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This article was published 29/5/2011 (3436 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- In three days, Parliament will resume sitting for the first time since the May 2 election.
Canadians will get a chance to see if electing the first majority government in seven years will make one iota of difference to the level of decorum in Canada's House of Commons.
The promises of such are coming from across the political spectrum and optimism is high that it just may actually happen.
There are a number of reasons for that.
It starts with the stability offered by a majority government. The hope is that without a bout of election fever clouding the judgment of every move they make, MPs will actually be able to stop just playing games.
It also comes from the promises of politicians themselves.
Several candidates for Speaker say they will bring down the hammer on bad behaviour if elected to the position.
NDP Leader Jack Layton last week said he'd given an edict to his new shadow cabinet that heckling in the House of Commons is forbidden.
The move follows a private member's motion he introduced nearly two years ago calling for an end to heckling in the wake of what he said then was an overt amount of "sexist" bullying directed at female opposition MPs.
Layton's order came the same week one of Parliament's most in-your-face quote machines promised to be more civil. Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin is handing out 300 party-coloured buttons pledging "Opto Civilitas" or "I choose civility."
There was a lot of eye-rolling directed at Martin's promise. In fact, some in the press gallery went as far as to ask him not to change his ways too much. His colourful commentary is often relied on to enliven sometimes dry procedural stories.
But if Martin can live up to the promise, anybody can.
Although some remain skeptical Layton can enforce the no-heckling rule, the relative youth and overwhelming inexperience of his caucus can only help his cause.
More than one-third of the MPs elected May 2 have never sat in the House of Commons. Their only glimpse of how things used to be would have come if they ever sat in the public galleries or watched the events on television. They don't have the bad habits that for many MPs are going to be hard to break. The big question is how easy or hard it will be for them to avoid going down the road of bad behaviour.
In 2007, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said she promised when she got elected she wouldn't be a heckler but soon found she could not help herself because she was simply too incensed by the answers or non-answers of the Conservative cabinet ministers.
"Even though in 1997 I promised my friends that I would never heckle, since Stéphane Dion put me in the front row in January, I simply cannot help myself. It is just impossible to be quiet," she wrote in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star.
Bennett would hardly be alone, for Conservatives were likely equally as frustrated by the Liberal answers and non-answers when Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin were in power.
As the old mantra goes, there is a reason it's called question period and not answer period.
Keith Beardsley, former assistant chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wrote in the National Post last week of an experiment the Conservatives ran while still in opposition. Conservative staffers from constituency offices were brought to Ottawa for lessons on how Parliament works and they staged a mock question period.
Won't last a week
It took less than 15 minutes, Beardsley said, for their behaviour to descend into heckling and barb-tossing -- the kind of behaviour the very same staffers had complained about prior to arriving in Ottawa.
Beardsley doesn't think Layton's promise will last a week without major changes to question period. Changes like those proposed by Conservative MP Michael Chong to limit questions to 50 seconds each to eliminate partisan preambles and actually require ministers to answer the question.
The more interesting proposals include those to actually punish MPs for bad behaviour.
Currently, bad behaviour is often rewarded. Fellow MPs will clap you on the back if you get in a good dig at your opponent. The national press gallery loves a good Pat Martin rant of outrage.
If MPs were instead rewarded with fines, suspensions of parliamentary privileges and the cold shoulder of the national press corps, they'd quickly clean up their act.
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