'One step ahead of the chimps'

Amy Langstaff writes to defend the honour of honourable heckling.

It is not an excess of heckling that is undermining parliamentary debate, but the fact that the environment is so devoid of real attention that a first-rate heckle – crisp, witty, penetrating – is impossible. When a good heckle hits its mark, it’s like the heckler has thrown a match into a tinder pile of inarticulate dissent, which ignites into laughter. A heckle can be a shining moment of intelligence and humanity in an otherwise dull, pompous, or unfocused gathering. Where there is good heckling there is substance and shared attention; heckling is a delicate verbal act that reminds the speaker that the audience, though silent, is dangerously alert. The challenge to our system is not to suppress the conflict that is a normal part of politics. It is to make discussions in the House substantive enough that they are worth listening to – at the very least for MPs, and at best for all Canadians.

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