The House: Civility and statistics

The problem with analyzing civility is how to define it

by Aaron Wherry

Once more unto the civility question. For previous entries in this series see here.

Close study of our Parliament is to be encouraged, but I’m not sure what to make of this attempt to chart civility during Question Period: except, perhaps, that it demonstrates how variously fraught the whole discussion of “civility” is.

If one polled MPs and the few of us who regularly attend QP, I’m not sure Jack Layton would get many votes as the “least civil” participant and I’m not sure how chastened opposition (note that word) MPs should be to learn that they are generally more negative than government MPs. I’m actually most curious to understand how Speaker Peter Milliken doesn’t somehow rate a perfect score.

The problem with analyzing civility is how to define it. A government minister might stand and offer a smiley faced response that expounds on the government’s great successes, but should that be considered “civil” if it ignores entirely the question asked? Is an opposition MP being uncivil when he points and shouts and fumes across the aisle about the government’s refusal to account for itself?

Personally I’d suggest we try to avoid intellectually dishonest character assassination and leave the discussion at that—not just because the discussion tends toward the silly, but also because there are much more relevant matters of Parliament and democracy that should be occupying our time and energy.




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The House: Civility and statistics

  1. “Politicians must be allowed to panic. They need activity. It is their substitute for achievement.” Sir Humphrey

    I was reading article and Chong section at end made me think of that quote. Wonder if Fed pols act out because they don’t think they are doing proper government work. Cons are happy at Fed level (Defense, Infrastructure) Libs and NDP better at Provincial (Health/Welfare/Education). 

    Libs and dippers at Fed level at not useful because Feds don’t have responsibility for things they would like to legislate. 

    “If one polled MPs and the few of us who regularly attend QP, I’m not sure Jack Layton would get many votes as the “least civil” participant … ”

    Like I wrote yesterday, Cons think Libs and NDP are dumb/ignorant/misinformed but this can be changed with debate. Libs and Progs think cons are sexist/racist and nothing can be done about us. 

    No surprise to me that left wing not doing well in civility rankings, just read messages here and see who are the hostile commentators. I bet P Gohier gets more grief from left wing types than he does conservatives.

  2. When John Baird “answers” a question by saying that Bev Oda has more integrity in the “tip of her finger” than the member asking the question, it’s not surprising that the reaction would be less than civil.

    This “academic” study is a joke. You don’t have to watch QP to determine civility; all you need to do is read some of Baird’s non-answers in Hansard to figure out why QP is so disgraceful. Most questions are not answered at all. Instead the Conservatives substitute some bit of shameful history of past governments like it somehow justifies their own current behavior.

    Layton is the rudest?  Give me a break! I’d be more impressed if he accused some government ministers of lying instead of “misleading the house”. It might result in Layton getting kicked out of the house until he apologized for being “rude”, but there is nothing like stating the truth so elegantly.

  3. I agree with Aaron’s position that stopping heckling and slanderous statements is all that is needed to have a “civil” Parliament. And that can be done by simply having a Speaker willing to enforce the current decorum rule.

    I think the issue is not really civility, it is whether Question Period is a useful democratic exercise, and MP Michael Chong’s proposed reforms are aimed at making it more useful.

    So, as a rating system, I think the most useful measurement of MPs in Question Period would be to rate them as follows:- for questions, did the questioner ask honestly and specifically about one situation whom did what, when, where, how and why, and did they ask an important (or trivial) question?
    - for answers, did the responder provide an answer that states honestly and specifically whom did what, when, where, how and why, and did the responder provide important (or trivial) information in the answer (even if the questioner asked a trivial question)?

    I suggest these criteria because, in order to be democratically useful, opposition parties are supposed to hold government politicians to account by asking important questions about who, what where, when, how and why, and government is supposed to provide who, what, where, when, how and why information, especially important information, as a full account of any action or decision.

    It would be easy to evaluate questions in every way except importance, and answers in every way except honesty — to rate those two areas you would have to be an expert in each issue area to know whether the question was important, and whether the answer honestly and completely stated who, what, where, when, how and why and provided all important information.

    Hope this helps,Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch
    http://www.goodgovernment.ca
    Organizer of the CoffeeParty.ca movement
    http://www.CoffeeParty.ca

    • Just curious Mr. Conacher – Do you think the new Speaker will help? I was sad to see both Michael Chong and Peter Miliken “retire”.  They were the amoung the rays of sunshine in our star chamber parliament.

      • Just to say first that Michael Chong has not retired — he was re-elected.

         I do not think that the new Speaker will help, especially given that he is a Conservative MP.

        As with almost all good government rules, enforcement of the House decorum rules needs to be strengthened by requiring the Speaker to enforce them (in the same way that the federal Ethics Commissioner, Commissioner of Lobbying, and Integrity Commissioner need to be required to enforce the laws they are responsible for enforcing).

        Hope this helps,
        Duff Conacher, Board member
        Democracy Watch
        http://www.goodgovernment.ca

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