Depending on who you asked, it was 140 characters worth of “very serious, very offensive, and indeed very unparliamentary” language or just another episode in the “dog and pony show” in the House of Assembly.
It was a comment posted on the social networking website Twitter shortly before midnight by New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby.
“What’s low is to witness a government MHA out-and-out lie during debate in the legislature as we all did tonight,” Kirby wrote.
First thing Wednesday afternoon, government deputy House leader Darin King was on his feet demanding an apology and a retraction from Kirby.
“He accused a government member of lying in this chamber,” King said. “Mr. Speaker, what that does, besides the fact that it is a serious breach, it calls into doubt the honesty and the integrity of all members on the government side of the House. For that reason, we see this as a very serious breach of conduct for this House.”
Under parliamentary tradition, members are not allowed to accuse each other of lying — it’s deemed to be “unparliamentary.”
MHAs routinely take each other to task for comments made on the floor of the House of Assembly, but raising grievances over remarks posted publicly on the Internet is relatively uncharted territory.
In the past year, the majority of MHAs have set up Twitter accounts, and often engage in vitriolic, public exchanges via 140 character snippets.
Kirby immediately apologized and withdrew the remark in the House Wednesday afternoon.
However, speaking to reporters later in the day, he wasn’t backing down.
Kirby said during the evening sitting of the House, Progressive Conservative MHA David Brazil quoted Kirby deriding members of the public service, calling officials in the finance department incompetent.
Brazil, Kirby said, was referring to comments made on “On Point,” a CBC political affairs show.
Kirby said he was talking about financial projections where the government consistently seems to have a larger surplus than it originally budgeted for. He said it could be chalked up to, “either gross incompetence or wilful deception, and I believe it is the later because there are a lot of very talented people working up in Confederation Building.”
“At no time did I say that I believe that the minister and his staff were incompetent.”
On Wednesday, Kirby doubled down on his comment calling Brazil a liar. He said Brazil was either deliberately not telling the truth, or he is “completely incompetent himself.”
Kirby said he wants an apology.
“It’s a complete and utter falsehood, and he should apologize to me,” he said.
Speaking in the House, King argued that taking the shot at Brazil over Twitter was particularly cowardly and serious.
“It can be a real curse for everybody, because there is nothing easier than standing behind a keyboard when you do not have to face the cameras and the audience and members in this House and defend your actions and take heat for your actions if people challenge you back,” King said. “It is very easy. I have a Blackberry, Mr. Speaker, like everyone else. It is very easy to do when you do not have to face the person that you are accusing and stand up and defend it and debate it, but, Mr. Speaker, we see it as very serious, a very serious challenge in the highest level, to contempt in this House.”
Kirby, meanwhile, dismissed the whole thing as a “complete waste of time” that the government is using as a distraction.
“It’s sort of an ongoing dog and pony show that detracts against some of the egregious problems we have in this province right now — plants closing down left, right and centre, the minister of fisheries has said we can expect, what, 20 more plants to close down before long,” Kirby said. “We’ve got all sorts of problems in health care, in education, in search and rescue, and this is what we have to debate in the House of Assembly? Something I tweeted last night when I got home?”