Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Speaker lays down the law

Eugene McGuinley, like many speakers, came to office with high hopes of restoring order, professionalism and decorum to the often raccous debates in the legislature over which he presides.

I am a student of parliamentary procedure and am often greeted with surprise when I explain the power that the Speaker has. That is to say, he is essentially, all powerful.

When the House is in session, it is up to the speaker to enforce and interpret the rules. In New Brunswick, "The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum and shall decide questions of order (...) No debate may be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal to the House."

Among the power of a Speaker is to cancel a session of the House or to remove and/or punish a member if things get out of hand. That includes ANY Member from the premier to the leader of the opposition to a freshly elected backbencher. I've often thought that this should be something that is used more frequently so as to restore decorum.

In recent times, the only occassion I recall of a member being thrown out of the New Brunswick legislature is when Elizabeth Weir called Bernard Lord a liar and refused, after three requests, to withdraw the comment.

Today, when things got quite heated during question period, Speaker McGuinley interupted the proceedings to put the House on notice that he is going to start throwing people out if they are out of order. Good for him. I hope he follows through.

I am sure when MLAs start to realize the unfortunate prospect of having to explain to their constituents why they were thrown out of the House for being so unruly, particularly when going door-to-door during an election campaign, I think they may shape up.


The transcript for today's Question Period has come out and here is what the Speaker had to say:

Hon. Eugene McGuinley (Grand Lake-Gagetown), Speaker: I have called for order too many times, and it has been ignored here this afternoon. I am not going to tolerate that kind of conduct in the House. We want to be following parliamentary rules here. We want this to be run like a Parliament, not like a playroom. I am warning the member for Restigouche-la-Vallée that I will not accept that kind of mockery of the system. I have asked for order, and the member kept repeating his interruptions to the minister who was responding, to the extent that I could not hear and understand what was being said.

This is not a threat, this is a promise. If members on either side continue to ignore the rules of the House, that will not be tolerated. I will be asking members to leave the Chamber for the duration of the day when that happens. I have been very lenient. When the week starts this badly, thank heavens it may be a short week. What will it be like when the week ends? In fairness, I am letting you know that, from here on in, the rules are going to be a lot more strictly adhered to. I will not be afraid to impose sanctions on people who disregard the authority of the chair.


Spinks said...

If memory serves me, didn't Shawn Graham get booted out several years ago too over a farming issue?

Regardless laying down the law is a good thing and it's about time.

nbpolitico said...

You're right - Shawn Graham - like Elizabeth Weir - got the boot for calling the premier a liar and refusing to withdraw.

However, that is two incidents in the whole 7 years of Lord's government and both in cases of being asked to withdraw comments and refusing.

McGuinley seems to be suggesting if you heckle over and over you are out. I like it.

Brunswick said...

Actually McGuinley is one of the worst Speakers the province has had in a while. The problem is not that he's attempting to lay down the law... the problem is he started off being way to quick to jump to his feat and now none of them on either side listen to him. He's even getting into it with the members.... las week Dale Graham heckled T.J Burke and McGuinley jumped to his feet and accused Graham of directing the comment at him..... look back at the last few speakers and I even include Malley in this and they had much better control of the house. Either deputy speaker would do a much better job.... I really think it won't be too long before someone else is in the Chair.

Anonymous said...

I have not been watching the New Brunswick Proceedings closely but for several years MPS have complained that Peter Milliken frequently allows Question period in Ottawa turn into a circus, without kicking anoyone out..in fact, on Newfoundland Liberal accused Harper of lying, and refused to retract. I agree that Harper was lying, but this MP should have been tossed for refusing to withdraw his comments. Instead Milliken said something to the effect "well, the Member will have a hard time being recosnized in the House until he does." I was pleasantly surprised Miliken went this fat, but he shouold have been booted for the day to set an example.

Anonymous said...

sorry for the typos above in a hurry :)

nbpolitico said...

brunswick - I saw that back and forth and I think you misunderstand the intracticies of parliamentary debate.

All comments are directed through the chair. If you want to refer a comment to another member, you have to use the third person.

If someone says "you did this or that" they can only be referring to the speaker and that is what McGuinley was talking about.

brunswick said...

Actually I understand it well enough to know McGuinley is not doing a good job .... the comment was a heckle from Graham directed to Burke "get back to your sandbox"... it was a reference to Burke having heckled something to the fact that he was the type of guy that waould kick sand in your face and steal your girl. It was clearly heckling, what McGuinley was challenging Graham on was not if it was directed to him in some official capacity as Speaker or that he should do so but, rather if he was heckling him which he clearly wasn't.

But all this isn't the reason I find fault with the Speaker.... the problem is he doesn't make any rulings, a perfect examble was today, the Opps stood up on a point of Order (there are only two points a member can stand up on a point of order or privilege, not a point of clarification or point of information which has been going on way too much as well from both sides, they don't exist don't allow them)... The point was that the a minister had made a statement but had not given copies to the other side, which is usually the custom, this is something the conservatives have been complaining about for a few weeks now, not just from this member but from others. The government house leader gets up on the point and argues that this is a customary procedure in the house, but is not part of the standing rules.... good point. the Opps respond by saying that the rules of the house are not only governed by the standing rules but by tradition and precedent... good point, time for a ruling. From the Speaker nothing, he stands and says I'll take the government house leader's word that it isn't written in the rules but I'll ask the ministers to try and have copies of statements for the members opposite.... that's not a ruling it's a suggestion, if he would have made a ruling on this the last two times the Opps got up on this point of order we wouldn't have to go through this everyday.... make a ruling.

Brian in Calgary said...

Too many politicians from every party act like juveniles. All other Speakers should likewise lay down the law.

scott said...

I am sure when MLAs start to realize the unfortunate prospect of having to explain to their constituents why they were thrown out of the House for being so unruly, particularly when going door-to-door during an election campaign, I think they may shape up.

Like many Liberals, you think that power is central, it's not. People care more about the challenges and the issues that matter to them locally. In other words, you represent the people of your riding in Fredericton, not the other way around.

Yes, the legislature definitely could use more civility, but getting caught up in the day to day drama of question period will not change the situation in your local constituency. If we are ever to repair the democratic process and make it more representative for all ppl, we must first figure out why citizen ennuie is at an all-time high in this province. In my opinion, voter apathy has increased because people feel detached from the system, they don't feel like they are part of the process. In other words, our democratic system has failed us.

And as I said above, the solution won't be a top down approach out of Fredericton, but a grassoots approach which will engage everyone in all parts of the province no matter what their political stripe.

Which is why I was quite dissappointed today to see the Premier start with that old practice of corporate welfare where only family, friends and fellow Liberals are rewarded with public money. This is the type of thing that does more damage than good, especially when your primary goals are to re-engage people back into the process and establish self-sufficiency. Judging from recent tranactions, this administration has turned into a disaster ever since they dropped their unfriendly budget.

brunswick said...

Seriously I had high hopes for the current government, their platform was full of things I truely supported.... I didn't know how they were going to play for some of these things but some of the things they had in there didn't coast all that much to put in place.... set election date, set calandar for fall and spring sessions, improve the appointment process based on qualifications... all these are in just one section under government accountability.... they skipped the fall sitting and have been appointing high profile liberals to just about every ABC they can find. Don't even get me started on economic development

One of the first things they do is expand the range of the Miramichi economic development fund so that it now includes the Premiers riding and then the first huge non repayable grant they hand out is to a company his father is a director of.


I understand the issue with the "illegal tax" that was being charged to bars.... some thing that was dropped in their lap but what they are respopnsible for is the way they are handling it. They are being forced to payback one bar owner fine, that's proper but to introduce changes to legislation to ensure that one bar owner is the only one that is ever reimbursed that is bad enough, but add to that he is the father of a current liberal MLA and that Graham once worked for him as a manager of one of his bars.... it's stuff like this that turn people off. anyone remember uncle Billy?

Anonymous said...

Your Memory is not very good at all, it was not the Premier that was called a liar it was Elvy Robichaud over a health issue and from where I sit McGuinley is definatly the worst Speaker I would sooner have Tanker back.

nbpolitico said...

not a point of clarification or point of information which has been going on way too much as well from both sides, they don't exist don't allow them

Actually Tory MLA Bev Harrison when he was speaker began the practice of allowing members to rise on points of clarification and it has become a part of the practice of the NB Legislature through tradition and precedence.

Anon - you are right, Weir was directing her liar claim at Elvy not the premier.

Charles LeBlanc said...

He's more mean that Tanker!!!!! I don't believe I'll get in there!!!