Parliament’s new referee says he hopes MPs will lead the way on restoring decorum | CBC News

Opposing aisles in the House of Commons are said to be placed two sword lengths apart, a reminder that disputes in the chamber should be resolved peacefully.

For Greg Fergus, two hockey stick lengths would probably be better. He prefers a more familiar analogy for his role in Canada’s democracy as the new Speaker of the House of Commons.

“It’s like being a ref in a game,” he told CBC’s The House in an episode that aired Saturday. As part of the show, CBC shadowed the newly elected Speaker for a day on the Hill.

“Politics is not a game, but to make the analogy: For any sport to go well, it has to be done within the framework of the rules that are set out. And people within that explore excellence. So my job is just to make sure people are conducting themselves in a way that respects the rules of the game, and then let them do what they need to do to win the game,” he told host Catherine Cullen.

Fergus, who was elected to the Speaker position on Oct. 3, is making an explicit push to make the House of Commons a more cordial, productive and effective part of Canadian democracy. In a speech ahead of Question Period on Oct. 18, he argued that the House of Commons was witnessing a “deterioration in the collective decorum of this place” and pushed MPs to do better, saying “We can choose to conduct ourselves differently.”

The House12:29Tackling disorder in the House of Commons

Featured VideoNew House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus explains to Catherine Cullen how he hopes to bring more civility and decorum to Parliament, in a week that saw insults, rule-flouting, a disruptive Question Period — and a national poll showing Canadians are fed up with MPs’ antics in the House.

The new Speaker’s argument that House dysfunction was undermining itself got some additional backing this week. A new Angus Reid Institute poll showed many Canadians have a dim view of the institution’s activities, with respondents most likely to describe debates in the House as “posturing,” “useless” and “dishonest.”

Fergus said decorum has been the most common issue raised during his one-on-one conversations with MPs.

The new Speaker added he had seen “a real noticeable improvement in the decorum” in the past several weeks.

The House spoke with Fergus on Nov. 1, what he described as one of the “tougher” days of his short tenure so far. Question Period almost derailed completely as MPs heckled one another while Fergus appealed for calm.

The Speaker’s campaign for civility got off to a rocky start as Conservatives complained that his extensive speech on decorum was delaying QP.

Fergus’ efforts over the last two weeks have certainly not eliminated completely the sorts of interruptions or distractions that can often characterize debate in the House. Conservative MP Ben Lobb described the situation as “so-so” while Liberal MP Chris Bittle said the state of things could at times be “disgraceful.”

WATCH | Greg Fergus on the push for civility in the Commons:

New Speaker talks about how to boost civility in the House of Commons

Featured VideoGreg Fergus, new Speaker of the House, says he can’t be the final arbiter of decorum in the Commons, and that MPs should step up to act in a way that befits their role in Parliament.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said parliamentarians should not be aiming for some sort of idealized civility, with a House that is free of conflict.

“The idea that we’re all supposed to be well-behaved and super polite, sometimes there’s a falsity to that. These are serious issues, people should be passionate, people should be willing to challenge. The problem is when we get into mob behaviour, intimidation, shouting people down — that’s really gone well over the line,” he said.

Members must step up, Speaker says

Fergus told The House he hoped to set a good example and provide an environment where individuals MPs could choose to behave more productively.

An MP for the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer since 2015, Fergus served as parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and has a long history within Liberal partisan politics.

He said that, on balance, his record is positive — but not perfect.

“If you’re looking for a perfect person who had planned to be Speaker, I’m not that guy. I’ve made mistakes as every single one of us have made,” he said.

Fergus acknowledged that there’s something of a time crunch on his battle for decorum, as division and partisanship could ramp up ahead of an election that is at most two years away.

WATCH | Greg Fergus gives speech on decorum:

New Speaker’s speech on decorum faces delays, heckles

Featured VideoHouse of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus’s attempts to deliver a speech on decorum faced opposition as Conservatives said he shouldn’t have delayed question period to deliver his remarks.

“I think this is the reason why I need to start off very quickly on this issue, in terms of setting out what the expectations are,” he told Cullen. “If we take on that habit now well before the election, I think Canadians will be the real winners.”

Fergus said the aim is to empower MPs themselves to step up and choose to act in a different way.

“I think it’s always best to try to convince people to voluntarily conduct themselves in a way that is befitting of their role. When you do that, you have greater buy-in. It shouldn’t be up to me to be the arbiter of all things and force them into a role. They have to be a part of it,” he said.

“Frankly, if it’s up to me alone, it won’t succeed. It’s up to members.”

WATCH | Explaining the role of Speaker:

What does Canada’s House Speaker do?

Featured VideoLiberal MP Greg Fergus has been voted in as the new Speaker of the House of Commons. But what does the Speaker do and why is the role important to Canada’s democracy? Here’s everything you need to know.

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