Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MPs of all stripes need to tone down their language

Pat Martin one of Commons' bad boys

  • Print

OTTAWA -- Every couple of months, someone on Parliament Hill throws out another call for MPs to be nicer to one another.

Everyone nods their heads in agreement, "Oh yes, we must be nicer to each other," while secretly thinking "darn, we're pretty nice people. It's the other side that's not so nice. So yes, I agree, they should be nicer to me."

Which in and of itself is the problem.

Everyone seems to agree decorum should be better, but nobody seems willing to admit they are part of the problem. It's always the other person's fault.

Last week it was newly minted NDP House leader Nathan Cullen making the call for better behaviour. He suggested Speaker Andrew Scheer should pull the parliamentary equivalent of sending badly-behaved MPs to bed without supper.

If an MP ignores Scheer's warning to stop shouting or insulting or performing other such unacceptable antics, Cullen wants Scheer to cut off those MPs -- or their parties entirely -- from asking questions during question period.

Cullen's idea might work if the punishment wasn't just for the MP but for the entire party. One would think party leaders would be pretty quick to whip their caucuses into line if they risked not having a chance to ask questions in the House for an entire day, or even an entire week. If an MP who gets cut out for bad behaviour can simply have their question asked by a caucus colleague, what's the real punishment?

Of course, decorum must begin at home. So one of the first questions Cullen was asked at his news conference April 30 was whether he would have a word with the NDP's reigning loudmouth, Winnipeg's own Pat Martin.

Cullen said he would be "suggesting" to Martin that "we do seek a higher standard, we do seek a higher order of civility."

Martin is the first to admit he flies off the handle a lot, and last year he even came out of the federal election with a campaign to improve civility in the House of Commons.

He had buttons made up with "I choose civility" written in Latin -- he even colour-coded them for the parties -- but the gimmick didn't catch on. Rumour has it those distributed to at least one other party ended up not-so-civilly tossed into the trash.

Martin thinks he has improved his behaviour and that things are actually better in the House.

"Our caucus isn't allowed to heckle anymore," he said.

However, Cullen and Martin both were pretty focused on behaviour in the House of Commons itself.

But that's just where the problem begins, not where it ends. Yes, the House of Commons is an honourable place and worthy of respect. But MPs don't stop being MPs when they walk out the chamber doors.

The back and forth on Twitter and Facebook or on afternoon political talk shows often borders on the abusive. High rhetoric and passionate debate have given way to not so thinly veiled insults that rouse the attention of the media and public alike but do little to advance a discussion or issue.

Social media are not a forum for dignified discussion but for cursing and racism. Three MPs -- including Martin, Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau -- have all had to apologize in the last six months for cursing in public. Martin and Clement did it on Twitter. Trudeau did it in the House.

Cullen's call will likely do little to change the hyper-partisan nature of Parliament Hill. The animosity between parties and individual MPs grows stronger by the day and there is no sign anyone is willing to yell uncle.

"It's like we're one step short of physical violence the way people yell at each other," Martin admitted.

There are many people who don't take Martin seriously anymore because of the political hyperbole inherent in many of his comments. Some think the cursing or passion are refreshing. Most do not.

But while Martin is among the most, shall we say, colourful MPs, he is not the only one who needs to clean up his act. There are more MPs than not who need to take a look in the mirror and admit they are part of the problem.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2012 A7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Geese take cover in long grass in the Tuxedo Business Park near Route 90 Wednesday- Day 28– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A goose heads for shade in the sunshine Friday afternoon at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg - Day 26– June 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google