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The House of Commons lies empty on Sept. 10, 2009, a few days before Parliament resumes amid threat of an election. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
The House of Commons lies empty on Sept. 10, 2009, a few days before Parliament resumes amid threat of an election. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Andrew Steele

Let the desk-thumping begin... Add to ...

Canada's Parliament is resuming next Monday, and fans of witless partisan buffoonery will no longer have to watch Fox News to get their fix.

Personally, I like a vibrant legislature where heckling and rhetoric are in flight.

On the wall of my office hangs Le Parlement de Londres by Claude Monet, a gorgeous painting of the Palace of Westminster backlit in the smog of Victorian London. The British mother Parliament was - and to an extent still is - a caldron of ideas constantly bubbling and spitting. The key figures command their power not through votes but their voice.

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Robert Peel dominated the British Commons without flattery, kind words or good manners. He dominated it through command of facts and figures, of the sheer power of his intellect.

Peel himself was brought down as Conservative leader not by a quiet conspiracy or angry party associations. His defeat was an execution carried out through the bitter wit of Benjamin Disraeli, who night after night rallied the Conservative Party against its erstwhile leader for the sin of repealing protectionism and betraying the core principle of his faction.

For this political patricide, Disraeli earned the lifelong enmity of William Gladstone. Each would become leader of their party, and trade the office of prime minister between them for two decades. Their exchanges remain the stuff of legend, an extended dialogue that forms the intellectual spine of the liberal-conservative debate.

The mother Parliament at Westminster was at times venomous but always erudite and often profound. To this day, words matter at the Palace of Westminster.

Politics is a clash of ideas. Those ideas arouse passions. Parliament should not be a garden party.

But at the same time, it should not be a cattle call.

The role of MP in Canada's current era of the minority government to that of chess piece, vote token, and occasional theatrical chorus member.

Far too much of the activity of the current federal House of Commons is a graceless, brutal and mindless partisanship that is not about ideas so much as bludgeoning one's opponent with hoots and curses.

Wit is lost in today's Commons, and has been replaced by blurts that would make a soccer hooligan shake his head in exasperation at the pure lack of creativity.

For all this, the Members of Canada's Parliament are for the most part intelligence and well-meaning.

It's not the players themselves. Canadian politicians are hardly unusual in their antics.

India's Lok Sabha's was calculated to waste 22 per cent of its time on unruly Parliamentary nonsense.

Taiwan is legendary for its Parliamentary fistfights, including female legislators getting in - what can only be called - a catfight.

Parliamentary brawls also occurred recently in the Ukraine, Bolivia and Alabama.

Last night's health-care address to Congress by President Barack Obama shows that republican legislatures can also erupt into childish stupidity.

The same absurd overuse of the standing ovation found in Canadian Parliament is alive and vibrant in Congress. Obama enjoyed 19 last night, one fewer than the original Broadway production of Cats on its opening night.

One Representative displayed hokey homemade signs asking "what plan?" and "what bill?" interchangeably through the speech.

Obama's supporters hooted and hollered their praises, while his opponents made good use of their high-school drama classes with over-the-top frowning and pouting.

But there was still a certain sweetness to the proceedings.

Rep. Joe Wilson made national news by heckling loudly at one point "you lie!"

This is such a mundane aspect of Canadian politics there is a ritual around calling someone a liar, either to later be withdrawn or to get a little news with a temporary banishment from the House.

Poor behaviour is not a function of the people in the Commons. It's found around the world.

Unfortunately, that is cold comfort for Parliament watchers.

The fall is going to be particularly awful.

The Conservatives are going to be executing a series of trap plays to wedge the Liberals. The opposition will huff and puff. Tempers will flare. The media will enjoy the blood.

Our House of Commons has rarely been anywhere near the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but it would be nice if we could elevate our game to at least the caustic feud of Pearson and Diefenbaker rather than the morass of gormless blather we can anticipate.

 

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