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EDITORIAL: Political debate loses its dignity

An exchange of insults in the House of Commons shows a lack of decorum
Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre rises in response to the Speaker asking him to withdraw language during Question Period, Tuesday, April 30, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

An exchange of insults in the House of Commons shows a lack of decorum by some politicians at the federal level.

On April 29, Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was removed from the house for repeatedly using the word “wacko” when referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some of the policies of Trudeau’s Liberal government.

When asked to rephrase his statement, Poilievre offered to replace “wacko” with “extremist” or “radical” instead.

Trudeau later accused Poilievre of “shameful, spineless leadership.”

Conservative MPs have called for the resignation of Greg Fergus, Speaker of the House, for his treatment of Poilievre.

The incident and its aftermath show one of the worst aspects of contemporary Canadian politics. The House of Commons is supposed to be a place where important issues are debated as decisions are made. It is a place where ideas are considered before legislation is passed.

What happened instead became a display of personal insults.

Such behaviour would not be tolerated in school classrooms, in well-functioning workplaces or in social organizations. Why would it be seen as acceptable for those tasked with governing at the national level?

When elementary school children are held to a higher standard of conduct than Canada’s most high-profile elected officials, something is wrong.

Some may argue that harsh words were needed in order to call out bad government leadership and bad government policy. However, there are ways to make a strongly worded point without resorting to insults.

More importantly, if personal insults are tolerated in the House of Commons, eventually the tone will change. The result will be that those who prefer a more calm and reasoned approach will leave Canada’s political arena, leaving the House of Commons to be populated by tough-talking, sharp-tongued members.

The “wacko” incident is not the first time that Canadian elected officials have used language considered inappropriate, and it will likely not be the last. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh have both come under fire for their words in recent years.

But if the House of Commons is to be seen as a place for solemn, dignified decision-making, then Canada’s elected officials need to behave in an appropriate manner.

— Black Press