Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Hill Life & People

Put the spotlight on bad behaviour in the House

By Jane Hilderman, Mike Morden      

More video angles could curb heckling.

This scene is all CPAC viewers could see of Conservative MP Blake Richards being kicked out of the House for excessive heckling on Nov. 30. House Speaker Geoff Regan, pictured in the Speaker's chair, asked the sergeant-at-arms to remove Mr. Richards, who is out of camera view. Screenshot courtesy of CPAC
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

Two weeks ago, Conservative Member of Parliament Blake Richards was “named” by the House Speaker and ejected for excessive heckling. It was the first time an MP has been ejected from the House in 15 years.

Speaker Geoff Regan has shown a willingness to keep a tighter leash on the debate, which has been worsening this fall. But this was the first time he felt compelled to remove a Member, one of the harshest punishments available to him. Obviously something dramatic happened. Why did the Speaker decide Richards had gone too far?

We’ll never know.

Unlike in hockey, the instant replay doesn’t give us insight into what happened “on the ice.” The details are obscured to anyone who wasn’t on the floor of the House of Commons at the time. There is a video record, of course, but all that it captures is the Speaker’s icy gaze and repeated requests for order, plus some muffled offstage commotion.

In late October, Samara Canada published the results of a survey of MPs on heckling in the House of Commons, in a report called No One Is Listening. In it we offered ideas for fostering a more civil, substantive, and dynamic debate in hopes that it would curb the MPs’ desires to heckle.

One of the suggestions we put forward was to offer more video angles on the House.

Since the time when cameras were first introduced to the House at the end of the 1970s, our ability to see inside the House has remained unchanged. While technology has evolved to allow us to watch and even speak to our dogs at doggie daycare, during Question Period CPAC is only able to broadcast the recognized speaker, or the House Speaker, and nothing else (despite the fact that there are live cameras capturing action throughout the chamber).

This is where parliamentary broadcasting has been stalled for four decades. Members of the public can watch the proceedings—but not all of the proceedings. Other than what would be recorded in Hansard, they have no idea who said what, or whether lines were crossed.

This lack of transparency contributes to a decorum problem. In the absence of public scrutiny, there are hard limits on the extent that the Speaker, alone, is able to enforce good behaviour. When Samara interviewed Speaker Regan, he told us that, ultimately, MPs mostly care about what their constituents think of their conduct.

The best way for constituents to see what their representatives are doing is a more complete broadcasting of the House. This could be accomplished a number of ways—through cutaways and reaction shots, or wide-angle live feeds available on the CPAC website, for example.

A comprehensive broadcast should offer a better set of incentives for good behaviour. This is a measure that would only affect the problematic heckling: boring, repetitive, disruptive, and offensive. Witty repartee or real passion would be, if anything, rewarded.

Of course, it’s always possible that more cameras will just mean worse, sillier, bigger performances. It’s possible that some MPs need to be saved from themselves, sort of as how sports broadcasts demurely cut away when a fan runs onto the field, so as not to encourage future hijinks.

Ultimately the effects of such a change, in the context of the Canadian House of Commons, are unknowable until it is tried. So Samara is proposing a pilot. The Board of Internal Economy should agree to try out some short-term changes to the management of Question Period, including how it is broadcast, and to examine the effects.

This is, in fact, what was originally intended, when cameras were first introduced to Parliament 40 years ago this fall. Then-Speaker James Jerome had this to say: “We will need to experiment with our capacity to use this very powerful medium to record our proceedings, for indeed there are many questions about the manner in which these cameras ought to be directed and controlled. The only way to resolve these questions is to experiment with them.”

It’s good advice, and Parliament should take it.

Jane Hilderman is the executive director and Mike Morden is the research director at Samara Canada, a national charity that generates research to encourage a stronger democracy. 

The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.

Singh’s strong campaign an internal win, whatever the outcome, New Democrats say

Jagmeet Singh’s impressive campaign has ‘rescued’ and ‘refocused’ the NDP after the failed 2015 effort, Ed Broadbent says.

The astrophysicist whose polling aggregator is projecting the election

News|By Neil Moss
The mastermind behind 338Canada, poll aggregator Philippe Fournier, is aiming to correctly call 90 per cent of the seats in the Oct. 21 race.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.