Memo to Canadian Parliamentarians: you’re doing it wrong. If you want to see what a proper Parliamentary dust-up looks like, Google your friends in the Korean and Taiwanese legislatures. Now, that’s how you scrap.

In comparison, yesterday’s Justin Trudeau House of Commons fracas – no, let’s downgrade that to kerfuffle – doesn’t rate. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but more on that later.

The inner workings of government
Keep track of who’s doing what to get federal policy made. In The Functionary.
The Functionary
Our newsletter about the public service. Nominated for a Digital Publishing Award.

In case you’re glued to the real world and missed your parliamentarians behaving like children (again), allow me to explain: Prime Minister Trudeau, upset at NDP MPs for delaying a vote on the assisted-suicide bill he’s been ramming through Parliament, ran into a crowd of said NDP MPs to “rescue” Conservative whip Gord Brown so that the vote could proceed.

In so doing, he utterly destroyed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau with a blow so savage it’s a miracle she’s even alive. At least I think that was the NDP’s talking point. For what it’s worth, the NDP also allege Trudeau uttered a muddled fuddle duddle in their general direction.

Of course, it didn’t quite happen that way. Justin Trudeau inadvertently elbowed Brosseau in the chest when he grabbed Brown. He had no idea she was there. For a man who pays meticulous attention to his physicality it was a clumsy misstep. There’s no certainty he swore, either.

But why he was there in the first place is certainly a valid question.

What are we to take away from this sad display? A few things.

Memo to Ruth Ellen Brosseau: you were a punchline when you were elected to Parliament as the Honourable Member from Las Vegas. You’ve done a lot of hard work to change perceptions since then. Don’t undo it by serving as the punchline here. If the prime minister accidentally chops you in the chest, the answer is stand up and be counted in the House.

As for the rest of the NDP: grow up. Blocking Brown by continually getting in his way? Really? Is that what last year’s election taught you? The road to oblivion is paved with childishness.

It’s unfortunate, because there’s a serious point in all of this. There’s a reason Justin Trudeau flipped his perfectly-coiffed lid.

The Liberals this week found out that Parliament is hard. With an “opposition” who, like, opposes the government and stuff. And the Liberal instinct has so far been to scream “how dare they!”, as if they have a divine right to govern unopposed.

Their more considered response hasn’t been much better.

The inner workings of government
Keep track of who’s doing what to get federal policy made. In The Functionary.
The Functionary
Our newsletter about the public service. Nominated for a Digital Publishing Award.

Freaked out by almost losing a vote (on the Air Canada Public Participation Act) on Monday, the Liberals had by Thursday tightened the House of Commons procedural screws so hard, proposing to put the adjournment of the House entirely in government hands, with no debate.  Even rough and tumble Conservatives were heard uttering their “safe” word. To mute insult to this injury, the Liberals also proposed strict limits for opposition motions before the summer recess.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

By the time Trudeau got his elbows up the Liberals had already compromised their election promises on the use of omnibus bills and time allocation in Parliamentary debates. While not chocked full like a Harper budget bill, the Liberals’ maiden budget effort still had plenty of extras in addition to the main course. And while not yet a trend, multiple uses of time allocation, including on debate for the extremely sensitive assisted-suicide bill, has Trudeau harkening back to the dark era he spent an entire election campaign condemning.

The Liberals are finding out the real world isn’t as neat as an election platform. Plus ca #realchange, plus c’est pareil.

And so the biggest loser in all of this is Justin Trudeau. When your entire appeal is sunny ways, you can’t be the one throwing shade on your foes. When you’re fronting feminism events at the United Nations you can’t afford to accidentally elbow a female MP. And when you promise to respect Parliament, that respect has to extend to any procedural “tricks” the opposition might have up their sleeve.

That’s the thing about promising to be more Catholic than the Pope; you get held to a higher standard. And if your patience runs out, you need to go to the corner for a timeout until you calm down, not rush to the floor and manhandle your colleagues.

The Liberals should remember this the next time the opposition does its job in the House of Commons. They can’t – and mustn’t — whip out whatever procedural means justify their ends. Four years of that will see them end up on their backside on the opposition backbenches.

They should govern themselves accordingly.


Do you have something to say about the article you just read? Be part of the Policy Options discussion, and send in your own submission. Here is a link on how to do it. | Souhaitez-vous réagir à cet article ? Joignez-vous aux débats d’Options politiques et soumettez-nous votre texte en suivant ces directives.

Andrew MacDougall is a consultant at MSLGROUP and the former communications director for Stephen Harper.

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License