Try this on for a hypothetical situation. Last week, Fisheries Minister Darin King stood up in high dudgeon and spent a whole chunk of time in the House of Assembly whining about how the government’s parliamentary privileges had been trampled by NDP MHA Dale Kirby.
The reason for the umbrage?
Kirby, you see, had tweeted that an unnamed government member was a liar.
King’s voluminous complaint to the House was 1,521 words long — 8,249 characters in all, which is more than a little overkill, given that the “offensive” tweet could have been, at most, 140 characters in length.
To put that in perspective, King spent the equivalent of 59 tweets to complain about how much his feelings were hurt by a single one.
Now, the rules of the House are interesting: you don’t get to call people liars, and everyone’s an honourable member, no matter what they’ve done. (Kirby apologized before the Speaker even ruled on King’s complaint — and it’s not clear King would even have managed to have Kirby disciplined, because the House’s rules apply to what’s said in the House, not what’s said in the Twitterverse. But who cares about that, when there’s taxpayers’ time to be wasted with manufactured offence?)
So back to that hypothetical case: if any one of the former MHAs convicted in the constituency allowance scandal had kept their seats, the rules of the House would have probably prevented anyone in that Kabuki theatre of the absurd from stating the obvious: that the “honourable members opposite” were thieves and liars.
They were, plainly, thieves and liars.
They stole, and they submitted blatantly false signed statements about their expenses.
But you wouldn’t be able to call them that.
In fact, if you did, they could stand up and have you called on the carpet the same way Kirby was, and if you didn’t apologize, you’d be tossed out of the House until you did say you were sorry.
The House, especially right now, has turned itself into the Farce of Assembly. King prattled on for ages about lying, but the fact is, he didn’t say one single word about far more serious offences in the House — probably because those offences were being downright gleefully committed by members of his own party.
Last week, you could have watched as Lorraine Michael, the leader of the NDP, stood to ask a question and was ganged up upon, bullied, insulted and browbeaten by not one honourable member but by a whole bunch of them.
It was the kind of mob-rule behaviour that every anti-bullying advocate in the country would recognize in milliseconds.
If you did it in a school, you’d be expelled. If you did it in an office, you’d be suspended.
And if you saw an older woman being set upon by a crowd of yelling men shouting insults at her in the street, you’d probably intervene.
Try to intervene in the House of Assembly and you’d find yourself in hot water. The “honourable” members make their own rules, even if they’re mob rule.
So what can we do?
Take it all with a grain of salt: you can’t call a liar a liar in the House of Assembly, even if it’s plainly obvious that they are a liar. And when someone stands up to complain about being called a liar, remember, that doesn’t mean the statement wasn’t true — it just means liars aren’t allowed to be named for what they plainly are.
This is, after all, the same House where “honourable” men can gang up on a woman asking a question and bully her unmercifully — probably the only place in this country where such behaviour would be condoned, even congratulated —and not one single person amongst the “honourable” crew will do even one small thing to stop it.
If the Speaker of the House actually had even a scrap of the honorific “honourable” he’s got tacked on in front of his name, he’d single out just one of the government louts and suspend the miscreant for their bullying behaviour. And that would stop the whole bully-fest pretty quickly.
But it won’t happen.
Nor will Premier Kathy Dunderdale, despite her long-standing complaints about decorum, do one single thing to rein in the honourable bullies on her side of the House.
Often, she’s right there getting her licks in, because, while she professes to have disdain for the lack of decorum, she actually seems to like it. Which, by the way, makes her a … wait a second. Don’t go writing that down. Someone’s privileges might be offended.
The problem is that this will continue.
Instead of a real attempt to focus on the work of the House, we’ll probably get more long-winded whines about how members’ parliamentary privileges have been trampled on.
Will anyone in a leadership role finally say “Enough”?
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.