The 13 most memorable House of Commons moments of 2017
Who says Canadian politics is boring? The House of Commons has had its fair share of drama in 2017.
OTTAWA – It has been said that Canadian politics is boring, in comparison to our American counterparts. While often true, the House of Commons, where 338 MPs convene throughout the year to debate policy, exchange partisan barbs, and sometimes, delve into deeply personal issues, has had its fair share of drama. Here's a rundown of the most memorable theatrics, intrigue, and pull-at-your-heartstrings moments this year, in chronological order.
On International Women's Day, a woman from each of the 338 federal ridings in Canada occupied MPs' seats in House of Commons. The women were chosen to represent their communities and came to the Hill to learn about what it’s like to be an MP. Equal Voice, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to run for office, organized the program, called Daughters of the Vote.
Thirty-one of the women had the chance to rise in the House make a statement. Many of them described deeply personal struggles, including poverty, racism, depression and dealing with a physical disability. When their voices broke or their eyes teared up, the women around them applauded in support.
While in the House, the women were addressed by all the federal party leaders, as well as Canada’s first and so far only woman prime minister, Kim Campbell.
"What we need to do is change the landscape and sometimes for the first few people to take those steps, it can be painful," Campbell said.
A long-brewing procedural battle between the opposition and the government over proposed House of Commons rule changes, bubbled over on federal budget day.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget speech was delayed by 25 minutes because of opposition tactics used to draw wider attention to the fight over the Liberals’ attempt to unilaterally change the rules for all MPs, without all MPs support.
The delay came to the Commons after a committee filibuster got underway the day before, lasting well into the night, and resumed that way for weeks after. The "discussion paper" that sparked the parliamentary furor was put forward by Government House Leader Bardish Chagger.
In the end, after around 80 hours of filibustering, the proposal was watered down, but some rule changes did pass, including allowing the speaker to split up omnibus bills for votes, a tool that was used on the most recent federal budget.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in question period over and over to answer question after question asked by the opposition and his own backbench, and it quickly became clear he would rise to respond to every question that day. It was the first of a now routine Wednesday appearance of the prime minister when he’s in town, referred to as prime minister’s question period.
The Liberal's decision to start informally designating Wednesdays as the day the prime minister would take all the questions levelled at him by the opposition and backbench government MPs, came after the Liberals promised to introduce a prime minister’s question period during the campaign, citing accountability.
The government wanted to formalize the Wednesday ritual it by putting in the contentious package of rule changes that spurred the abovementioned filibuster, but the opposition took serious issue, saying it would set precedent that would let the prime minister get away with only having to attend and be accountable once a week. Not able to agree, it hasn’t been formalized and is done by convention, meaning it could cease at any point.
"While it may be true that he is young for a head of government, I would like to tell the children of Canada: you do not have to be as old as Prime Minister Trudeau to be a leader. I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I've learned that even a child's voice can be heard around the world," said Malala Yousafzai when she came to Parliament Hill to receive her honorary Canadian citizenship.
The young activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner addressed a joint session of Parliament—where both the House and Senate come together—in which she championed perseverance and the right to education for all.
Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, at age 15 over her activism around protecting girls’ right to attend school, was introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Though, it was under former prime minister Stephen Harper that parliamentarians voted in favour of bestowing her with the honour, in 2014.
She used her speech to make some direct asks of the Canadian government to prioritize education access for all, including refugees; and to leverage Canada’s influence on the world stage to close the global funding gap for education.
Arnold Chan, Liberal MP who died just a few months later, delivered an impassioned plea for civility in the House of Commons on June 12. This speech has been referenced countless times by his colleagues and peers since his passing as his lasting contribution to Canadian democracy.
His colleagues paused their debate on another topic to hear him speak about his family, his health struggles, and his perspective on the state of democracy and debate in Canada, and abroad. In the speech, Chan pledged to carry on his parliamentary duties despite an increasingly difficult fight with nasopharyngeal cancer.
"Use your head, but follow your heart," he said in the speech. "It is as simple as that." Chan would rise to speak in the Commons five more times before passing away in September.
Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes used the daily time for members’ statements—when non-ministers can address the house for up to one minute on any local, provincial, or national issue of concern—to speak out against body shaming on Sept. 20.
She said she was speaking out in solidarity with all the women who have been judged for their appearance, from their hairstyles to the size of their hips.
"I want them to know that their braids, their dreads, their super-curly Afro puffs, their weaves, their hijabs, and their head scarves, and all other variety of hairstyles, belong in schools, in the workplace, in the boardroom, and yes, even here on Parliament Hill," the rookie MP said, to applause from her colleagues.
The video was widely circulated online and even got the attention of rapper Eve, who tweeted: "Love this!!!!" with the praise hands emoji.
When Conservative MP Lisa Raitt updated her colleagues on her husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2016, she received a standing ovation in the House of Commons.
"I want the House to know that living with dementia can be okay. We have a good life. We focus on things Bruce can do, not on the things we can no longer do," Raitt told the House. She estimated there are 25,000 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Canada each year, with 564,000 Canadians living with the disease.
An unfortunate choice of words on the part of Transport Minister Marc Garneau at the end of question period had Green Party Leader Elizabeth May calling on her fellow MPs to show some maturity this fall.
May rose in the House of Commons to ask Garneau to fulfill a promise regarding the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In his answer, Garneau said: "I remember spending all night long with my honourable colleague when…"
At that point, heckling began and Garneau appeared to smirk. He continued: "…when the previous government gutted the navigation protection act." MPs Laughter ensued, and May rose to thank Garneau and to ask her colleagues "for some maturity from some members in this place."
This interaction came just days before civic engagement charity Samara Canada came out with a report on the state of heckling in the House that found that 53 per cent of respondents say it’s a problem, while three quarters of MPs think the public perceives it badly.
Throughout much of the fall, questions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau over the finance minister’s personal assets and potential conflict of interest dominated question period.
Leading the questioning were Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre and New Democrat ethics critic Nathan Cullen. Over the numerous hours of barbs back and forth between the government and the opposition questions ranged from scathing to silly.
The two most notable examples of the latter were on Oct. 31 when Morneau tried a new tactic, responding to a question about his numbered companies by asking about what is in the numbered companies held by opposition members.
"Has the member for Chatham-Kent-Leamington disclosed what is in 782615 Ontario Inc. or what is in 2412420 Ontario Inc?" asked Morneau before being drowned out by heckling. Exchanges where MPs read off a laundry list of numbered companies went on for some time.
And on Nov. 2 after questions were raised about whether other ministers used the same loophole as Morneau, Cullen dropped the phrase "ethics bingo."
"Imagine, if you will, being told that the very country you would willingly lay down your life to defend doesn't want you. Doesn't accept you. Sees you as defective. Sees you as a threat to our national security. Not because you can't do the job, or because you lack patriotism or courage -- no, because of who you are as a person, and because of who your sexual partners are."
Those were some of the opening lines of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s historic apology to LGBTQ members of Canada’s military, RCMP, and public service. He delivered the tearful apology in the House of Commons, with a number of victims of the "gay purge" watching on. Trudeau’s two eldest children were there as well: Xavier and Ella-Grace.
Between 1950s and 1990s, the Canadian government interrogated and fired or demoted thousands of federal employees for their sexual orientation. On Nov. 28, Trudeau and other federal leaders said sorry and offered reparations.
Though it was unsuccessful in the end, NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson's launch of a secret ballot vote in the House of Commons was a historic first. The vote on reviving her private member’s bill on shipwrecked vessels-- after a committee deemed it "non-votable" -- ran over two days.
MPs voted freely, and in private, as opposed to the typical standing votes in the House.
It was the first time in Canada’s history that the secret ballot method was used to have MPs weigh in on a committee ruling on legislation. Until this vote, secret balloting has only been used in the House to elect a Speaker.
In a dramatic move, House Speaker Geoff Regan kicked Conservative MP Blake Richards out of the Commons for heckling.
Amid intense questioning and raucous heckles from the opposition bench over the ongoing saga over Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s personal finances and alleged breach of federal ethics law, tempers flared in the House of Commons on Nov. 30.
"I know that there is a lot of heat here. Order. The honourable member for Banff-Airdrie will come to order or he can go outside, or be helped outside, which would he prefer?" Regan said, appearing to lose patience with the state of decorum.
Regan then asked the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove Alberta MP Richards. Other than being removed that day, the Alberta MP faced no other sanctions for the incident and has since returned to his seat.
It was this comment, made months before -- by Conservative MP James Bezan, to Liberal MP Sherry Romanado -- that prompted an exchange of statements in the House of Commons on Dec. 4.
Romanado referenced an unprompted apology to her from Bezan in the House hours earlier, over a comment made at a public event. She described what Bezan had said to her as "humiliating,” and "sexual in nature,” which caught the ears of Hill-watchers.
In a follow-up statement explaining his side of events, Bezan said: "While standing for the picture I made an inappropriate and flippant comment by saying, 'this isn’t my idea of a threesome.'"
Back in the spring when the incident occurred, Romanado launched a formal complaint with the House of Commons’ Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). In the end the CHRO found that the report "did not support a claim of sexual harassment,” and Romanado sought a public apology from Bezan for what he said.
In an exclusive interview with CTV News, Romanado said she’s "not sure" if she accepts his apology.