Critics to MPs: You don't need a red light for decorum
Speaker of the House of Commons Peter Milliken rises following a point of order in the chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday Feb. 17, 2011. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, February 27, 2012 6:43AM EST
OTTAWA - Members of Parliament returning from a break week on Monday will be ready for their close-up but insist they're having trouble finding the camera that's ready for them.
MPs on the House Affairs Committee have raised the idea of an illuminated red light atop the discreetly placed cameras to let them know where to look when they're on their feet to speak in the House of Commons.
Some of the committee members insist the request has nothing to do with the fact that some of their colleagues have become minor YouTube sensations after being captured dozing or elaborately fussing over their locks.
"No one has an objection to being on camera, that's part of the job that we do," Tom Lukiwski, Conservative MP for Regina, told the Hill Times which originally reported the story.
"But I think most Members would just like to know if in fact they're in the camera shot, and if there's wide-angle shots, many times Members are caught unaware."
Others openly admit that kind of discomfiting image is exactly what they're hoping to leave on the cutting room floor.
"Sometimes members of Parliament might be doing some things that distract them and it could be an embarrassing thing possibly," said Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, who attended the committee hearing when the issue was discussed.
"I think MPs just want to have a sense of which cameras might be on them or if they're in the angle of the shot."
One version of a video showing Quebec MP Jonathan Genest-Jourdain primping and combing his hair while studying his image in a reflective cellphone and falling asleep attracted 136,000 hits as of last week. A clip of Calgary MP Rob Anders struggling and failing to stay awake while in the Commons was viewed by about 77,000 people.
Anders said MPs should be forgiven the occasional inadvertent nap.
"They're human beings and what goes on in the chamber goes on in the chamber," he said in an interview.
Committee chairman Joe Preston, Conservative MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, said a red light wouldn't necessarily prevent MPs from ending up on blooper reels, but that isn't the idea.
He says the idea came up in response to concerns by some MPs who appear to be staring off into space when speaking, according to television viewers. The red light would allow them to speak to the camera and the TV audience.
"A lot of our newer members and the newer members from the opposition parties said 'I stand up to talk, I think I'm facing the camera I'm supposed to be facing and in fact I'm looking sideways, and the people at home are saying why don't you ever face the camera?"' Preston said.
But Peter Milliken, who spent a decade as speaker of the House, points out that if members are speaking to cameras instead of one another there's no real debate going on.
"Most members are supposed to be addressing the speaker or one another, they're talking to other members and trying to persuade them by their arguments," he said. "So in my view they should be doing that rather than looking at a camera."
Katie Skinner of Canadians Advocating Political Participation is also unyielding. Her organization campaigns for more decorum in Parliament and has supported a bill by Conservative MP Michael Chong that would force MPs to behave better in the Commons.
"If you're in the House of Commons you're not there to take a nap," she said. "There's serious work that needs to be done. If they have a concern about that maybe they should think twice about being in the House of Commons."
Allan Bonner, a consultant who helped bring television to the Ontario legislature, said the problem is not cameras catching politicians embarrassing themselves, but politicians embarrassing themselves in the first place.
"They should be on good behaviour because they're in the House, not because they're on TV," he said. "The Parliament of Canada or the legislature of a province or territory is the body to show respect to, not the TV cameras."