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NDP calls for uncivil MPs to be suspended without pay

NDP whip Nycole Turmel looks on as Government House Leader Nathan Cullen speaks about expanding the powers of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Tuesday, January 29, 2013 in Ottawa.


The federal New Democrats are calling for fines and suspensions of MPs who launch personal attacks on fellow politicians in the House of Commons.

"To stand and speak in the House of Commons is an enormous privilege," NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen told reporters on Tuesday morning. "When we fail to do our job with respect and civility, MPs should lose that privilege."

The current penalties are not stringent enough to curb bad behaviour, said Mr. Cullen. What is needed, he said, are financial repercussions.

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The NDP House Leader has moved that the Commons committee on Procedure and House Affairs be asked to recommend ways to give the Speaker the authority to penalize MPs who use harassment, threats and personal attacks, or who offer extreme misrepresentations of facts about other politicians and their positions when speaking in the House of Commons.

Those penalties would increase when the infractions occur during the daily Question Period or during the period set aside for Members' statements.

Mr. Cullen would like the Speaker to be able to revoke the opportunity for questions from parties whose MPs have been disruptive. Politicians who break the rules would get a warning after their first offence, a one-day suspension following their second offence, a five-day suspension following their third offence, and a 20-day suspension following their fourth offence.

MPs would forfeit their salaries while they serve their suspension. And Mr. Cullen said parties would lose strategic advantage if the number of questions they can ask is reduced.

"We are talking about serious threats here," he said.

"The current penalties are not effective because they don't stack up against the rewards for bad behaviour," said Mr. Cullen. "Strategic acting out by MPs makes headlines. Threats and personal attacks replace the debate on the issues facing Canadians."

Mr. Cullen said his party is launching a campaign that it calls the Civility Project and is calling on Canadians to contact their MPs to say it is important to reverse the current trend toward increasing hostility in the Commons.

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New Democrats are among the most disciplined MPs in the House. But the members of Mr. Cullen's own caucus are not always pillars of civility. On Monday, Speaker Andrew Scheer chastised NDP MP Charlie Angus for saying Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was wearing a "clown nose."

And it may be difficult for the Speaker to make clear distinctions, in some cases, between what is normal discourse and what is a misrepresentation of the facts. The New Democrats, for instance, have been listening for months to Conservative allegations that an NDP government would impose a "$21-billion carbon tax on everything" – something the NDP says is a gross mischaracterization, if not an outright lie.

Nor it is it the first time that an MP has tried to elevate the discourse in the Commons. In 2010, Conservative MP Michael Chong introduced a six-point plan to improve civility. That motion hit a roadblock with the 2011 election but is still before the Procedures and House Affairs committee. So, it would seem that ending the cross-Commons attacks is not necessarily a Parliamentary priority.

Still, said Mr. Cullen, a change in decorum has to start somewhere because the antics in the House are turning off voters and eroding democracy. And heckling that takes shots at another MP's gender, religion, race or sexual orientation is particularly offensive, he said.

"We're not saying we won't play hard, we're not saying we won't make mistakes from time to time, " he said. "It is about making things better."

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said in a statement: "Although the Speaker already has most of the authority suggested by this motion, we are open to study this idea."

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