Speaker recalls #elbowgate, other odd parliamentary moments of 2016
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, December 21, 2016 7:46PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 21, 2016 8:43PM EST
The man tasked with ensuring that order prevails in the House of Commons says his first year on the job was, well, interesting.
In a year that included #elbowgate, outrage over the word “fart” being uttered in the House of Commons and plenty of the usual heckling, Speaker of the House Geoff Regan said he hopes 2017 will have a little less shouting.
“It’s not an easy thing to do and it’ll never be a tea party in there, in my view, but it has been a priority for me and I think it’s important to Canadians,” Regan told CTV’s Power Play in an interview that aired Wednesday.
One of the stranger days on Parliament Hill was Nov. 15, when Conservative MP Michelle Rempel addressed economic hardship in Alberta by saying: “Why does the government treat Alberta like a fart in the room that nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge?”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May later challenged the use of the word, calling it “distinctly unparliamentary.” She even spelled it out.
“I think she may want to withdraw it. The word was f-a-r-t,” May said.
Deputy chair Bruce Stanton, who Regan describes as “superb,” was in the chair that day, and he didn’t find the word to be unparliamentary. The debate went on.
But the strange exchange did inspire Regan to do a bit of research. He found that the government doesn’t have a list of unparliamentary words. Instead, that call is left up to the Speaker’s discretion.
“It depends on the circumstances, the tone, whether it creates disorder in the House. Those are all essential elements of determining whether or not it’s unparliamentary,” Regan said.
“And a word that may have been unparliamentary 50 years ago may not be today. It may not be considered offensive by people today than it was at one time. People’s attitudes towards some things evolve. Or it could be a word that’s newer that becomes offensive in some way for some reason.”
And then there was May 18, the day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was accused of elbowing a female NDP MP in the chest while physically escorting a Conservative MP from the floor of the House of Commons. Trudeau later apologized to Conservative whip Gord Brown and to New Democrat Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, calling the incident “not appropriate.”
The tension erupted as some MPs in the House thought opposition parties, who were mingling in the aisle, were trying to delay discussions on the Liberals’ assisted dying bill, which became law in June.
Regan recalled watching the incident unfold from the Speaker’s chair.
“From my vantage point at my end of the House, I didn’t see what the video showed the next day, but what I saw then was the prime minister getting up, going across the floor and taking Gord by the arm. And I said, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ And of course the next day the prime minister acknowledged that it wasn’t his role to extract the Conservative whip and get him moving,” he said.
When Parliament resumes in January, Regan says he’d like to see MPs show “a little more respect toward each other.”
“It’s the job of all parties to present an alternative and sometimes they’re going to knock the other folks. They’re allowed to do that and I’m not there to rule on that. But I’d just like them to do less interrupting,” Regan said.