'I participate, but I'm not very proud of that': MPs on heckling
Published Sunday, October 29, 2017 10:00PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Parliament Hill is where Canadians send their elected officials to uphold the country's values, but sometimes fighting for those values takes on a whole new meaning, leaving the House of Commons Speaker looking like a stern parent keeping watch over a chamber filled with unruly children.
Take for example what unfolded in the House of Commons on Monday. An unfortunate choice of words on the part of Transport Minister Marc Garneau had Green Party Leader Elizabeth May calling on her fellow MPs to show some maturity, after he said he remembered "spending all night long" with his honourable colleague.
It was a reference to a 24-hour voting period forced by the opposition during the last Parliament, but it met with hoots and hollers from MPs off camera, followed by May's condemnation.
"We look a little bit like kids in the schoolyard," NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice told reporters in the House of Commons foyer on Wednesday, speaking about the practice of heckling.
Heckling is part of the tradition of Parliament, but it became a topic of discussion on Parliament Hill this past week, after a new study revealed that, while two-thirds of MPs who responded heckle, more than half think it's becoming more of a problem.
For its latest report on civility in the House of Commons, civic engagement charity Samara Canada surveyed MPs and found that 53 per cent of respondents say heckling is a problem, while three quarters of MPs think the public perceives it badly. Approximately 70 per cent of MPs from the three registered parties who responded admit to heckling.
The majority -- 72 per cent of the 84 MPs who took the survey -- say they heckle to respond to "perceived untruths," while 49 per cent of MPs who responded say they do it to correct a false statement, and 48 per cent do so to point out partisan rhetoric.
"To tell you the truth…. You know, maybe I'm not the loudest, but I participate, but I'm not very proud of that," said Conservative MP Gerard Deltell in the foyer of the House of Commons after Question Period Wednesday.
"The only way to be upset and to prove that we are upset is to heckle. That's not the best way, I do recognize that. And I think that we do too much," he said.
Rookie MPs that responded to the Samara survey were more likely to want the practice abolished, and more often expressed dismay over the state of decorum.
"It does bother me. You know, there are some elements of heckling that I find cute, but there are some elements that are personal, that border across the line into bullying," said rookie Liberal MP Omar Alghabra following question period on Wednesday.
Some veteran MPs think heckling has some merits.
"I'm an old-time heckler… I sort of enjoy it," said long-time Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner following question period Wednesday. "It's a little bit of sport, I guess the old hockey coach in me."
In an interview with CTV News, Jane Hilderman, executive director of Samara, said she's heard from MPs that the quality of heckling is getting worse.
"Rather than it being about correcting an untruth with another smart, witty remark, it's increasingly sort of dull loud noises, the purpose more to just drown out the speaker rather than actually make a point about what they're saying."
Fifteen per cent of respondents said heckling actually increases accountability, while 36 per cent see it as a form of harassment. More than two thirds of female MPs reported being heckled based on their gender.
As Hilderman cited, some MPs who responded, admitted to participating less because of the heckling.
"If the people we've elected to go to Ottawa and represent us and have our voices heard, and they themselves feel constrained in the use of that voice, it's not very good for our democracy," said Hilderman.
"People have been shouted down in a very ugly way, and I think that that's not helpful," said Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu on Wednesday in the House foyer. "I think that everybody that's come here to the House of Commons has brought their experience and their intelligence and they deserve to be heard," she said.
Making the House of Commons more civil has been a decades-old battle, but this Parliament, Speaker Geoff Regan has been cracking down on heckling, calling out MPs by their riding name, and even taking away questions in Question Period from parties when their members' outbursts get out of hand.
There have been calls over the years to take things further to clamp down on the chorus of unsolicited commentary.
In its report, Samara recommends: longer time limits on speaking slots; using fewer notes when speaking; and better video coverage of the House of Commons, so that MPs besides the person who has the floor can be seen, therefore catching the typically off-camera hecklers in the act.
Hilderman pointed out, however, that a wider camera angle could just result in MPs having a larger stage to perform on, evidence that keeping the House in "order," as the Speaker put it, can be a challenge.
With a report from CTV News' Omar Sachedina.