockets wile bleeding to death in a ditch should be able to get medical treatment or too bad!…

    A party whose founder Tommy Douglas was voted the GREATEST CANADIAN in the history of our country!, who does he think he is?!…

    A party who cares about the people?!?!, forget the people!, what about the oil companies, banks & big corporations?!, their only making millions in profits!, crap I'm out of bread & water again…

    A leader who thinks the credit card companies are charging us to much interest?!, who cares if Canadians are drowning themselves in dept!, keep the government out of the billionaires business!…

    I mean geeze baaa! The other parties & media etc keep telling me not to vote NDP baaa! they say the SKY WILL FALL! baaa! you'd be crazy baaa! to think for yourself! baaa! you know you can TRUST what baaa! the other parties tell you to FEAR baaa!.


    • Look, just stop. We've all had fifty opportunities to read it, and frankly, one was already bordering on being more than enough.

      – an NDP voter

      • Now now, be easy there, you never know what the mental capacity of a person with this tendency may be.

        Remember, some people just never get past the obsession with cut and paste, and many still eat the glue.

        Cheers ;)

  11. So what really is the problem with out Parliament? Particularly when it is held up to such a jarring comparisan with the UK one. Some of it is undoubtedly cutural. Politics has always been seen to be a serious endeavour in the UK. Although there is a great deal of public cynicism there too. Politcs seems to be so much more tribal here. Although heaven knows it can get and has got pretty tribal at times in the UK.
    All i can add as long departed Brit myself is that it was always my feeling that underneath the cynicism there was still a desire within the public and the politicians that politics be a serious and wieghty matter. From AP's link i'm somewhat surprised and delighted to see it still seems to be that way, at least on occasion. [cont]

    • I had the feeling it was the same way here too when i first started to pay any attention during the eighties. But something has gone seriously amiss – and i don't neccesarily put it all down to the tories either; although our current crop are a particularly nasty specimen of the disease. I'm not at all confident it will get a whole lot better with a change either. Something rather ugly and sinister seems to have gripped N. American politcs and it should worry us all, regardless of political affiliations. It's almost a breed of fundamentalism; or at least a desire to embrace a more idealogical kind of politics. Which may explain to a degree why the libs seem to be in terminal decline.

  12. End of a post (with further links in original) at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute's "3Ds Blog", building on Mr Potters': http://www.cdfai.org/the3dsblog/?p=208

    'A Tale of Two Commons

    One is almost tempted to say of our Commons, “In the name of God, go!”

    For more evidence, important Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs, two of whom should know a lot better, provide video exemplars of how our politicians, er, discuss serious defence issues – in this case the F-35 (and do see the second comment here). Contrast that with what a committee of British MPs can accomplish respecting the UK's acquisition of the Eurofighter Typhoon, more on that subject here. Lessons, should any of our MPs pay attention? Hah.'


  13. Britain still considers itself an empire? You actually have evidence to back that up, or are you still suffering from an inferiority complex?