Leave our MPs to bicker in peace

Nothing wrong with a little name-calling or yo-momma insulting in Question Period

Leave our MPs to bicker in peace

Why shouldn't our politicians advance their beliefs with passion and vigour? If they lose their tempers, so be it. | CP; Getty Images; Illustration by Taylor Shute

Forget global warming, the robot apocalypse and the fact that Ron Weasley looks 35 years old in the new Harry Potter movie: we’ve got bigger problems. People have noticed the lack of civility in the House of Commons and are actually trying to do something about it. Are they out of their minds? The heckling and seething rage are the best parts. Let’s not even get started on the untold damage that a new spirit of collegiality would do to my office pool on when John Baird’s forehead will explode.

Making noise about making nice is all the rage in Ottawa. Press gallery members are writing deep thoughts about the shallow behaviour of MPs. Politicians are declaring that Something Must Be Done. There’s even a private member’s bill that seeks to return question period to the thoughtful forum it apparently once was, back before the invention of electricity and the middle finger.

This whole movement stems from a terrible misunderstanding. After six years of minority government, many MPs have so often uttered and heard variations on the phrase “making Parliament work” that they’ve done the unthinkable: they’ve started to believe their own words. They’ve decreed it their solemn responsibility to act civilized and work together.

It’s not.

People with starkly opposing views about where to take our country should defend and advance their beliefs with passion, vigour and big-boy words. If they lose their temper, so be it. A little name-calling? Fine. A three-hour marathon of yo-momma insults? So long as it doesn’t feel gratuitous.

Let the eggheads converge on talk shows to debate the end of civil discourse. If Michael Ignatieff purports to have a very different idea of what Canada should be, why would he want to help Stephen Harper accomplish anything? And why strain to be nice about it? Politicians should be fervent enough in their beliefs that they’d climb over a table to confront a minister (Sheila Copps during the Mulroney era) or fight through a ring of RCMP officers to wedgie the prime minister (Bob Rae during the daydream I just had).

Parliament is not a play date—there’s nothing wrong with hating one another’s ideas, plans or guts. What exactly do we think hecklers are interrupting anyway? It’s question period, not something sacred like a church service or a seven-song commercial-free rock block.

Political observers are always gazing wistfully into a soft-focus past where MPs worked in harmony while bluebirds perched upon their fingertips and chipmunks performed intricately choreographed dance numbers about the intoxicating power of co-operation. Did this past actually exist? Possibly in a rejected Disney movie or one of John Diefenbaker’s legendary LSD trips. But people reviled other people back then, too—especially during minority governments. They just didn’t have Twitter with which to share all the latest Gerda Munsinger jokes. (Relax, I was just joking there about the Chief dropping acid. Everyone knows he was a hash man.)

Besides, recent testiness and hostility is not necessarily a sign of a permanent decline in manners. Politics thrives on volatility and change, the introduction of new blood and the settling of old scores. Today’s MPs just have cabin fever from being trapped for years inside the same range of poll numbers.

Meanwhile, technology has amplified both our knowledge and our cynicism. These days, everything is always the worst ever—an impression reinforced by the predictable arc of bellyaching from departing MPs (most recently, Keith Martin). It always goes something like: I came to Ottawa so optimistic, so full of energy, but then the system beat me down. Those bastards got some partisan reality on my precious idealism! I AM FOREVER SULLIED! Invariably, these are the people who stayed in Ottawa for 15 years, and should have left a decade sooner.

Politics is a brutal business. It demands a lot and gives little back. But politics matters deeply. It should be played hard, and played for keeps.

The truth is, our national politics have long been ugly. Maybe it’s not a sign that MPs have stopped caring. Maybe it’s proof they continue to care.


Leave our MPs to bicker in peace

  1. Excellent observation SF.
    "Today's MPs just have cabin fever from being trapped for years inside the same range of poll numbers."
    All they have right now is 'mud-slinging' in the hope that the correct 'mud' is used so it sticks.

  2. 'People with starkly opposing views about where to take our country should defend and advance their beliefs with passion, vigour and big-boy words.'

    Fair enough… but when's the last time you heard any MPs debating high-minded, big-picture ideas and concepts in Question Period? There's heated debate, and then there's partisanship for the sake of partisanship: sh*tcanning another person not because of his/her ideas, but because they're on the Blue Team, and you're on the Red Team.

    And as far as big-boy words, our MPs are acting like a bunch of stupid poopoo dummyheads.

    • Well – it does have a long long history. I can picture a rather drunken Sir John A. sh*tcanning someone that rubbed him wrong, while fighting the urge to throw up. There was plenty of dirty stuff back then, especially when viewed by modern day standards.

  3. It's not about taking things back to some imaginary golden age of decorum…it's about taking things to where they should be. And don't start on that nonsense about how acting like a bunch of useless juvenile venom-spitters means they really care. Every second spent hurling insults, cracking bad jokes, faux-posturing and feigning outrage is a second not spent on writing or improving laws (otherwise known as their job). A parliament that strives to do more than bicker – now that might be a sign someone cares. Ever since people have started pointing out the painfully obvious – that QP is a grand farce – some have started defending/apologizing for behaviour from parliamentarians that would get anyone else kicked out of fourth grade. To these professional contrarians I ask: How popular does a really obviously good idea have to become before you oppose it?

  4. Diefenbaker was a hash man? I always thought his drugs of choice were piss and vinegar.

  5. I find it hard to believe that anyone honestly thinks that disagreement and difference REQUIRE the degree of rudeness and lack of objectivity we see in parliament these days.

    All Canadians are really asking for is a parliament that doesn't resist common sense for the sake of partisan backbiting.

    Underlying all this is a simple desire for honesty.

    If you're going to be partisan fine.

    If you can't consider another's point of view that's fine too.

    But if you think lying about another's view, lying about fact and figures and needless slandering and mischaracterizing people is somehow a virtue in parliamentary debate, then I have to question your understanding of ethical behaviour.

  6. I see where you went wrong, Scott.

    First, you are supposed to be the funny man, and this was a thoughtful piece with just a few one-liners thrown in. Not why we pay you the big blogging bucks. (If we paid you for blogging, that is)

    Second, it isn't a return to the good old days of peace, harmony and light we hanker for. We might have to bring back John A's vomit-strewn floor, and with the increase in members, people wouldn't be able to get far enough away these days.

    No, we now demand a new, modern code of behaviour for our Parliament. Because we have cameras, daily newspapers, and even tweets for heaven's sake, Parliamentarians cannot act like grade 3 students when the teacher steps out of the room anymore. Because teacher (that's us in this analogy) is aware of what's going on, and not only that, but who is doing what. And teacher doesn't want to spend her entire life overseeing detention!

  7. Everyone, except SF, complains about the behaviour of our parlementarians. Will it do any good? I think our members of parliament simply do what comes natural. It may well be that the root of the problem is with the make-up of the House. Too many are schooled in precedent and too few come from professions and vocations that emphasize engineering and innovation.

  8. I believe that petty put downs between politicians of different stripes, are immature, and more progress would be made and better decisions and outcomes would result, for everyone, if they treated each other as adults, with respect and worked in unity for the benefit of all Canadian brothers and sisters whom they represent.


  9. Where are the statesmen?

    Trying to be heard under the appalling din.

  10. Lets see some shoe or pie throwing in the House. It would spice up nightly national newscasts.

  11. I agree. QP is lively and interesting, and even taking the BS into consideration, it is a place where parliamentarians can stake out their positions. Their constituents can actually see what they stand for, how they perform, how passionate, witty and intelligent they are, or, perhaps more likely, how impassionate, boring and idea-challenged they are.