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

January 15, 2016
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Cheering or Jeering? Members of Parliament Open Up About Civility in the House of Commons
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In the spring of 2015, the Samara Centre surveyed Members of the 41st Parliament on their experiences with heckling in the House of Commons.

The beginning of a new Parliament is an opportunity to set a new tone in the House, and for all MPs to recognize their responsibility to make Parliament a more respectful and effective workplace. Over half of the 42nd Parliament is comprised of Members of Parliament who are new to the House of Commons and haven’t yet made heckling a habit. 

A shift in behaviour can and should be supported by new rules and structures—both preventative and disciplinary in scope. For example, better orientation, greater collegiality, reduced partisan rhetoric and reforming Question Period can all reduce the likelihood and severity of heckling. “Naming and shaming” hecklers or penalizing parties further enforce the values of a respectful politics. 

This isn’t about taking the passion out of politics. Debates in Parliament can and should ignite our emotions. Canada’s future is on the agenda after all. But this passion can happen without personal insults or partisan tirades. 

Key Findings

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

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

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”.

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.

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