The elbow that nearly ruined Parliament

Justin Trudeau’s behaviour unspooled the House, and only a backtracking government returned a sense of normalcy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from opposition MPs as he addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Trudeau apologized for his conduct following an incident in the House Wednesday when he pulled Conservative whip Gord Brown through a clutch of New Democrat MPs to hurry up a vote related to doctor-assisted dying. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from opposition MPs as he addresses the House of Commons on Thursday, May 19, 2016.  (Adrian Wyld, CP)

Justin Trudeau was in trouble as soon as he started his apology with an ‘If.’ The Prime Minister had earlier attempted to play hero in the House, butting into a crowd of NDP MPs and extracting the Conservative party whip to ensure an important vote could go on. In the process, Trudeau made physical contact with NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau. So he stood to make amends.

“If anyone feels that they were impacted by my actions, I completely apologize. It was not my intention to hurt anyone. It is my intention to get this vote done,” he said, alluding to a time-allocation motion that was consumed by events. But adding a condition to that apology didn’t do much to calm Trudeau’s opposition colleagues, so he tried again about 25 minutes later.

“I want to take the opportunity, now that the member is able to return to the House, to express directly to her my apologies for my behaviour and my actions, unreservedly,” he said. The qualifiers were gone, but the damage was done. Trudeau had lost control of the House, which returned to the issue this morning.

And that’s how Trudeau came to offer his third apology to Brosseau, and the rest of the House, in a little more than 12 hours. This most recent attempt at contrition was lengthier, carefully delivered, and spoken in low tones.

He apologized to Tory whip Gord Brown. Trudeau acknowledged that his misguided attempt to aid the possibly impeded Brown was “not appropriate,” and was not his role. He then moved on to the instantly infamous elbowing, apologizing robustly to Brosseau.

“I made physical contact with the member for Berthier–Maskinongé, something I regret profoundly and for which I apologize unreservedly. I apologize to my colleagues, to the House as a whole, and to you, Mr. Speaker, for failing to live up to a higher standard of behaviour. Members rightfully expect better behaviour from anyone in this House. I expect better of myself.”

But that was not that. A united opposition sensed opportunity. Even as they recognized the sincerity of Trudeau’s apology, they stood in succession to demand that his government withdraw Motion No. 6, tabled yesterday, which would weaken the opposition’s procedural hand and empower government ministers to virtually control debate until the House adjourns for summer. You be the judge of their artful attempts at subtlety, starting with NDP MP Linda Duncan.

“It’s important for all of us to understand why things have gotten so heated in this chamber. It’s important that the right of all the members in this place be respected, not just to be free of physical assault, but to be free of having their rights and privileges assaulted,” said Duncan, attempting a rhetorical segue for the ages. “I’m wondering if, as part of his apology, [Trudeau] will consider reversing the decision to take away our rights and privileges, so that we may all participate equally here in this chamber.”

The Prime Minister refused to take the bait, offering a tidy non-response. “[Duncan] noted that the way this House has been engaging, the way indeed the government has been behaving over the past while, has perhaps led to this incident. But I certainly know that she would agree with me when I say that no amount of escalation or mood in this House justifies my behaviour last night.”

Trudeau didn’t exactly defend his government’s behaviour. He appeared to imply that Liberals were partly culpable for the mood in the Commons, which might be a first in modern times—but not enough to mollify his opponents.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose took her turn. She was more direct. “Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the Prime Minister’s apology, but he’s saying he wants to move forward, and he wants to do that responsibly, and together. I don’t know how we can do that unless he removes this motion that he has on the order paper.”

Trudeau, still acknowledging the general nastiness of the place, continued to fall on his sword. Over and over. “I think it’s important that we draw a clear line between what was my unacceptable behaviour and the general tone of this House,” he said. “The escalation and tone of this House does not lead to any justification of my actions, and I accept that fully.”

The grievances went on. Tory MP Peter Kent floated the idea that Trudeau should be held in contempt of Parliament. Kent’s 10-minute reprimand exacted a measure of revenge against Trudeau, who once referred to then-environment minister Kent in rather salty terms. Conservative MP Michael Cooper elevated Trudeau’s actions to criminal assault. As of 2 p.m. ET, the House was still officially preoccupied with debate over Trudeau’s behaviour, interrupted only by question period. It looked like it could go on and on until the end of time, or at least next month.

And then something happened. Ambrose rose during question period to demand, once again, that the government withdraw Motion No. 6. Trudeau wasn’t in his seat, but government House leader Dominic LeBlanc rose to his feet—and announced he’d withdrawn the motion. The opposition clapped.

So that small measure of sanity capped a bizarre 24 hours in Ottawa. Now the House can return to what its denizens do best: screaming at each other about policy, at least tangentially, from a safe distance; sticking to talking points that are equal parts partisan and inane; and requiring fewer than three tries to properly deliver an apology.


The elbow that nearly ruined Parliament

  1. Ahhhh gawd, spare us the Armageddon routine

  2. For most of us, if we grabbed a colleague by the elbow and pulled him forcibly into a conference room, we’d be unemployed by day’s end.

    But the relationship between the Liberals and Canada’s media being what it is, we can look forward to a series of opinion pieces explaining to the unwashed masses that it was all “no big deal,” then chastising us for even talking about it.

    • For most of us if we formed a scrum at a meeting preventing others from taking their seat or, as managers stood around encouraging our reports to cause a disturbance and then when the boss waded into the scrum, made threatening gestures and yelled insults we’d be on the street real quick. The business of parliament is to get on with debate and resolution in an orderly manner, following procedure, not playing red rover in the aisles. Mr Mulcair’s juvenile bully-boy antics should not be applauded; in fact, this gross disruption of orderly proceedings of parliament goes well beyond horseplay.
      Ms Ambrose as always is demanding this and that, clearly confused as to the meaning of opposition, while being shamelessly disingenuous: perhaps one should add up the number of times she supported time allocation, cloture and prerogation during previous sessions. Possibly, the press is so accustomed to her baloney meter being red-lined they no longer notice.

        • And the citizens of the country are the true losers again. Personally, this was an important bill for me to see come through the house, and antics aside, I am not going to blame Trudeau for this unfortunate situation. I will put full blame on the opposition for trying to grandstand by trying to put a chink in Trudeau’s armor(he is killing them in the poles), in order to prevent this bill going through, on the backs of people who are suffering and want to get on with one of the biggest choices they may have to make in their lives(dying with dignity), one that I will only be happy to make when the time comes. Just a reminder to the opposition, every time they seem to think they have Trudeau on the ropes, he always bounces back, the reason is, he has resilience and stamina, Canada has never seen a PM with this kind of stamina since PET himself. Just a message to some members of the MSM, cut it with the hunnymoon crap, this I going to be a long term relationship with the country and Trudeau, so get over this hunnymoon crap.

      • As the Globe and Mail editorial pointed out, the delay was 30 seconds long. The PM strode into the group, grabbed the Con whip’s arm and told the NDP MP’s to get the fuck out of the way. While doing so, he elbowed the female NDP and she hit a desk. The Con whip asked him to let go of his arm. Was the PM’s behavior justified? Was the Lib’s behavior in applauding justified? The speaker called the PM out on his behavior. Who in history has grabbed or hit a member of the opposition in the Canadian house of commons because they weren’t getting into their seat fast enough? Has Harper the terrible done so? Why defend this behavior when the government was trying to limit debate on a bill? Isn’t it the job of the opposition whether you like them or not to stand up to the government? Is it the job of the PM to lay hands on the members of the opposition in frustration?

  3. When Donald Trump screwed up he was remembered but not for the best. Justine has just had his “Donald” and nobody is like to forget what an ass he made of himself – even Emily forgives him apparently. As the Con ads said at one time “he’s not ready but his hair is nice” Oh well, his daddy had fits too!

    • His daddy said ‘fuddle-duddle’…….the media had hysterics

      And does it matter today? Nooop.

      • His father was an arrogant a**hole. You as an easterner ha

        • You as an easterner can’t get past Ralph Klein telling you to freeze in the dark. We westerners can’t get past Pierre giving us the finger.

          • Ralph

          • Ralph was the mayor of Calgary. Pierre was our Prime Minister.

          • That’s because you live on fairy tales and arrogance. PET gave the crowd around him the finger because they were yelling French insults at him

            You carry on with that attitude, you’ll be eating your oil…..because no one else will want it.

            Why not

  4. I wonder if it is just hard for the opposition to accept that the current prime minister acknowledges when he is wrong, and apologizes when he wrongs someone. It is something that has not happened for many years.

    • Congratulations, he is in office less than a year and you are a full on partisan. If Harper had behaved in the same manner you and Emily would be exploding.

      • Harp eliminated the Census, handed prisoners over for torture, shut down Parliament rather than face a vote hid in a closet……there was very little said

        An elbow however is apparently a crucifying offense.

        • The Speaker said that he had “manhandled” the Tory Whip and that was a very accurate description. What bothered me even more was that he strutted over like an angry peacock, and accosted a senior opposition member as if he were a kindergarten student and used foul language at the same time. I guess that’s what you get when you have a former bouncer as the P.M. I hope this demonstration of his uncontrolled narcissism puts a huge hole in his already leaky boat.

          • LOL now you’re just making things up

      • First, I have condemned his behaviour here and elsewhere.

        Second, you ignored my point. Which I take to mean you know I am right.

    • Pretty sure if Harper would have stormed over to the opposition side, grabbed an opposition MP by the arm, swearing while he did it and elbowed somebody in the boobs for good measure, he too would have apologized. Then again, I wasn’t someone driven loopy by his governance.

      • Pretty sure he would not have apologized.

        Can you find me a link to even one instance when he took responsibility for something that went wrong? I mean, his own personal responsibility for his own mistake.

  5. Terrible title. Parliament was nowhere near being ruined.

    • Emilyone,
      Your normal tactic-when confronted with fact you slough it off! You refute that The Speaker said that he’d manhandled the Tory Whip or that he told the group to get the f__k out of the way? Or that one of the three “jobs” he held in addition to a snowboard instructor and a drama teacher was as a bouncer.
      If you don’t believe any of those facts, you are in full Liberal denial!

      • A…I’m not a liberal

        B…you’re making things up LOL

        • You’re right-even Liberals are as much of an a..hole as you are.

          • Your partisan nonsense is how you got kinked out of office

            Learn from that.

  6. Calling Jimmy Kimmel. The ghost of Rob Ford now haunts Parliament Hill.

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