British Columbia·Point of View

Want kids to behave? Don't take them to question period

Behaviour in the B.C. Legislature has been described as intolerable, and Gregor Craigie says it's gotten so bad that he's questioning if he should take his children to watch question period.

'An atmosphere of derision and rudeness that is really quite intolerable'

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon will read the government's throne speech at the B.C. Legislature. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Legislature will resume sitting in a few days, with the well-polished parliamentary traditions surrounding the speech from the throne and the verbal sparring that is officially known as question period.

Members of the public are welcome to attend, and Ive been tempted to pull my older two sons out of school for a few hours to take them along to watch in person.

But as I ponder the ghosts of QP past, and the antics I've seen in previous sessions, I'm beginning to have doubts.

Vicki Huntington, MLA for Delta South, has described the decorum in the B.C. Legislature as "intolerable." (CBC)

I'd like to take my kids - to show them democracy in action.

But I may choose not to take them this year, just as I chose not to take them last year, because of the tone of the place.

Jeering, heckling, teasing, and yelling are all common.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson even mocked the opposition a few years ago by clucking like a chicken.

Some political wags joke that it's called "question period" not "answer period" and that anyone hoping for substantive discussion and debate should look elsewhere.

But does it have to be that way?

Some of the elected members of the legislature don't think so.

Linda Reid, Speaker of the B.C. legislature. (Hansard)

Independent MLA, Vicki Huntington, told me last year that she was embarrassed by the behaviour.

"We have hundreds of school tours come through," she said. "I've had classes and students and teachers say 'I'd be sent to the principal's office for that type of behaviour.'"

Huntington ìs not running in the upcoming May election and will be leaving what she calls an "atmosphere of derision and rudeness that is really quite intolerable."

As a parent of three young boys, derision and rudeness are things I actively try to discourage, along with several other types of behaviour on regular display in the legislature.

Is poor behaviour just a part of politics?

It's tempting to excuse the poor behaviour as simply more proof that politicians are not worthy of respect. But the truth is that there are many good people serving in elected office with good intentions and much of the behaviour during question period does not reflect that.

Turkish lawmakers fight during a debate at the parliament in Ankara on August 4, 2014. (Stringer/Reuters)

The B.C. Legislature is by no means the only institution that suffers from bad behaviour. Elected officials in Japan, Turkey, and other countries have broken into fisticuffs. But, as I often remind my kids, pointing out that someone else is even worse than you is not much of an excuse.

U.S. President Donald Trump has drawn criticism for the tone of his speeches. (Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

It's tempting to think none of this affects our kids. But increasingly it seems it is.

The widespread talk about U.S. President Donald Trump, for instance, is influencing children far and wide.

Vanessa Lapointe is a registered psychologist and parenting expert in Vancouver.

"If you think what is happening in the US has not invaded Canadian playgrounds," she told me, "think again. We have about a hundred different children that come through the door of my psychology practice on a weekly basis and those kids are talking about this."

Huntington urged her colleagues to improve their behaviour last year, by banning the frequent thundering applause that punctuates too many of the verbal jabs inside the chamber.

Neither the government nor the Official Opposition were keen.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said it would amount to putting a muzzle on politicians.

While Opposition House leader Mike Farnworth said that emotions can run high, adding that, "applause is one of those ways in which you let those emotions out."

That argument is reminiscent of Don Cherry's defence of fighting in hockey. But maybe it's fair. Our MLAs are debating important topics that have real impact on people's lives. It's bound to get emotional sometimes.

Still, we could all benefit by remembering that civility, courtesy, and respect are important too.

As for question period, I might just wait another year before I take my kids.

About the Author

Gregor Craigie

@GregorCraigie

Gregor Craigie is the host of On The Island on CBC Radio One in Victoria. Past journalistic lives include reading the news at the BBC World Service, political reporting on TV, and freelancing in Asia.