January 15, 2016

Cheering or Jeering? Members of Parliament Open Up About Civility in the House of Commons

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If you've been to the House of Commons, or watched Question Period (QP) on TV or online, you've heard it. It booms off the walls. It interrupts both important speeches and partisan rhetoric. It causes the orator to stumble. It forces the Speaker of the House to intervene.

It's heckling.

It is as crass and simple—and effective—as yelling over a colleague. It's a tactic that is rarely used in any workplace but politics. Yet it's used across party lines and in many parliaments and legislatures in Canada and around the world.  It is one of the most obvious, and oft-cited examples of a lack of civility and respect in the House.

"Cheering or Jeering? Members of Parliament Open Up About Civility in the House of Commons" surveyed Members of the 41st Parliament about their experience with heckling. The survey explored whether MPs heckled, what they heard in the House and whether they'd been affected by others' heckling. In total, 29 out of 305 MPs who were serving at the time responded.

Read the full report here.

Key Findings

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Of Members of Parliament surveyed, 69% believe heckling is a problem in the House of Commons—and yet 72% of MPs admit to heckling.

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Many MPs commented that heckling contributes to Canadians’ perception that politics is irrelevant and dysfunctional.

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Members say they heckle for three reasons: 1. to correct omissions, respond to perceived untruths or to point out partisan rhetoric 2. to get their opposition on the record in Hansard or in the media 3. to support their “team".

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MPs primarily report hearing heckles on the subject being debated, their ideological positions, and their party. But women MPs also report hearing heckles about gender, age,language, religion and even their appearance.


Heckling can affect the work done in the House: 20% of respondents, especially those who are female, reported that heckling not only affects their job performance in the House but even reduces their willingness to participate at all.

For more information on the data presented in the report, please see the "Cheering or Jeering" Appendix.

The question of civility in the House is one that many have tried to tackle. Over the years there have been lots of great ideas on how to make Question Period a place where MPs can do their best work and Canadians can see genuine political debates in action. The ideas laid out below have been put forward by numerous academics, journalists, and pundits from across the country. Additionally, some have been tried, in fits and starts, by a few parties and parliaments over the years. Individually, any one idea is unlikely to find success, but some number of these—combined with the will to ensure a civil workplace— has the possibility to transform Parliament into a place of which Canadians can be proud.

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