Friday, May 09, 2008

Higher Ground

I watched an interview with Liberal MP Glen Pearson on Politics, which involved a discussion about our political discourse and civility, or lack thereof as the case may be. Pearson, known as "the last decent man in Ottawa", is clearly irritated at the tone in Parliament, so much so he has entertained quitting. It was a fairly non-partisan discussion, although Pearson pointed out the obvious, the government sets the tone. Not really news, even political junkies find Question Period hard to watch these days. How do you break the cycle?

What is required, is for one political party to present their own code of ethics, which they will unilaterally enforce. If you accept the premise that Canadians have a severe distaste for our politicans and their tactics, then you acknowledge that the ground is ripe for someone to rise above. There seems to be a mentality amongst all the political parties that you must engage in the petty catcalls and name calling to survive the "arena". It is that environment, or belief, that continues the erosion, it is almost a defeatist attitude.

We've certainly reached a new low under this government, a fact which independent observers all seem to agree on. The latest schoolyard tactic seems to be trying to unnverve Dion just prior to Question Period. There was on comment that Pearson made, and I think this may provide political advantage moving forward, Dion is a decent and honorable man. That isn't really a partisan opinion, after all, we've heard Layton and others comment in the same way. Could it be, that Stephane Dion, is the right politician, at the right time, who could set a new standard?

What if the Liberal MP's devised a set of rules, wherein they didn't yell across the floor, didn't hurl invective, didn't interrupt, framed questions primarily on substance, rather than scoring points? What if Dion were to hold a press conference, and say his MP's would uphold a certain standard, regardless of the government's tactics. I suppose the risk is that the Liberals would be accused of "rolling over", but if you're paying attention to the media sentiment, you will see, that even they are ready for a higher standard. I suspect any party which decided internally to up their own performance would be rewarded.

Dion is a man of integrity, his personal standing isn't served by lowering himself to the accepted level. If the Liberals were to position themselves as wanting some higher ground, does that not reinforce Dion's best assets moving forward. What would the Liberals really have to lose, if they acted decidedly adult? Canadians, the media, would look unfavorably at a party which declares it is tired of the gamesmanship, decides to act professionally, decides that people in the gallery deserve a better "show"?

I think it is a no-brainer. People don't care, because people can't relate to the nonsense. The Liberals would be well served in the long run if they released their own discourse manifesto, it would demonstrate leadership. Anyways, something to chew on.

16 comments:

Mike said...

Perhaps this would work, but I am pretty sure John Tory did something like this for a time in Ontario (forbid his caucus from heckling at least) and well I don't think anyone noticed...

WesternGrit said...

I'm with Wilson on this one (Help!)... No, seriously, the posing for the camera's gets it. MPs with little debating ability use loud voices, red-faces (Myron Thompson), foaming at the mouth (John Baird), and heckling (almost everyone) to try to get a shot in, and hope for "that" sound byte. The person or persons who are the targets of the heckling respond in kind, and all of a sudden you have the zoo.

Removing the cameras would tone it down, but perhaps leave an internet feed (although that could be used by the media for "soundbytes" too). Canadians have a real false sense of what goes on in Parliament, and even the media hops in to (wrongly) think that that 90mins, once a week, is the "work of the nation".

Aw, heck, I like CPAC too much to lose it. Perhaps we could set up the mics to turn themselves off after the sound hits so many decibels...? You'd never hear John Baird speak again! LOL... ROFL... ROFLMAF!

Steve V said...

grit

Removing the cameras is a step backwards. Seems to me, they have cameras in the British Parliament, and that is high signal, honest debate, with a touch of theatrics. I think it's more the atmosphere, than the stage.

mike

I'm not sure Tory was the right messenger. The Liberals need to play up Dion's strengths, wherever possible, rising above the partisan mud, is something that naturally works for him, it almost makes it okay that he isn't the best "zinger" guy. People are tired of it, we're at bottom, who's going to bring it up?

Blues Clair said...

Canadians need to see more of Liberal Glen Pearson. Liberals would be wise to give Mr. Pearson more time in front of the television cameras. What breath of fresh air that man is. I find that Joe Comartin of the NDP is also a man great integrity. Not really on topic but...

North of 49 said...

Steve's idea sounds good to me. Really, what's to lose?

Two of the common complaints you hear about the Liberals are (1) they don't seem to stand for anything, and (2) they're not different -- or different enough -- from the Tories.

Ain't true, but they're common perceptions. Something like Steve's idea would definitely help, since in any contest between competing brands, which like it or not this is, differentiation is important, even key.

Reading at the link some of the crap the Cons are throwing at him just reinforced their reputation as schoolyard bullies, with emphasis on "schoolyard". Jay-zus! Like this bit:

Windsor-area MP Jeff Watson called Dion, a "self-proclaimed hero" who has "turned out to be a zero," -- Wow! Grade Four poetry contest, we have a winner.

okhropir rumiani said...

I recall that the few people I've heard who experienced parliament before and after the introduction of cameras have been clear that they have had a detrimental effect on the quality of debate.

RuralSandi said...

Perhaps some of the problem is the Speaker of the House. I watched a little bit on Friday - Bill Blaikie was sitting in for Milliken. When Pollievre did his in-out chant thing with his caucus - Blaikie said "any more in-out chants like that and the chanters will be 'out' - it stopped.

Actually, I think people like Pearson should stay......makes the others look really bad and, if he keeps talking about it, something might change. He's so trusted that if he says something people believe him.

Canajun said...

I agree with RuralSandi. The Speaker is a big part of the problem. Like any schoolyard at recess, it needs supervision, and Milliken just isn't providing any - or at least not enough.
There's no doubt that the quality of debate has deteriorated over the last few governments, with the rate of degradation accelerating under the current Tory regime, so it will take a strong speaker indeed to slow the descent, never mind turn it around.
And there are decent members on all sides of the House who despair at the John Baird style of public discourse. We need to see more of them in the front benches and on the late-night news rather than the loudmouths (again, on all sides).

Steve V said...

sandi

I saw Blaikie too, it was actually refreshing. I'm not an expert on the Speaker's power, but looking at his duties, its seems he has more power to control the debate than he presently exercises.

musing said...

How about a new rule that the Speaker imposes a 'time-out' for rowdies - they have to stand in the hall for 10 minutes?

Canajun said...

Not a bad idea, but I'd be more inclined to have a dunk tank so visitors to QP can also get in on the disciplinary action.

Anonymous said...

Steve - this is the difference between the LPC and NDP. The NDP caucus (for the most part) does not engage in these antics. In fact this week when both the LPC caucus and the Bloc focused almost on BikerBabegate, Jack stood in the HOC to call on Harper to address the growing income gap. Something hitting the wallets of real working Canadians. Every MP can get caught up in the emotions of the HOC so I won't say that there aren't members of the NDP caucus that don't get silly sometimes but it isn't the usual as far as I can see. In fact, two of the MPs noted by name in the comments section (Blaikie and Comartin) are members of the NDP caucus. The NDP proves you can provide effective opposition without getting down in the Conservative mud. The LPC is more than welcome to join us on the higher ground but I would be amazed if the caucus has the discipline to stay that course.

RuralSandi said...

I think the NDP are afraid to say anything after the Moore - scantilly clad lady episode.

Actually, Layton is just trying to convince people that he doesn't get involved in this stuff - ya right. He's trying to create an image - I'm not fooled by that.

Layton's got Mulcair as hit pit bull and he sure says some nasty things.

Steve V said...

sandi

I forgot about Moore, that was probably one of the low points of this parliament. Layton has changed tactics in the last few months, which I take as admission that his hyper-partisan antics were turning people off.

WesternGrit said...

Folks, the Speaker DOES have disciplinary powers. He does have the right to walk across the aisles and smite the offending MP with his gavel/rod. Remember, this is part of the historical tradition of Parliament.

I think the Speaker needs to start smiting these clowns, the same way you smack a rowdy pitbull with a stick when it attacks someone...

Möbius said...

I thought Scott Brison, in the previous super-honest government, set the bar pretty low in QP, in response to sponsorship questions, and was one reason the LPC lost my vote.

Deflection ain't just a CPC strategy.