A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, November 5, 2017

No One Is Listening

Below a few extracts from the 128 page report by the measuring democracy people at Samara a non-partisan charitable champion of increased civic engagement.

In spring 2017, Samara Canada surveyed Members of the 42nd Parliament to explore the state of heckling and decorum from the perspective of those in the House. The survey reveals that incivility remains a problem. It also suggests that MPs have mixed feelings about heckling. They don’t like the state of debate in Parliament, but they don't want to get rid of heckling entirely either. This is still the case even though they know citizens don't like it.

This report presents the results of a survey of sitting MPs on incivility and particularly the practice of heckling. Firstly, it looks at what’s changed and what remains the same with respect to heckling in the current Parliament. Secondly, it examines three main types of heckling and three main reasons why MPs persist in heckling, despite increased pressure not to. Finally, it makes recommendations about how Parliament can nudge its Members toward the kind of culture change that Canadians want to see—to elevate the debate and foster an environment of dignity and respect............

The parties themselves have also taken action to reduce heckling, with leaders publicly promising more civil debate. However, while this survey found an almost even split between respondents who had been formally advised by their parties on how to deal with heckling (49%) and those who had not (51%), there was a marked partisan difference here: 81% of Liberals, 50% of New Democrats and 22% of Conservatives report being advised by their parties about heckling.

When surveyed, most MPs admitted they do not like heckling, but most MPs heckle. This is the paradox explored in Samara’s previous report “Cheering or Jeering?,” and it holds true here. A little over half of respondents agreed that heckling is “a problem.” Only 16% of respondents said they see heckling as beneficial to the House of Commons. Nevertheless, about two thirds of MPs (65%) admit to having heckled at some point.............
There is a second category of heckling that is more personal. A full 80% of MPs heard Members heckled for their delivery in the House “You’d think it was Grade Five. I don’t think Grade Fives would do that today. But it’s very juvenile behaviour. It’s obnoxious behaviour to be yelling at somebody because they have paused for a second, or misspoken a word, whatever.”

Most commonly, MPs heard colleagues heckled for their idea, comment or question (94%). Most heard MPs heckled for their political party (74%), their ideology (61%) or ethics (58%)............
While a majority of MPs regard heckling in the 42nd Parliament as a problem, they actually express rather nuanced and mixed feelings toward the practice generally. Only 38% would see it abolished outright—although here rookies and veterans part ways once again. Fully half of rookies favour abolishing, versus only 19% of veterans.

A fourth theme illuminated in an open-ended question among heckling’s defenders was that they were merely preserving an important tradition of Westminster parliaments–Parliaments that spring from the British parliamentary tradition, as ours does. One MP waxed poetic: “Keep it clean and respectful … but let it roll on as a magnificent continuation of our Canadian political history and parliamentary tradition.” Another conceded that heckling was unpopular, but suggested that this was because the public did not fully grasp the history and function: “The public likely doesn’t understand that heckling is a long-standing tradition in parliaments across the world.” “The House is not a church or school. Some outbursts are reflective of genuine outrage.” “Until accountability and truthfulness are restored, I don’t think it will stop.”

One MP put a fine point on it: “There are not examples of a Westminster-style parliament where heckling does not occur. If you can’t handle it, you should be looking for another line of work.” While heckling does have a long history in Canada, there is also a long-standing tradition of not heckling in many national legislatures, including the US Congress and most continental European parliaments. There is also no shortage of Westminster parliaments that are similarly respectful—from New Zealand to the Caribbean, regional parliaments in the UK to territorial legislatures in the Canadian North

One of the suggested solutions
MPs, particularly on the backbenches, lack meaningful opportunities to make themselves heard in Parliament. Truly fixing heckling means thinking about procedural fixes to foster a better debate generally. It also means finding new ways to empower backbench MPs.
Currently, questions and answers are limited to 35-seconds during Question Period. MPs must resort to sound bites as a result. If MPs had the time to make their case, or to pin down a perceived falsehood from another Member (for example), then that rationale for heckling disappears.

In total, 84 MPs responded to the survey. At the time of the survey, 338 MPs were sitting in the House.

I do not follow question period or any of the other daily broadcasts on CPAC just the few brief clips of some MPs behavior shown on the evening newscast is enough to turn my stomach, whilst much of the behavior during QP is more for the camera than to actually promote serious discussion of the issues the ability of those who do have the stomach for it to see (actually more hear the background heckling) the proceedings is important. If Canada is not to descend into the same sort of parliamentary dysfunction shown by a number of legislatures in Europe then our MPs must show more respect for each others point of view AND for those who view the proceedings!
Recently a vocal critic of heckling in the House of Commons, (Green Partys Elizabeth) May said there is still too much reading of notes and "bad high school drama" during question period and debates. She credits the Liberals for trying to improve the tone, but said the behaviour of the other opposition parties remains "appalling."

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers


Lorne said...

A very interesting report, Rural. Like you, I rarely watch Question Period; it is an exercise in histrionics that does nothing to advance policy or constructive criticism. The fact that so many believe it has an honoured history is to miss the point that we, as citizens, expect far more from our representatives than we are getting. As well, the strident shouting and derogation so common in QP is an encouragement amongst the electorate to act similarly, shouting down opposing views through venues such as social media. Such loutish behaviour needs no encouragement from our 'leaders.'

Rural said...

Samara's reports are always worth reading Lorne

Owen Gray said...

When MP's can think and talk on their feet, Rural, they can deal with heckling. Speaking from a prepared text signals that they can do neither. What's been lost is the ability to truly debate issues.

What now passes for debate is merely talking points.

Rural said...

Net thing you know twitter comments will be though of as conversations or debate, Owen. OH wait.......