Lunch room monitor

Joe Comartin would like to empower the Speaker somehow to better sort out the unruly.

Mr. Comartin, meanwhile, told The Globe he believes Mr. Scheer’s rulings show he is acting independently but needs more clout. The Windsor New Democrat said the two powers the Speaker now has are either to refuse to recognize an MP or throw him or her out of the Commons. “That’s just not a broad enough way of enforcing discipline,” Mr. Comartin said.

He says through private members bills or opposition day motions, the NDP wants to debate and study how the Speaker can be given “more authority, more clear authority to be able to bring into line recalcitrant members and having the authority to discipline them in a greater variety of ways that we have now.”

I was watching a session of Prime Minister’s Questions a few months back and I saw the Speaker twice cut off the Prime Minister when he thought David Cameron was straying from the question asked. That seemed to me to be a neat trick.

So far as enforcing decorum, I’m not sure if I can see how a Speaker might be better positioned to maintain calm. (Does he need more than the threat of silence or expulsion?) Or perhaps I’m not convinced that excessive heckling is the problem here. (Would a House without heckling be inherently and practically better than what we have now?)

It seems to me the trouble is what’s said and suggested on the record in relatively even tones about how one’s opponent is a supporter of, or apologist for, evil. It’s the scripted nature of the exchanges that produces nothing even remotely like an actual conversation. It’s the backbenchers sent up to use their members’ statements and questions as free political advertising time. I’m not sure how you could make any of that against the rules (actually, whenever the Speaker has tried to place limits, enterprising war rooms have only sought ways to slur the other side while remaining vaguely within the parameters of House business).

I do wonder whether the Speaker could be empowered to demand that the minister who was named by an opposition MP actually stood to respond: essentially limiting the ability of the government to shield a minister from unpleasant questions. Of course, the Speaker ultimately serves at the pleasure of the House, so not only would he need a majority of MPs to vote for such changes, but he’d then need a majority of MPs to support him in his enforcement, lest he be subject to a vote of non-confidence (I’d like to think public outrage would prevent a majority government from ever moving against a Speaker it didn’t like, but I’m not sure there’s any evidence to suggest this is a reasonable expectation).

Ultimately, whatever one hopes to do, what’s required is a large number of MPs who are committed to change: either because they desire it or because they know that the public desires it and will hold them accountable if it is not accomplished. And that is the fundamental riddle that every single one of these discussions eventually arrives at.

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