Ten Reasons to Keep Heckling In the House of Commons
Sometimes it’s pretty entertaining watching politicians act like school children.
Source image: Wikipedia Commons | Art by Noel Ransome
It's not totally untrue that Canadians are a polite people. But it isn't completely true either. Like everyone else, there are some things that supposedly set us off—a hockey team losing (but mostly Vancouver), our allegedly limited Netflix selection, government-run pot stores. But there is one place where you can consistently go to see some badly behaved, angry Canadians. And it's the House of Commons.
The House is supposed to be a place where Canadian politicians civilly debate legislation, although in reality we know that rarely happens. But even a recent survey by Samara Canada found that 69 percent of MPs also think heckling is a major problem in the House of Commons. The same survey also noted that 72 percent of MPs admit to heckling.
According to the survey, MPs heckled for three main reasons—to call someone out on their bullshit (our word), to publicize something their opposition said (big heckling moments usually make it onto Youtube), or like any college student chanting "chug" at a kegger—to support their teammate.
Heckling sounds like a fun and straightforward way of calling someone out. And it would be if it was practiced in that spirit, but in most cases it's not. In most cases, heckling is used to shut down valid questions and bully politicians into not speaking. Especially women. The survey noted that 20 percent of politicians said heckling affected their job performance and "willingness to participate" in parliamentary debate.
Regardless of heckling and its ability to ruin important political debate that could change the lives of Canadians, we've got to admit—sometimes it's pretty entertaining watching politicians act like school children. Or at the very least, a good reminder that politicians are as mature as the rest of us.
So here's 10 good reason to keep heckling in the House.
Justin Trudeau called someone a "piece of shit"
Since he's become prime minister, Trudeau's tamed down a bit (minus an errant elbow.). But Justin used to be the bad boy of the House of Commons, sporting a super villain's goatee and calling other MPs "a piece of shit." The heckle was very, very dramatic (Justin is a man of the dramatic arts after all) but it wasn't entirely unwarranted. Trudeau's iconic heckle falls under the "calling someone out for their bullshit" category. It came after Peter Kent, then the Federal Environment Minister, berated an NDP environment critic for not being at a UN meeting—after he had banned non-governmental MPs from being able to attend. That's is pretty shitty of him, Justin. Not sure if it was how Megan Leslie, the NDP MP who Kent targeted, would have responded and after Justin's attempt to step-in for her we'll never know (but uh, thanks Justin, I guess?)
Elizabeth May was heckled over the word "fart"
There's a reason this clip went viral. It has the best elements of Canadian political drama—someone complaining about Alberta, rule book reading, and a high level of civility. The last of which Elizabeth May bizarrely epitomized when she called out Conservative MP Michelle Rempel for using the word "fart." The best part of the whole ordeal is May spelling the word "fart" to avoid saying it. "I heard her say a word that I know is distinctly unparliamentary, I think she may want to withdraw it, the word was f-a-r-t.
That time Peter MacKay was a dirtbag ex
This is a story that could be the plot to a very bad Lifetime movie. Peter MacKay, then a young, dashing MP started dating fellow Conservative MP Brenda Stronach. Things were going strong for a bit but then Stronach decided to end it. It didn't help that even before the breakup Stronach had left the Conservatives, and Peter, for the Liberal Party. It was obviously humiliating, but MacKay couldn't handle it. He even moved back to his family's farm to mope (yes, there's video footage). At this point, it's easy to sympathize with Peter. But like every dude on Tinder who starts off great, the rejection, personally and politically, unleashed the douche inside. The moment happens when a Liberal MP asks MacKay about his dog, to which MacKay replies "you already have her." Oh no, Peter. After the exchange went public MacKay denied it and Stronach asked for an apology, which she never got. The heckle, besides being a low, sexist and unfunny dig, didn't do much for Peter MacKay. But it reveals an underlying problem with heckling—in the heat of the moment you scream out stuff without thinking about it, which is OK if you're mad at the Leafs or something, but you can't get away with it when you're a politician. Heckling is a spontaneous, sometimes irrational response and it only takes a single heckle to unintentionally reveal some things about yourself. Some very dark things.
The House of Commons has never been the best place for women. The "boy's club" mentality of Parliament was apparent in 1985 when Conservative MP John Crosbie responded to a heckle from Liberal MP Sheila Copps by going "Quiet down, baby." But Copps hit him back. "I'm not his baby, I'm nobody's baby!" she yelled back, asking him to apologize. Crosbie responded with one of the worst saves in history, pulling a "I was talking to somebody else." Sure, John.
Back in 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to pull out a copy of Vancouver Sun to read an article allegedly connecting MP Navdeep Bain's father-in-law to an Air India terrorist attack. Harper unleashed a heckle-fest from the Liberal caucus and a series of furious, passionate speeches calling him out for his weird attempt to humiliate Bains. Not cool, Stephen. But more importantly, someone give the interpreter a raise for casually signing out the cries of "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
MP Tries to Stop 'Star Wars'
Ronald Reagan's legacy as a problematic as hell president lives on but if there's any good he's done for Canada, it happened during his second visit to the House of Commons in 1987 when he gave a Canadian politician the opportunity to yell "Stop Star Wars now!" and have it forever embedded in parliamentary history. MP Svend Robinson's angry heckle wasn't referring George Lucas' beloved film series, but Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, the former American president's plan to end the threat of mutually assured destruction by, uh, shooting them down from space or whatever.
But judging by the way Disney is handling the franchise, maybe Robinson was on to something.
The Speaker of the House tries to end heckling, is heckled
When Geoff Regan came into the Speaker of the House position he made it very clear, in like every, single interview he did, that he was not going to tolerate heckling. The House of Commons was about to get a Regan crackdown.
Yeah, he's only been half-successful. Regan's strategy is to call out individual MPs for heckling. I don't think old Geoff realized he was going to be heckled out in the process of doing this. But keep fighting the system, Geoff.
James Fulton and the salmon that made the House scream
There's no better way of instigating a solid round of collective heckling than dropping a dead salmon on another politician's desk. To be fair, NDP MP James Fulton was trying to make a point about the environment, and he did. I wonder what the recipient of the fish, Prime Minister Brian "father of Ben" Mulroney did with it.
John A. Macdonald punched a dude that heckled at him
Remember when everyone lost their shit when Justin Trudeau grabbed an MP and accidentally elbowed another. It was an event worthy of the -gate suffix. But Canada's first (and most problematic) prime minister makes elbowgate and modern Canadian politicians look incredibly chill. According to one historian, Macdonald once confronted a heckler during an election debate by getting into the the crowd and just straight up punching the guy. We put this man on our money, Canada.
Old Canadian dudes throwing words and paper balls
This is a collective acknowledgement of not one lone heckler, but the wild parliamentarians of 19th century Canada who used to thrown it down in the house, literally and figuratively. When heckling out an opponent didn't work back then, Canadian politicians found an easier, more effective solution—massive paper balls (it was the pre-airplane era). And when making paper balls took too much time, they would just throw to entire book at someone's head. To be fair, that takes quite a bit of strength and skill. But this is proof that heckling, a problem or not, used to be worse. And while it's definitely still a problem, Canadian politicians have come a long way, considering they don't throw their shit at each other anymore, so maybe that's worth celebrating.
Follow Premila D'Sa on Twitter.