House Of Commons Trash Talking: NDP Tries Shaming Conservative Backbenchers

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NATHAN CULLEN
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen discusses measures the party will take to ensure oversight of the federal budget in Ottawa, Tuesday May 15, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld | CP

OTTAWA - The NDP is trying to shame Conservative backbenchers into abandoning their daily game of partisan trash talk in the House of Commons.

Repeated rebukes by the Speaker have done nothing to stem Conservative use of members' statements — the 15-minute interval preceding question period each day — to lob verbal grenades at the leader of the Opposition.

And the Conservative command centre has made it clear it won't stop using backbenchers to deliver the scripted broadsides.

So, the NDP has hit upon a new tactic: employing one of their own member statements to embarrass Tory backbenchers for allowing themselves to be used as little more than attack parrots for their party.

"It's a gentle and sometimes humorous shaming exercise for them to say, 'You're better than this, don't do whatever the PMO wants you to do,'" NDP House leader Nathan Cullen said in an interview Thursday.

Cullen said some Tory backbenchers have privately told him they refuse to read the often-childish statements. The NDP's latest tactic is aimed at shaming other backbenchers into similarly refraining.

"If the only way to speak in Parliament as a Conservative is if you're willing to repeat idiotic lies, then that says a lot about them and not about us."

The new tactic was on display Thursday in the final three statements before question period.

Tory MP Phil McColeman delivered the daily partisan rant about NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's alleged plot to impose a "job-killing carbon tax" — regardless of the fact that Mulcair has actually proposed a cap and trade system similar to that promised by the Conservatives themselves in 2008.

New Democrat Matthew Kellway was up next and used his statement to mock Tory backbenchers for "making up policies or fantasies about commies hiding under their beds" in their daily "fact-free statements."

He then questioned whether they have nothing better to do.

"Since the E. coli crisis began, the New Democrats have asked 33 questions about tainted meat, Conservatives not one. Are they talking about the economy or health care? No. Conservatives have made 32 statements and asked 10 questions, 1 out of every 4 Conservative questions (has been) about us, the New Democrats.

"For my colleagues across the way, I ask if this is really what they wanted to do with their life in elected office, indulging the fantasy life of the kids in the PMO?"

Kellway appealed to Tory MP Michelle Rempel, who was poised to make the next and final statement of the day before question period, to use her time to tell the Commons about events in her riding or what she wants to do for Canadians.

Instead, Rempel delivered yet another attack on Mulcair's alleged $21-billion carbon tax plan.

After question period, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May complained to Speaker Andrew Scheer that members' statements "are descending into a fairly unpleasant political spin" and personal attacks.

"They are getting really quite despicable," she said, deriding the "ridiculous, non-stop carbon tax debate back and forth" between Tory and NDP MPs.

However, Peter Van Loan, the government's House leader, made no apologies for turning members' statements into a semblance of partisan attack ads. He pointed out that there are no limits on what an MP can choose to talk about, provided it's not deemed unparliamentary by the Speaker.

"Nothing could be more important for a member of Parliament than to stand up for constituents on issues like taxes. I can't imagine why she would want to shut down that debate," Van Loan added.

Scheer noted there have been previous rulings on the use of members' statements, promised to review May's complaint and revisit the entire matter, if necessary, when the Commons returns after next week's Thanksgiving break.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version wrongly spelled the name of Phil McColeman

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