MPs vow more productive Parliament

One month after a historic federal election, MPs arrived on Parliament Hill Thursday with expectations of a better tone in the House of Commons.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, middle left, pats NDP Leader Jack Layton on the shoulder as they speak on the floor of the House of Commons prior to the election for a new Commons Speaker, June 2, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)


  • Thursday: House returns to elect Speaker
  • Friday: MPs, Senators gather in Senate to hear throne speech, 3 p.m. ET
  • Monday: First Question Period of 41st Parliament, 2:15 p.m. ET
  • Monday: Finance Minister delivers revised budget, 4 p.m. ET

One month after a historic federal election, MPs arrived on Parliament Hill Thursday with expectations of a better and more productive tone in the House of Commons.

Many parliamentarians say decorum has sunk to a low point and as they are set to begin a new session of Parliament, they say it has to improve.

Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said the revamped composition of the Commons — a majority government with the NDP as Official Opposition — should help raise the level of debate.

"There has been a lot of talk about decorum in Parliament. I expect that having a majority government will actually improve this," Van Loan told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons Thursday morning. "The focus now will be on debating long-term policy objectives in order to better the lives of all hardworking Canadian families, and not simply, as it often has been in the past, short-term partisan games. I think this will make Parliament more productive which is good news for Canadians."

Van Loan said in the previous minority Parliament the ongoing threat of an election caused some MPs to focus more on short-term political advantage rather than substantive policy issues and debate.

"Having a majority government enhances the prospects for more decoorum simply because we aren't going to be facing a guillotine of a potential election in the next month that was always there before and that caused people to engage in some sillier games than usual," he said.

Van Loan said he expects having the NDP on the benches opposite the government will also change the tone because the two parties are so different in their policy positions and they will have "clear debate on substantive policies."

NDP MPs told to refrain from heckling

NDP leader Jack Layton, who made history when he took his seat in the Commons Thursday morning across from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has instructed his MPs to refrain from heckling during debates and question period in an effort to improve behaviour. Never before has the NDP formed the Official Opposition and the caucus now takes up 103 seats.

Layton said Thursday that he and Harper met ahead of Parliament getting underway and they discussed decorum in the House of Commons.

The speech from the throne will be delivered Friday and Layton said he hopes it will indicate that the government is interested in substantial debate, not throwing insults around, in the upcoming session.

"I think it's important that the speech from the throne establish that right from the get-go," he said. Layton said he hopes it will also indicate that a majority of Canadians did not vote for Harper's party even though it won a majority mandate, and that the Conservatives are willing to work with the other parties.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan says the long-term stability of a majority government should help raise the level of debate in the Commons. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal leader Bob Rae said improving decorum is a great idea in theory but in practice, it is easier said than done.

"It's all about the walk as well as the talk so we'll just see what the walk looks like as well as all the good intentions," he said. "Let's just see how it goes.

"We're certainly going to carry on in a responsible way," Rae said. "It takes two to tango and the government has to show us how civil they're prepared to be."

Rae, who was chosen interim leader by his caucus following Michael Ignatieff's resignation on May 3, and his 33 fellow Liberal MPs now sit in the corner of the House of Commons, having lost Official Opposition party status to the NDP.

"It is an honour to sit in the House of Commons and whether you sit in the front row or the back row ... it doesn't matter. It's a great honour to serve here and we'll serve in the position to which we've been put by the people of Canada. We've been put in third place, we accept that," he said.

Thursday's new session of Parliament kicked off with the election of Speaker  of the House of Commons. During their speeches, the eight candidates for the position spoke about the need to improve civility and to show more respect for each other. Andrew Scheer, one of the Conservative MPs vying for the job, said the Speaker needs to be more assertive in enforcing the rules so that a "toxic environment" can be avoided.

Another candidate, Merv Tweed, said too often MPs attack each other personally during debates. "This behaviour has to stop," he said.

The Speaker election begins a busy session that will only last a few weeks before MPs leave Ottawa for the summer. The speech from the throne will be read Friday and the federal budget introduced Monday.

Van Loan said passing the budget will be the government's top legislative priority. Also on the agenda for the short session is introducing a motion to extend Canada's military involvement in Libya but Van Loan said the parties are still deciding when to have a debate on the motion. He reiterated his party's intention to introduce Senate reform legislation, to scrap the per-vote political party subsidy, and said that in the fall, the government will introduce legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.