Calling names a no-no, but bullying is A-OK

Russell Wangersky
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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.


Thuggish behaviour

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

Organizations: Kabuki theatre, NDP

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Recent comments

  • HOA tapes
    May 16, 2012 - 07:57

    The HOA tapes could be critiqued at school as part of the social sciences curriculum. It's absolutely the perfect material for educating young people on the phenomenon of bullying. Of course it’s in no way suitable for small children but could generate a lot of interesting discussion among older students about the dynamics of bullying, where it stems from, what causes some adults to behave like primates, how it detracts from real work and how much money and resources are wasted because of it. What about the dynamics of it. Ask the kids how they think the bully’s behaviour affects victims, bystanders, and all the taxpayers the bully is supposed to be working for instead of being obsessed with bullying. Show the kids, in real life, the sort of characters their parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, and neighbours put in charge of governing the province. There is no better public example of the various aspects of bullying than the HOA tapes. They’ve covered it all perfectly. If bullying is the blight on society that everyone says it is, then why not bring it right out into the open and at least give our young people the opportunity to make better choices.

  • Herb Morrison
    May 14, 2012 - 11:09

    Well-said, Mr. Tizzard and Mr. Wangersky

  • Thanks Mr. Tizzard for bringing attention to the uncivil way matters are conducted in the House of Assembly of our province
    May 14, 2012 - 10:57

    The behaviors of the House of Assembly are deplorable. It seems that the MHAs have no control over their self discipline, so therefore we the electorate should make sure civility reigns in our Government's House. Without a doubt it is only the ruling party that can enact a law to put an end to the raw uncouth manners that are portrayed there, and I think stopping the nonsense should be the first motion of the day in the next setting of the HOA.

  • Ron Tizzard
    May 14, 2012 - 08:56

    Great artcle Russell. I had shaken my head so many times in disbelief about the behaviours of Members, during my infrequent visits to the House many years ago, I experienced migrain, and had to stay of my better decisions. What does one do about it? Threaten Members not to vote for them! They cannot be shamed. Ask them outside the House about it, and they'll kiss it off as all part and parcel of the 'atmosphere of debate', ranting, roaring, and insulting! Of course, it's our fault...we keep voting them in, they are not held accountable. I think it was generally 'THOUGHT' that having a Lady Premier may clean up the behaviours a bit....really, I think they have plunged more deply. Of course, the bottom line, the rational is to 'DISTRACT' from the core value of would never, I mean never hear a secure person rant or roar...they believe in their values, in what they are want to listen ....fine, if not...also fine. They are secure with their own mind-sets...they do not have to brow-beat somebody into submission, or shout and stand so long to run 'available debate time out'. Really, there should be signs posted in and around the House of Assembly indicating 'NO CHILDREN, OR SELF-RESPECTING ADULTS ALLOWED'. Isn't it shameful that I, others, (you Russell) should even have to address this shameful issue. Members will always say 'it's part and parcel of lively debate'...CRAP! The behaviours are nothing but ELEMENTS OF INSECURITY, AND DETRATORS FROM 'THE OTHERWISE RAW TRUTHS. EVIDENCE - How often does one hear great orators sharing rational positions, opinions in an insulting, ranting, roaring manner. I rest my case. (Been there and done it.. haven't we all), but, it isn't right...and most certainly in the HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY. By the way, and I am very serious...signs should be posted outside the House....ADULT ENTERTAINMENT, NO CHILDREN PERMITTED; THE hORROR - WHEN SCHOOL KIDS VISIT THE HOUSE, NOTHING CHANGES. There have to be Members who are absolutely ashamed of the behaviours of 'most' their fellow Members. I suggest to them... WHY DON'T YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Very specifically right now, I am thinking of Paul Davis (he exudes respectfulness, and listens...he must be horrrified)...why don't you address the issue, Paul...the public, visiting kids and teachersand like-minded Members from whatever stripe will respect you for it.

  • I am elated that Brad Cabana arrived on the scene in Newfoundland and Labrador
    May 13, 2012 - 17:21

    First of all I like to say that I am elated that Brad Cabana arrived on the scene in Newfoundland and Labrador, he certainly has the electorate talking. Also if what Mr. Cabana said in his post that what we are witnessing is Danny and the boys killing off their own Party, and getting the ground ready for Dean... to take over, then that, in my opinion, represents a conspiracy against the people of our province and it should be nipped in the bud immediately. As I don't want our province and its natural resources to be continued to be controlled by the Ottawa Government for the benefit of the other provinces, I do not want our province to be controlled by a bunch of ex-politicians from this province who, it seems, have their own best interests at heart. After all these years of existence, it is time that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians be governed by persons with honesty, integrity and a desire by whoever will rule us in the future to see that the natural resources of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador generates the vibrant economy that should have been built here ever since we have been part of Canada.

  • William Daniels
    May 13, 2012 - 12:48

    Love or hate Cabana; it's a good post.

  • Audrina
    May 13, 2012 - 08:46

    Keep on fighting the good fight Mr. Cabana. We need more like you. (In case anyone is wondering, this is NOT sarcasm.)

  • Christopher Chafe
    May 13, 2012 - 08:10

    I always thought journalism was supposed to be bi-partisan, this article unless I am reading it wrong, is trying to drum up pity or empathy for the orange crush party. As for Copa Cabana, when are you gonna go and flourish in the florida sun for the rest of your life?

    • Eli
      May 13, 2012 - 09:05

      Since when was deriding childishness in the so called House of Assembly bi-partisan CHRISTOPHER? It/they cost us big money and bullying and childish nonsense the likes of Darrin King last week is not what we're paying for. Oh, I forgot, it won't change simply because they make their own rules.

  • Charlie
    May 12, 2012 - 21:01

    Kathy Dunderdale is proving to be very incompetent as Premier. To bad. I supported her and thought she was going to do great things. I was watching the HOA last week and all I could here was Joan Burkes big mouth bullying Lorraine Michael. Then Burke could be heard having personal conversations with her colleagues saying at 5:05 PM on a Thursday " Ok I gotta go". Leaving while the house is still open. Talking while someone else is talking. I wonder how she is with her friends? Wouldn't want to be her husband. Bossy and rude that's how Burke comes across. Dunderdale is just as bad. The spend tons of money on antibullying and you can tune in to the HOA and see grown adults behaving little idiots. It is pathetic!

    • Christopher Chafe
      May 13, 2012 - 08:12

      and YVONNE JONES does not act like this?

  • William Daniels
    May 12, 2012 - 10:11

    " Which, by the way, makes her a … wait a second." A hypocrite. There. I said it. The rules of the house don't apply to me. Thank God.

  • Audrina
    May 12, 2012 - 09:49

    Excellent article. But I'd like to point out that "mob-rule behaviour" IS tolerated in office environments. The bullying is just not as blatant as what goes on in the House of Assembly. The abuse in office settings is perpetrated using sneaky, covert methods, and the boss is very often one of the perpetrators - perpetrators who are experts at feigning innocence to the hilt when the need arises. At least Ms. Michael has documented, bona fide proof that she's being bullied. If you're being covertly bullied in an office, odds are that no one knows about it except for you, the people closest to you outside of work and the sadistic bullies themselves. The bullies are comprised of A/ the ones perpetually stirring the pot B/ the followers who seem incapable of thinking for themselves and who believe whatever the person stirring the pot tells them to believe and C/ people who perhaps realize what's going on but jump on the bully bandwagon anyway for fear of getting on the bad side of the bullies themselves. When office bullying is in full-swing mode, what also happens is that the perpetrators fall all over themselves to be UBER friendly towards each other - as if to try to prove to themselves how incredibly!!!!!!!! wonderful they are; therefore if they are bullying someone, that person must darn well deserve it because they are just far!!!! to nice to bully someone without just cause. Workplace bullies are so far from being nice, ethical people, if it wasn't so disgusting, it would be laughable. But they seem utterly convinced of their goodness. Duh!

    • Audrina
      May 13, 2012 - 15:55

      PS I didn't invent the concept of workplace bullying. It is a very real, well documented and well researched phenomenon. It's not something that's only happened one single time in one single office. Far from it. Bureaucratic organizations really need to learn how to deal with it more effectively.

  • Brad Cabana
    May 12, 2012 - 09:29

    Right on the money Russell. Let me fill in the ... for you : hypocrit. What we are witnessing is Danny and the boys killing off their own Party, and getting the ground ready for Dean... to take over. It's all about control, and some people don't know when to let go...Danny.