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Geoff Regan takes on heckling. Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.

Many have tried to kill heckling in the House. All have failed.


 

The House of Commons has seen and heard a lot worse than the typical heckling that, this afternoon, so rudely interrupted the second question period of the year. It wasn’t so long ago, in 2013, that a Conservative MP made a living of repeating, ad nauseum, non-sequiturs about pizza delivery men from his childhood. The next year, then-Opposition leader Tom Mulcair went so far as to challenge the speaker’s neutrality. There was also that memorable moment several years ago when the Speaker ruled the sitting government in contempt of Parliament. None of these incidents was met with a polite nod, nor quiet expressions of anguish. The place got loud.

Set against those heritage moments of disorder, Jan. 26, 2016, will go down as perfectly forgettable. No one was accused of using unparliamentary language. Nobody flipped the bird. Nobody stormed across the aisle in anger.

In what might have been a bit of a pre-emptive strike against raucous days ahead, Speaker Geoff Regan chose the second sitting day of 2016 to make an impassioned plea for order. Unprompted, except by the normal hubbub of the place, Regan stood midway through QP and reminded parliamentarians that they sit in “a crucible of democracy. It’s a place for vigorous debate. It’s a place where ideas—”

And then, of course, Regan was interrupted by heckling loud enough to give him pause. Perfect.

He eventually continued his mini-lecture, even waxing philosophical about the room he oversees. “It’s a place where ideas are tested. But the test of an idea is not how loud the applause is, or whether it’s a standing ovation—and nor is it whether it can withstand rude interruption. The test is time.” With that, QP went on.

The House wasn’t finished considering the matter, however. Green Leader Elizabeth May rose on a point of order after question period and, citing the standing orders that govern the House, appealed to her colleagues’ better selves. She was, inevitably, lightly heckled as she made her appeal. The Speaker thanked May and elaborated on his own soliloquy: “I know very well that Canadians feel very strongly about this. They know that students come here regularly, and see what happens in Parliament. They want this to be a place of vigorous debate, but where we also show respect for one another,” he said. “And I think we all have the capacity for what most members have shown: to restrain ourselves when there are things we don’t hear.”

It all sounded so earnest, particularly on an otherwise ordinary day. As for the odds that MPs will take those words to heart? Well, decorum only lasts until somebody forgets they’re supposed to be polite. A Samara study of parliamentarians revealed that nearly three-quarters of the 29 respondents to their survey admitted to heckling during the last session of Parliament, even though more than two-thirds called the outbursts a problem. They offered reasons, says Samara: correcting the record, getting something on the record, and supporting their own side. Samara offers anti-heckling measures, including a change in party culture and various forms of discipline.

But before those institutional changes win the day, how long until the next heckle? Give it about 30 minutes.


 

Geoff Regan takes on heckling. Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.

  1. Excuse me I fully support heckling and yelling and as much disrespect and name calling as we can possibly get watching the current set of university graduate’s show us dopes how to scrape the first tax dollars off the top on live TV. Even the silliest of human’s can probably tell by now after a few century’s that no government is going to solve even the most basic issue’s such as poverty,crime, injustice, to name a few. So then let them heckle and point their finger’s at each other and yell !! I mean really does anyone still believe they are doing anything more than collecting pay checks and pension’s please !

    • Do we really want to admit that we have elected a parliament of baboons to our House of Commons?
      I think we can do better than that. Even the British parliament has more decorum than that of Canada. I think it is pathetic and it only grew worse under Harper and his fellow baboons. Surely, it isn’t that difficult to make a person who is jeering, and in this case, the speaker of the house, feel like he is an ass. If you have a legitimate comment to make, raise your hand like your were taught in grade school.

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