PEI

Why ending heckling in the P.E.I. Legislature may not be a good idea

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker believe heckling should end in the P.E.I. Legislature, but two experts on the subject say heckling has its upsides.

'It often is a big promoter of debate'

It will be up to Speaker Colin LaVie to keep the P.E.I. Legislature under control. (Government of P.E.I.)

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker believe heckling should end in the P.E.I. Legislature, but two experts on the subject say heckling has its upsides.

Mackenzie Grisdale studied heckling in the House of Commons in 2011 and 2015, and wrote a report for The Samara Centre for Democracy called Cheering or Jeering.

She said there is no doubt heckling can get to be too much for some MPs, who would just turn off their earpieces and ignore the debate entirely.

"They'd read the paper. Check their email. Some people talked about going to the lounge instead," said Grisdale.

"I don't think that that's necessarily the majority, but I think it's interesting that that is one of the things that happens in this kind of a workplace, if that's the environment."

Peter Milliken, the former MP for Kingston, Ont., has had direct experience of keeping that under control as Speaker of the House for 10 years, and he found a certain degree of heckling helpful.

For government backbenchers for example, [it was] a way to log opposition to things that were being said.— Mackenzie Grisdale

"I think it often is a big promoter of debate in the House and helps make that debate a little more lively," said Milliken.

"The heckles are often just one or two words somebody yells out at somebody else who is making a speech, questioning what they're saying and saying, you know, that's rubbish."

Levelling the playing field

Grisdale said MPs told her it can be a valuable tool.

"If they were otherwise disempowered, if they were people who didn't necessarily have much of a substantive role in question period, for government backbenchers for example, [it was] a way to log opposition to things that were being said," she said.

Grisdale also wondered how long the commitment to ending heckling would last. Experienced MPs said it was not unusual for a new Parliament to discuss improving decorum in the House.

"Things would start out quieter and there would be this discussion about let's be nice this time," she said.

"Then things would really pick up when there was some point of scandal or tension."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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