Pat Martin Twitter Tirade: Tweet Ends Brief Era Of Parliamentary Civility

Pat Martin

First Posted: 11/17/11 07:46 PM ET Updated: 11/18/11 12:49 AM ET

OTTAWA - Let the record show a new age of parliamentary civility and decorum has been strangled in its crib less than six months after its joyous birth.

Canada's 41st Parliament began last June amid pious commitments to a higher, more serious discourse.

One might formally declare it dead at 6:55 p.m. Nov. 16., when NDP MP Pat Martin, seated in the august chamber, fired off a dyspeptic, cuss-filled message to a social networking site.

Martin, a former carpenter, referred to Conservative procedural tactics as a "(expletive) disgrace" and "jackboot (expletive)."

Keyboards clattered across the country as reaction roared into the twitterverse.

The Winnipeg MP was unrepentant Thursday, flatly asserting that his message was not delivered to a parliamentary audience — but rather to self-selected Twitter followers — and that his intemperate words reflected "genuine frustration."

True enough, but they were also a longshoreman's distance away from departed NDP leader Jack Layton clarion call for political civility.

"New Democrats have committed to work respectfully, to end heckling and to give this place the decorum that it deserves," Layton, who died of cancer in August, said in the Commons last June 6.

Not to be outdone, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan, said at the time that the new majority Harper government was looking forward "to have in this House a debate which is meaningful, thoughtful and focused on policies and the values of Canadians."

The newborn civility blossomed into Parliament's summer break — helped in no small part by the political class uniting in grief behind Layton's sudden passing — but has been a sick and swooning patient since September.

All but lost in Thursday's shrill, sulpherous debate was a sad truth: Pat Martin merely put the conceit of parliamentary decorum out of its misery.

The New Democrat was reacting to the majority government's repeated use of closure to curtail debate on major pieces of legislation by Canada's elected representatives, a tactic that's become so common it is no longer considered newsworthy.

New Democrats were also smarting over comments by Environment Minister Peter Kent, who called the NDP "treacherous" — essentially treasonous — for travelling to Washington this week to lobby against the Keystone pipeline.

NDP Leader Nycole Turmel, meanwhile, opened Thursday's question period with this decorous question: "Why is the out-of-touch prime minister forcing Canadians to play retirement roulette on the tumbling TSX?"

Actually, before Turmel even started the QP slagfest, Tory backbencher Rob Clark had committed the parliamentary equivalent of passing gas in a crowded elevator when he used his — ostensibly non-partisan — "SO-31" statement to carpet bomb the official Opposition.

"Undermining the economy and attacking Canadian jobs are yet more worrying examples that the ineffective, disunited NDP is unfit to ...," Clark read from his pre-approved script before being cut off by the Speaker.

Speaker Andrew Sheer, incidentally, reprimanded an MP earlier this week for referring to a counterpart as "stupid."

Suitably chastened, NDP and Conservative MPs adjusted their rhetoric accordingly during Thursday's question period. They needled one another with remedial reading suggestions: "Economics for Dummies," "Buying Jets for Dummies," and "Democracy for Dummies."

Against these schoolyard taunts, Pat Martin's cussed crie de coeur seemed almost poetic.

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Filed by Christian Cotroneo  |