CBC's Leslie MacKinnon looks at the declining state of decorum in the House of Commons, culminating in a particularly salty exchange
Who needs a break? Perhaps our MPs do, if their behaviour near the end of this fall sitting of Parliament is any indication.
(They'll be getting one – a long one – after next week, when the House of Commons breaks and isn't scheduled to return until the end of January.)
But foul language and testy tempers are hardly uncommon on Parliament Hill, where it's almost a cliché to chide MPs for acting like children and plead for decorum more suited to the seriousness of the national business at hand.
That's how things started off in the early days after the 2011 election. Remember NDP MP Pat Martin's "Opto Civitas" buttons? New Opposition Leader Jack Layton's pledge that the hostile minority government years would be replaced with a new era of civil debate, including a ban on heckling from the NDP benches?
Wednesday night's dust-up is only the latest to join Parliament Hill's naughty list. Time out, anyone?
- Peter Van Loan's finger-wagging F-bomb and Tom Mulcair's "explosion": Frustrations erupted over a point of order raised by NDP House leader Nathan Cullen about Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's absence during a report stage vote on the second budget bill. Van Loan crossed the floor explicitly to express his "disappointment" at Cullen raising it. Mulcair, seated at Cullen's side, made it known that he didn't appreciate him "talking to my House leader that way." Neither side will put the exact remarks on the record, but both report "unparliamentary" language, and the body language on the tape backs it up. Other MPs got between them before it escalated.
- Hoback badgers a witness: Last June, Saskatchewan Conservative MP Randy Hoback, when questioning United Steelworkers economist Erin Weir by videoconference during a finance committee meeting, escalated a rather persistent line of questioning by asking, "Have you ever been or are you presently a member of the NDP party?" The question mirrors U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's famous question from the Un-American Activities Committee hearings of the 1950s, as he searched for Communists. Weir's ties to the NDP are already in the public domain, and he says as much to the committee that called him as a witness.
- Justin Trudeau calls Peter Kent a "piece of shit": In one of the last question periods before the 2011 Christmas break, Environment Minister Peter Kent suggested that NDP MPs, including critic Megan Leslie, should have been in Durban, South Africa, for the recent UN climate change conference. Opposition benches erupted because MPs from other parties weren't allowed to join Canada's delegation. As the heckling subsided, the Liberal MP's voice was clearly heard off-camera shouting "You piece of shit" at the environment minister. Trudeau apologized for losing his cool.
- Joe Oliver's "clowns" and Megan Leslie's "grumpy old man": Over several days, Commons exchanges between NDP environment critic Megan Leslie and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver sunk lower and lower: Oliver told Leslie to read Economics for Dummies and later called her, and a fellow NDP MP, "clowns" for travelling to Washington, D.C., to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Leslie responded in kind, calling Oliver a "grumpy old man." Conservatives demanded she apologize to senior citizens.
- Pat Martin's colourful Commons tweeting: Evidently frustrated in his Commons seat during House business to pass budget measures earlier that fall, NDP MP Pat Martin pulled out his mobile device and expressed his true feelings on Twitter: "This is a f---ing disgrace ... closure again. And on the Budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot sh--." Martin refused to apologize, saying he was sincere and it's how a construction worker (like he used to be) communicates. Debate follows about appropriate use of social media in the Commons chamber.
- Brison tells Glover, "You're stupid": Things got testy at the finance committee earlier in the fall of 2011, as MPs considered a government proposal to require a cost accounting for private members' bills. "You're stupid" Liberal MP Scott Brison hollered at Conservative MP Shelly Glover. "Pardon me?" Glover replied. Committee chair James Rajotte ruled it out of order and Brison apologized, saying he should have said Glover was "misinformed or intentionally dishonest."
- Baird tells Toronto to "quit bitching at us" and "f--- off": Never one to shy away from vibrant language in the House of Commons, then Infrastructure Minister John Baird's perhaps naughtiest words were caught off Parliament Hill, when speaking to his aides in a media room at a conference in Whistler, B.C., in 2009. Annoyed by something amiss with Toronto's application for infrastructure funding, he said Toronto was "bitching at us" and "they should f--- off." He made his apology to then Toronto Mayor David Miller in the House of Commons.
- Peter MacKay's "dog": During a 2006 debate about proposed "clean air" environmental legislation, Liberal MP David McGuinty asked then Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, "Don't you care about your dog?" (It was a reference to a well-known video of the solitary MacKay with his "loyal" dog recovering on his family's farm in Nova Scotia after breaking up with former Conservative-turned-Liberal MP Belinda Stronach.) Liberals said MacKay pointed toward the vacant seat of Stronach and said, "You already have her." MacKay later denied making the remark.
- Pierre Poilievre's "f--- you guys": In the heat of a committee meeting in June 2006, parliamentary secretary Pierre Poilievre looked across at opposition MPs thwarting his minority government's efforts and was caught on tape clearly muttering "f--- you guys." Other committee members weren't impressed.
- The Tory bench's "bras d'honneur": (also known as the "up yours" fist gesture): Several Tory MPs, apparently in response to the Bloc Québécois, gesture in satisfaction at winning another vote as a new government in June 2006. Their raised fists, while unspoken, are deemed unparliamentary. Poilievre was among those who offered an apology. Conservative MP Jacques Gourde suggested it was misinterpreted.
From the cbc.ca archives: Political insults: a short history of personal attacks