Donnybrooks in Parliament unbecoming

Kamloops Daily News
December 7, 2012 01:00 AM

It seems Canada came close Wednesday to joining the dubious ranks of countries that settle disagreements in parliament with violence.

Spectators at the House of Commons in Ottawa were almost witness to the kind of display of parliamentary mayhem we've seen in houses of government in the Ukraine, South Korea, Italy and Somalia. A search of YouTube offers many of those battles for our viewing pleasure.

Reports from the House of Commons suggest Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan stormed across the floor and stood over NDP House leader Nathan Cullen "nose to nose," his finger wagging faster than his foul-mouthed tongue.

Van Loan was apparently upset about comments Cullen made about the Conservative's conduct in regard to Bill C-45, the government's second piece of "omnibus" legislation.

It is reported that NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stood in defence of his comrade and joined the verbal fray with a few "F-bombs" of his own, prompting several other MPs from both sides of the house to gather around like teens in a schoolyard scuffle. One hopes their intent was to defuse the situation but human nature suggests the distance from donnybrook is often short in such situations.

Violence in parliaments is not unique. Citizens in other countries often see their elected representatives duke it out as they attempt to settle matters of governance. And Canada's record in this regard is not perfect. In 1878, for example, Vancouver Conservative MP Arthur Bunster, a full-bearded giant of a fellow with a big reputation for beer-drinking and bluster, crossed the floor and battled Liberal MP Guillaume Cheval.

Some might consider it amusing, this kind of behaviour on the part of our politicians, but we beg to differ. Canada's House of Commons, like all parliaments, should be a forum for the highest level of debate. When those we elect to lead lose control of their tempers and tongues, what follows is at best a descent into the basest kind of discourse. At the worst, such behaviour creates potential to see Canada join ranks with pugnacious parliamentarians whose behaviour have cost their countries a measure of respect.

Such displays of loose temper are downright childish and run the risk of diminishing our much-needed faith in institutions of government.

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