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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview with Reuters in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 19, 2016. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview with Reuters in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 19, 2016. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)

Pat Carney

Trudeau’s actions in the House hurt the institution itself Add to ...

Pat Carney is an author, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister and senator. She lives on Saturna Island in British Columbia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unprecedented manhandling of Conservative MP Gordon Brown on the floor of the House of Commons is a slap across the face of every parliamentarian and a blow to the institution itself.

His bully-boy tactics strip away the protective shield that Parliament historically has given every MP and senator to speak and act freely, without fear of physical retribution on issues, often emotional, that affect every Canadian.

And what could be more emotional than a government motion to limit debate and push through Bill C-14, which seeks to legislate assisted dying?

As a former parliamentarian of 27 years, serving as an MP, minister and senator, I have been verbally threatened, dumped from parliamentary committees and tongue-lashed in public and private for my views and votes by my political masters, as the record shows.

In 1991, I was the first Conservative senator to stand in my seat, threats ringing in my ears, and vote against my own government’s flawed abortion bill, triggering some Tory senators to vote no as well. Bill 43 was defeated by a tie vote, the first legislation to be defeated in the Senate in 30 years.

But I have never been physically accosted the way Mr. Brown, the Conservative whip, and NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau were. Nor have any of my colleagues during my time in Parliament.

Consider those parliamentary rules. MPs and senators must address the speaker, not another member or senator, when speaking in the Commons or Senate chambers. That rule was introduced to limit direct confrontation between politicians on either side of the chamber. Similarly, MPs and senators cannot accuse each of lying during parliamentary debate.

They cannot use swear words, although Trudeau Junior has upgraded Trudeau Senior’s famous “fuddle duddle” to the F-word itself, according to MPs who overheard him.

Consider the Prime Minister’s actions, as captured on official video cameras. He rose from his seat after the bells rang for a vote, crossed the floor separating the government and opposition benches, grabbed Mr. Brown by the arm and, using physical force, trundled him down toward his seat.

In the process, his elbow struck Ms. Brosseau in the chest so hard that she left the chamber to recover.

Speaker Geoff Regan intervened by admonishing primly that “manhandling” another MP is “not appropriate.” The Speaker has the right to eject MPs and senators for “unparliamentary behaviour.” By those standards, he should have ejected the Prime Minister from the chamber.

The Westminster model of parliament inherited by Canada is inherently confrontational. It is the right of the government of the day to propose legislation, and the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to oppose those elements they disagree with. Often compromises shape the laws that govern us.

Historian Michael Bliss dismisses the PM’s purposeful action as a temper tantrum. But Parliament is not a place for three-year-olds. His comparison of Mr. Trudeau’s physical tactics on the floor of the House with the actions of other prime ministers outside parliament is irrelevant.

A positive result of the debacle is the withdrawal of the motion to limit debate on doctor-assisted dying. A negative one is the nagging question of Mr. Trudeau’s judgment.

Justin Trudeau has impressed Canadians with his push-ups and pugilistic prowess. It is time to think and act as a prime minister. Respect for Parliament and its procedures would be a start.

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