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The Globe and Mail

'Racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic' - MPs face heckles of all kinds in House

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

They don't appear in Hansard. And high up in the visitors gallery, it's hard to make them out.

But on the floor of the House of Commons, the insults flying back and forth that are kept from official transcripts are crystal clear to MPs on the receiving end.

An anonymous survey of MPs asked the honourable members just what all the yelling is about. The results aren't pretty.

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"Overall, even though heckles concerning an MP's party, idea or ideology are most common, the data show that racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic and other discriminatory sentiments were certainly part of the 40th Parliament," writes the author of the survey, Mackenzie Grisdale.

Ms. Grisdale, 25, conducted the survey and wrote the report as part of her time as a Parliamentary Intern, a non-partisan program that gives interns the chance to work for government and non-government MPs and prepare a research paper. Her internship is now complete and the University of Western Ontario journalism graduate is now working as a producer with CBC-Radio.

Her report comes at a time when new Speaker Andrew Scheer is trying to improve decorum in the House of Commons and Jack Layton's NDP is promising to set the tone with a self-imposed heckling ban.

With the new Parliament now in recess, the question is whether the new-found civility will return in the fall.

"I think [heckling and decorum]deserves a little more attention that just being dismissed as a three-week phenomena," Ms. Grisdale said in an interview.

In March 2011, Ms. Grisdale asked all 305 MPs (three seats were vacant at the time) to take part in an anonymous survey on heckling. She received 60 completed responses. Sitting and former MPs were also interviewed on the record for the report, which was posted Monday on the website for Samara, a charitable organization that studies citizen engagement and Canadian politics. The organization also recently posted a report based on exit interviews with outgoing MPs.

Some MPs – under the cover of anonymity – offered specifics when it comes to heckling, suggesting women MPs face a harder time in the House that men.

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"One female Conservative MP heard someone yell at her 'That was dumber than you look,'" the report states. "This MP raises other points as well: Personal attacks like 'idiot, liar, stupid, chicken' and heckling about gender (usually by women aimed at women), for example alleging the women are puppets, stooges, robots under the direction of men [are]particularly offensive."

Some of the MPs who agreed to comment on the record offered candid theories as to why there's so much yelling and shouting.

"A lot of backbenchers feel useless," Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP MP Bruce Hyer is quoted as saying. "And this is one of the areas in which they can vent their frustrations and pretend to be useful."

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