Manitoba

'They had gone too far': A look back at the 1980 paper fight in the Manitoba legislature

Manitoba politicians had just finished 112 sitting days with a less than popular premier and were itching for the annual ritual where they could let off steam by literally throwing legislative papers across the room.

Annual paper-hurling tradition at the end of a session got out of hand in 1980

In the Manitoba legislature. there used to be a tradition where MLAs threw paper at each other. (CBC News.)

Manitoba politicians had just finished 112 sitting days with a less than popular premier and were itching for the annual ritual where they could let off steam by literally throwing legislative papers across the room.

But the giant paper fight on July 30, 1980 would be a clear sign that the idea of the "thrown speech" had gone too far.

"It was supposed to be just a way to let off steam in a harmless way and it wasn't really because there was a lot of damage," said former CBC Manitoba journalist Judy Waytiuk, who was there.

"A number of the desk microphones got trashed, my forehead got trashed. A couple of years earlier a couple of the MLAs had actually been cut by flying paper. They had been rolling up documents that were like the thickness of phonebooks."

The tradition of having a paper fight in the Manitoba legislature began around 1900 as a way to celebrate the end of a session.

It started with members of the legislative assembly joyfully throwing papers up in the air but over the decades the papers became thicker and the targets became other MLAs — and eventually reporters.

They started to roll up Hansards, the printed record of the proceedings, and magazines, sometimes even taping them together so they'd have more heft. In 1978, two MLAs were actually cut by flying paper.

Thick thuds are heard over some giggling in the video footage of the 1980 paper battle.

While it started out as fun, the strikes that politicians usually keep verbal turned much more physical. An MLA can be seen looking into the press gallery before hurling a large book of paper up into the sky.

"I think it was sort of an escalation of animosity," Waytiuk said.

"That had been a particularly long session. It was a Conservative government at the time; it was a fairly unpopular Conservative government." At the time, Sterling Lyon's Progressive Conservatives were in power. 

Waytiuk was hit in the face and ended up reporting the story with a gash across her forehead.

"When you are throwing up little balls of paper, just plain paper, it can't hurt anyone — just a little snowstorm of bureaucratic paper. The point at which they started turning things into missiles it became problematic," she said.

The 1980 battle would signal the coming end of the tradition. Harry Graham, the speaker of the legislature at the time, said they had to get it under control or it would be over. 

The following year was the last paper party after MLAs were injured and there was damage to more desk microphones. 

"That was the last paper fight in the legislature. After that it was it, no more, they had gone too far," Waytiuk said.

With files from CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show

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