Originally published at the NAAIJ on Sep 26th, 2014. Check the NAAIJ for most recent updates
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UPDATE: 09/26 Calandra has given an Oscar level apology in which he states he will almost certainly repeat his behavior .. But he is sorry. See bottom for full text of that apology as well as video. Noticeably absent from his apology … is Canadians! He apologizes to The House, The Opposition and his fellow Party Members.
Canadians have never been very enthusiastic about politics. But the Conservative Party has taken Canada to embarrassing new lows and the world is taking notice. Multiple publications from The CBC, Macleans, The Ottawa Citizen, The Huffington Post, Canada.com, and many more have stood up and pointed out this latest blatant disregard for Democracy and candid Contempt of Parliament at the hands of the Conservative Party. Specifically the Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister, Paul Calandra. The last time the Conservatives were found in Contempt of Parliament was in 2011.
According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition from the Parliament of Canada website. Contempt of parliament is defined as follows:
The House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of its contempt power. In other words, the House may consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly. Instances of contempt in one Parliament may even be punished by another Parliament. This area of parliamentary law is therefore extremely fluid and most valuable for the Commons to be able to meet novel situations.
Throughout the Commonwealth most procedural authorities hold that contempts, as opposed to “privileges”, cannot be enumerated or categorized. Speaker Sauvé explained in a 1980 ruling: “… while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits. When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred”.
The United Kingdom Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege attempted to provide a list of some types of contempt in its 1999 report:
* interrupting or disturbing the proceedings of, or engaging in other misconduct in the presence of, the House or a committee;
* assaulting, threatening, obstructing or intimidating a Member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties;
* deliberately attempting to mislead the House or a committee (by way of statement, evidence, or petition);
* without reasonable excuse, refusing to answer a question or provide information or produce papers formally required by the House or a committee;
* divulging or publishing the content of any report or evidence of a select committee before it has been reported to the House.
In the case of Members, the Joint Committee also considered the following types of conduct to constitute contempt:
* accepting a bribe intended to influence a Member’s conduct in respect of proceedings of the House or a committee;
* acting in breach of any orders of the House; and
* failing to fulfil any requirement of the House, as declared in a code of conduct or otherwise, relating to the possession, declaration, or registration of financial interests or participation in debate or other proceedings.
Just as it is not possible to categorize or to delineate every incident which may fall under the definition of contempt, it is also difficult to categorize the “severity” of contempt. Contempts may vary greatly in their gravity; matters ranging from minor breaches of decorum to grave attacks against the authority of Parliament may be considered as contempts.
You can watch the actual exchange here.
This CBC article covers the responsibilities of the Speaker of the House (Andrew Scheer, Also Conservative) and his response to the incident. In the conclusion of his response to these recent absurdities he states the following:
I also ask all Members to heed my request of last January 28 (Debates, p. 2204), when I asked Members:
“to consider how the House can improve things so that observers can at least agree that question period presents an exchange of views and provides at least some information.
The onus is on all Members to raise the quality of both questions and answers.”
Essentially .. the Conservatives could answer serious questions about their criminality or what exactly in the hell they are doing to Canada by reciting Harry Potter or invoking the Bible — And the democratic process in Canada is just utterly powerless to stop it? Really!?
Which has many Canadians wondering, If absurd exchanges like this are within the rules of the House of Commons. Then, Perhaps it is time to change those rules. Indeed the NDP has proposed a motion to do exactly that. How are Canadians supposed to participate in an informed democracy when you’ve got a party like the Conservatives in power that essentially provide you with nothing but talking points from attack ads on their opposition and no information whatsoever on what they are doing to Canada or why.
It would seem the NDP agrees with my assessment of the situation, And has put out a call for support for the motion at ndp.ca/fixQP. Full text of the request for support follows:
“Question Period needs answers too.
Add your name to back our plan to fix QP.
Day after day, Tom Mulcair puts serious questions to the Conservatives in Parliament, on the issues that matter to you.
But instead of serious answers, we keep hearing talking points, platitudes and partisan attacks.
On September 26, Stephen Harper’s lead spokesperson offered a tearful apology in the House—after his outrageous non-answers on Iraq sparked national outrage.
Tears are not enough.
We’ve put forward a plan to stop the political games. Our plan empowers the Speaker to ensure Canadians get real answers from their government.”
The full text of the motion itself:
That Standing Order 11(2) be replaced with the following: The Speaker or the Chair of Committees of the Whole, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or repetition, including during responses to oral questions, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her intervention, and if then the Member still continues to speak, the Speaker shall name the Member or, if in Committee of the Whole, the Chair shall report the Member to the House.
The Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister, Perhaps ordered to say so in light of the international media coverage , Has given the following apology. I have quoted it verbatim here:
“Thank you Mr. Speaker. I would like to unconditionally, unreservedly apologize to this House for my behavior the other day. I allowed the passion and the anger at something which I read to get in the way of appropriately answering the question of the leader of the Opposition. For that I apologize to you and this entire House and my constituents. I’m fairly certain there will be other opportunities in this House where I will be answering questions … that you don’t appreciate. I don’t think this will be the last time that I will get up an answer a question that doesn’t effectively respond Mr. Speaker. Despite what people think about ‘kids in short pants’ this was my response. And uh, I take full responsibility. And I apologize to the Opposition, To you, and to all my colleges”
Nigel Todman is an Independent Journalist, Technical Consultant, Social Activist, Web Developer and Computer Programmer from Ontario, Canada. Add him to Facebook and/or Follow him on Twitter E-mail: veritas [at] vts-tech [dot] org [PGP]