Friday, March 13, 2009

Parliamentary decorum and all that jazz

It was with a touch of amusement over the past few days that I’d ignored all the talk bemoaning the state of the decorum in parliament, the stories of teachers not wanting to bring their students to question period, and the admonishment of the speaker for everyone to behave themselves.

I was amused because parliament has always been like this. The speaker regularly stands up and goes tut tut, honourable colleagues, settle down now and what not. And then everyone goes right back to behaving badly. I’ve long since tuned it out, convinced this speaker (and his predecessors) have no real desire to raise the level of decorum on the house, and none of the parliamentarians particularly want to either, beyond feigning righteous indignation now and again.

So I was surprised, and pleasantly so, when I read that the speaker has actually found some backbone and has moved beyond semi-stern fatherly admonishments to real action, and is actually cutting-off MPs that step over the lines of decorum into personal attacks.

Speaker Peter Milliken cut off Tory MPs three times Thursday as they began taking shots at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff during member statements.

Milliken had already warned members that he was fed up with the proliferation of personal attacks in their statements ahead of the daily question period.

While all parties take pot-shots occasionally, the Conservatives have long been systematically attacking the Liberal leader in their statements.

Good on Peter Miliken, although it’s a seriously overdue move. We’ll see if it continues, or if this is an isolated thing.

On a semi-related matter though, this confuses me: just what is the point of the Conservatives using member’s statements to systematically attack the Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals, Warren Kinsella (other than discrediting Ignatieff by proxy), and so on? Here’s the unnamed Liberal sources’ theory:
Some Liberals say the Tories are doing by stealth in the Commons what they have been reluctant to do on the airwaves.


But a senior Ignatieff strategist said he believes the attacks in the House are a precursor to negative ads: "We had sort of accepted [this] as the beginning of the ad campaign," said the strategist. "They have been using many of their [statements] to get personal and make outlandish statements and exaggerating little events to change the channel from the economic disaster. It's really childish, and serious people are fed up."

Negative ads coming, sure, I get that. But what’s the point of the member’s statements strategy? No one really pays attention to member’s statements. The media don’t generally report on them. Undecided voters sure don’t watch them on CPAC (or know where CPAC is on the dial). If it’s an appeal to their base, how is their base supposed to find out about it?

Harper’s chess playing has left me puzzled again, although I’m sure there is a master plan.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Carrie said...

Liberal MP from Scarborough (I think) just stood up and called the speaker's attention to those earlier member statements today. He even said it was the Conservative tone and was "pathological, scripted" and sly.

Of course Pierre Pollwhatever is snipping against it.

lyrical said...

'Scripted' seems to be the Word of the House this week. The MP today was Derek Lee, who chaired a Govt. Operations meeting this week where the Treasury Board President accused a Liberal committee member of being 'scripted'.

Maybe the MPs just want to get their words into Hansard, so they can refer back and use them as ammo later on.

CPAC doesn't always show the juicy bits after Question Period. After Monday's QP, there were some lively Points of Order made on decorum. You can watch them at ParlVU here, (view from 04:03:30 to 04:07:00).