Monday, November 10, 2008

The Speaker And "Decorum"

I looks like House Speaker Milliken will face a challenge, with the topic of parliamentary "decorum" the main issue. James offers a defence of Milliken. I would submit that the Liberal caucus take a unilateral initiative on the decorum front, adopting their own rules as to how MP's should act in Parliament.

Let's face it, Canadians aren't watching Question Period, a combination of past disgust and present apathy, the daily proceedings of Parliament, mostly inside the beltway stuff, with little resonance in the real world. That plain reality means all the back and forth is irrelevant, which then means, a party which defers doesn't lose anything, they don't suffer, in fact they could potentially gain. What if the Liberals just remained silent when people like Baird hurl the invective? Would it matter with the Canadian public? Absolutely not, so you then conclude, there is nothing to be gained politically from engaging in low road rhetoric in Parliament.

However, there just might be something to be gained, if Liberals came out with their own code of ethical conduct, a template for how Liberal MP's will act, respond and conduct themselves, with the general thesis, a respect and reverence for their place of work, a signal to Canadians that Liberals want to rise out of the gutter. Let the Conservatives act like clowns, Liberals merely sit on their hands, act respectful, ignore, patiently proceed, it really could be a public relations coup.

The reason nobody cares about Parliament, anybody who has viewed proceeding is quickly put off, die hard junkies aside. If Liberals developed a code of conduct, it would be a small gesture to express a desire to operate differently, endorsing the view that Parliament can do better, the institution has lost the public confidence. What do the Liberals have to lose? You lose the small satisfaction in telling Flaherty what a cad he is, or making jokes, or moaning, but again, all that crap gets you nowhere with the public, so what does it matter? Turning the other chin however, in deliberate fashion, might just get some traction, if there is knowledge that the conduct isn't random, but part of a more overarching theme of a Liberal standard.

MP's have already alienated the public, so to continue with the nonsense simply reinforces the irrelevance. Never mind the Speaker of the House, Liberals would be wise to voluntarily develop a different approach, that brings no political risk, and just might project something attractive to people, who are otherwise indifferent.


Constant Vigilance said...

Anything that gives people a reason to differentiate the Liberals from the rest is welcome. It will be more powerful if the Liberals present a strong opposition to the Conservatives.

Steve V said...


I agree, opposition if FAR more important. I just like this idea, as a minor presentation, particularly because there is NO downside that I can see, and you just might present a good message.

RuralSandi said...

I know it's difficult when people constantly insult you - but the Liberals are playing into the CPC hands. They should just smirk and smile back.

That drives bullies crazy.

My nephew (deadbeat dad problem) was being bullied in school relentlessly. He was very thin, bony in fact (we didn't know at the time he was becoming diabetic).

So, my hubby (his uncle) decided to help the kid out. He told him to keep grinning back and he showed him how to punch, just in case. Because he learned how to fight back I guess he got his confidence. The grinning and smirking and standing up to them worked.

ottlib said...

I would also like to see the Liberals ask more straight questions instead of the usual preamble followed by a question.

More often than not the government then latches onto something in the preamble to deflect the question.

Most people are turned off when they see someone answer a straight question with evasion.

Such a strategy would allow for more questions to be asked during QP and, along with what you suggest Steve, would delineate the Liberals from the rest of the pack.

Gayle said...

I have been thinking along these lines myself. I also agree with Ottlib - the LPC need to ask proper questions and demand answers.

Möbius said...

Most people are turned off when they see someone answer a straight question with evasion.

One of the reasons I was turned off of the LPC was watching Scott Brison burn up his career giving snide, non-answers to questions about sponsorship in QP.

Yes, it's also annoying when Baird does it on the environment, but when you do it on corruption, it's worse.

So, yeah, if you unilaterally declare war on the QP stupidity, and the other side doesn't, you might actually get some attention.

Of course, that would mean keeping Holland away from microphones.

penlan said...

Good idea Steve & I also like Ottlib's. This would certainly change the dynamics during QP & maybe, just maybe, the Cons will "get" some decorum of their own, seeing as the bully tactics they so love would go nowhere & actually highlight their nastiness to an even greater degree. Thus turning off the electorate in one direction only instead of encompassing the Libs as well.

Interesting to see what would happen.

Anonymous said...

Decorum and straight answers are not only the desires of the opposition parties in Ottawa. Certain CPC members are also sick of Question Period's growing irrelevence and ugliness.

In the most recent issue of The Parliamentarian, (not online for some reason) Michael Chong (CPC-Wellington-Halton Hills)outlines his ideas for reform while lambasting the current nonsense. He has good ideas. But he is not your run-of-the-mill Conservative.

I think a big part of the evasion problem is the accumulating revenge that exists when power shifts. There is an attitude of "you did it to us, now we'll do it to you." Certainly that is the case in Ontario where the McGuinty Liberals deflect with the best of them, smug in their stance that the Harris-ites across the aisle deserve nothing less. Meanwhile, the one or two media outlets covering the proceedings let the Ont Libs get away with murder.

Ottlib is quite correct. Without premable, deflection is much more difficult although there is always the classic: "I thank the member for the question because it gives me the opportunity to discuss the great things this government is doing....blah blah blah."

Needless to say, I agree that Question Period needs to change, and that the LPC has a great opportunity in the next session to prove themselves as the adults of Ottawa. But the real test will come when they resume power. Will they insitute real reform or take revenge?