A Primer for a Prim and Proper Parliament – You Don’t Say: Volume 44 – by Ray Hudson

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Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

It’s critical that citizens of Canada have an understanding of how our ‘parliament works’ although it may appear to be an oxymoron. We are so inundated with American media that many Canadians know more about the US government than our own. So, having just gone through an election, with a new government going into the House of Commons in November, I thought a little primer for a prim and proper parliament would be in order.

Parliamentary privilege: The rights and immunities enjoyed by a Member, necessary for the carrying out of parliamentary duties. They include: freedom of speech in the House and its committees; freedom from arrest in civil cases; exemption from jury duty and appearance as a witness; and, in general, freedom from obstruction and intimidation. Ya think? See the next paragraph labeled “Whip.”

Whip: is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. They are the “enforcers”, who typically offer inducements and threaten party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy. According to Wikipedia, the usage comes from the hunting term “whipping in”, i.e. preventing hounds from wandering away from the pack. No intimidation here (see (parliamentary privilege) but I can see some honourable members in the “bad-dog box’ from time to time.

Question Period: Adult version of Romper Room. A daily 45 minute period in the “House of Commons” with a structure and lots of rules (they claim), intended for members to seek information from the Government. It seems more often that it’s a period of chaos in the chamber as (adults) members, heckle, jeer, cat-call the speakers. This is a part of government activity devoid of decorum and not suitable for impressionable children.

Upper and Lower Houses: These terms refer to the houses of parliament (I know it’s also a euphemism for privies – but we’re not going there right now) the lower house refers to the House of Commons, where the elected politicians toil away on our collective behalf (see Question Period) and the Upper house (the equivalent to the British House of Lords) is called the Senate, although try to convince some of these folks (generally appointed as payment for political good deeds) that they aren’t Lords (or Ladies). And although all should not be tarred with the same brush, the shenanigans of the Upper House is tending to cast it as the Lower House in many people’s minds. It brings to mind the phrase that to be appointed there is a “taskless thanks!”

Unparliamentary language: Words or expressions contrary to the proprieties of the House (see Question Period). A Member who refuses to withdraw unparliamentary language may be named by the Speaker and can be expelled (see bad dog box). Here are some of the offending remarks that have caused shame and indignation in the House: blatherskite (oh my!), trained seal, evil genius, Canadian Mousolini (Mama Mia eh!), you may not refer to someone as a “bag of wind,” and of course “liar” is an absolute no-no, (although I don’t see the word prevaricator on the list) pompous ass is not allowed, and heaven (and the Speaker) forbid, that you would refer to some honourable member as a pig, a sleaze bag, a scuzzball. Finally, the most egregious thing of all, you must never ever utter the words fuddle duddle!

Thank you Mr. Speaker!