Canadians have become accustomed to discourteous exchanges between members of Parliament during sittings of the House of Commons.
But a member of the New Democrats has come up with an idea - if it is accepted - that just might succeed in bringing some civility to the House where previous attempts have failed.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen introduced a motion this week proposing a graduated set of penalties for MPs who cross the line in making personal attacks on their political foes.
Cullen suggested consequences for bad behaviour would start with a warning, then be followed by suspension from the House and loss of a day's pay for a second infraction. A third offence would bring a five-day suspension, and a fourth would result in a 20-day ban.
Cullen said the measures are necessary to stamp out the uncivil conduct that detracts from question period and irritates Canadians. And make no mistake, Canadians are irritated. Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, in her annual report in June 2011, suggested that the Commons consider a code of conduct for its members in an effort to clamp down on MPs' poor conduct. Dawson said she regularly received complaints from people concerned about politicians acting inappropriately.
There have been other calls for a more civil House of Commons. In September 2010, Conservative MP Michael Chong introduced a private member's motion aimed at bringing decorum to the House. Two years before that, when MPs voted for the Speaker of the House, it was suggested that parliamentarians needed to improve their behaviour.
As Cullen noted in a Canadian Press story in Wednesday's Herald, "There is no workplace in this country that would accept that kind of behaviour. So why do we accept it in the House of Commons?"
Good question. That's why Cullen's motion makes sense, though the chances of the measures actually being adopted are slim.
Still, it's true that Canadians are turned off by the sometimes boorish behaviour that takes place in the House of Commons. Perhaps if MPs have a mirror held up to their conduct often enough, they might begin to see for themselves that a better-behaved House of Commons would be a welcome change.
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