View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – No heckling, fat chance! – May 25, 2011

Ottawa ON – It was interesting to hear that Layton has decided to clean up parliament by ending heckling from the NDP benches. Unfortunately he ignored Conservative MP Michael Chong’s other recommendations which would certainly have gone a lot further and dramatically changed the tone in the House.

Heckling is a time honoured tradition in Canadian politics which unfortunately over the last few years has taken on a much nastier tone. For one thing the very layout of the House encourages MPs to make comments back and forth. Sit any two groups of opponents across from each other, roughly two sword lengths apart, and there will be verbal barbs going back and forth.

A few years ago when in opposition, the Conservatives brought MP constituency staff to Ottawa to learn how the Hill works. One of their main complaints was the tone and behaviour of all MPs in Question Period. After explaining in detail how Question Period worked, the strategies employed and what to look for when viewing Question Period, we divided the staff into an opposition side and a government side. I taught them how to write 35 second long questions based on issues in the news that day and my staff helped the government side write answers for the same issues. We then moved into the actual chamber for a mini Question Period. It took less than 15 minutes for the heckling to start and emotions rise to the point where their behaviour was slipping into the same pattern as that of elected MPs.

Until there is meaningful reform of Question Period along the lines of Chong’s suggestions, we can’t expect much to change. Electing a strong Speaker, one who is willing to enforce the rules and sanction MPs when necessary will help, but Question Period structured as it is now is simply not working.

Row after row of NDP backbenchers sitting as mute as the statues on Easter Island simply won’t happen. I will predict that the “no heckling rule” will be one of the first promises the NDP breaks this session.

Layton missed an opportunity to use his press conference to press for meaningful reform of Question Period. Canadians will see just how serious the NDP leader is when his MPs begin violating this latest decision. Just how will Layton discipline those in his caucus who start heckling? Will he sanction them? Will he ask them to forfeit their pay? Will he ask them to leave the Chamber? Will he keep this promise or is it just more smoke and mirrors?

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

Scott Beck



  1. Jack has just taken a page out of Elizabeth’s book and is now calling it his own!

  2. Heckling smeckling, the real problem today is that Sheila Fraser’s term as Auditor General is at an end. Who is going to expose government wrong doing now? Are all the reports on the Con-cons money laundering going in the trash never to be heard of again? Is Tony Clement destined to be CEO of Suncor because of his ability to redirect government moneys?

  3. Heckling isn’t the problem, in my view. It’s the vicious smearing of a person’s character…and we all know which people in which party excel at that. With a majority, will they now cease and desist and act like civilised grown-ups? It’s up to the man with perfect hair to set a good example

  4. Hey, Tony has thrown huge amounts of money around in his riding for two years. It worked….He got himself re-elected! The man does know how to spend our money effectively.

  5. @Reg. How about Stockwell Day for AG? He’d be impartial for sure, and he could still devote some of his time to curing homosexuals.

  6. Amazing how an individual’s perspective changes as they move up the proverbial ladder.

    This is a good change, but as the NDP status grows I wonder how many other practices and procedures Layton will try and change to keep his party as No 2

Leave a Reply