OTTAWA — The NDP wants to bring civility to the raucous House of Commons with measures that would impose suspensions and even loss of pay for MPs who go too far in personal comments or attacks.
Stronger penalties are needed to stop the behaviour that mars question period and turns off Canadians, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen told a news conference Tuesday.
The NDP motion targets “harassment, threats, personal attacks, or extreme misrepresentation of facts.”
“There is no workplace in this country that would accept that kind of behaviour,” said Cullen. “So why do we accept it in the House of Commons?”
Cullen himself got tangled up in a parliamentary clash in December when government House leader Peter Van Loan briefly crossed the floor during a fierce, finger-jabbing exchange of words. Defence Minister Peter MacKay and NDP MP Paul Dewar both stepped in to intervene in what some called a “near brawl.”
The motion calls for a series of penalties for MPs who fail to bite their tongues: first a warning, then suspension from the House and loss of a day’s pay, with a five-day suspension for a third offence and 20 days for a fourth.
Speaking in Parliament is a privilege, said Cullen. “Canadians don’t elect people to go and be partisan bulldogs screaming out constant mistruths and personal attacks.”
Ironically, it was Charlie Angus — a member of Cullen’s own party — who was admonished Monday by Speaker Andrew Scheer for describing Conservative rival Pierre Poilievre as wearing a “clown nose.”
Cullen’s proposal is far from the first time someone has tried to rein in MPs, nor will it likely be the last.
Conservative backbencher Michael Chong tabled a motion in 2010 to reform question period that would have allowed more time for answers and bolstered the Speaker’s authority. The motion died when Parliament was dissolved in 2011.
Indeed, it seems choice words have always been an integral part of question period.
In 1863, John A. Macdonald is said to have taken ill during his opponent’s campaign speech, going on to say, “I get sick … not because of drink 1/8but because 3/8 I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”
Former justice minister Ray Hnatyshyn once referred to Liberal MP John Nunziata “the honourable member from Snakeville.” In 1997, former Reform MP Darrell Stinson described Conservative Leader Jean Charest as a “chubby little sucker.”