The House: Civility and statistics

The problem with analyzing civility is how to define it

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.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.