Verbal jabs, not physical altercations the norm in Parliament: professor

Wednesday's scuffle surprising because of its rarity

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Testy words and verbal jabs are often thrown in Ottawa, but an expert says it’s rare for Canadian politicians to spar physically.

Political scientist Hamish Telford says people have been ejected from the House of Commons for using unparliamentary language, but he can’t remember a time when two politicians got into a physical altercation.

The University of the Fraser Valley professor says Parliament has always been a place of vigorous debate, full of heckling and name calling, but an incident Wednesday was surprising because of its rarity.

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of elbowing her in the chest during a confrontation prior to a key vote Wednesday.

The physical contact resulted in mayhem, including many raised voices and a face-to-face encounter between Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Telford says there likely aren’t any rules governing such behaviour in the House of Commons, particularly because the kerfuffle took place on a break.

He says new restrictions could be something to look into in the wake of Wednesday’s dustup, but a rule banning physical contact between politicians could prohibit tender moments.

Telford notes that Trudeau recently showed a very different side when he crossed the floor and offered Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose a hug when she became emotional talking about the fires in Fort McMurray.

Tempers will continue to flare in the House because that’s the nature of the work members of Parliament are undertaking, Telford says.

“Things do get heated, as you would imagine when you have members with very different political views trying to work out very difficult political issues,” he says.

While Canadian politicians aren’t known to throw punches, the same can’t be said for leaders in other parliaments.

Earlier this week, a brawl erupted in South Africa’s parliament between security guards and opposition members trying to stop President Jacob Zuma from speaking.

Lawmakers in Turkey have also recently been documented hurling not only verbal barbs, but objects such as water bottles, too.