It was the closest the House of Commons television feed has been to mirroring the drama displayed in a piece of Renaissance art.
On Wednesday, an impatient prime minister cut through a “gaggle” of MPs to grab the arm of a loitering Conservative whip when a careless elbow collided with an NDP MP’s chest — who yelped in pain behind him.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s physical intervention to get a vote underway angered NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.
Screengrab of the altercation involving Trudeau on Wednesday in the House of Commons.
MPs swarmed around both leaders who were briefly locked in a face-to-face confrontation. It peaked with Mulcair yelling at Trudeau, calling him “pathetic” — twice. Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May stood at the back and watched everything unfold.
“What we saw was unacceptable, but let us keep perspective,” May said in the House after the boisterous crowd settled back into their seats.
“What I saw that was unwise and unacceptable was that the prime minister deliberately tried to move a vote along,” she said.
MPs had gathered in the House to vote on a motion to limit debate on Bill C-14, the government’s assisted-dying bill. Tensions had been steadily rising in opposition benches in recent weeks over the Liberals’ use of their majority to cut parliamentary debate short.
“What we saw was unacceptable, but let us keep perspective.”
— Elizabeth May
May called out opposition members for purposefully slowing down the vote — a familiar tactic the party has used in the past.
May: ‘There was some mischief’
“There was some mischief. Let us face it. There was some mischief on the floor,” the Saanich—Gulf Islands MP said. Members interrupted her with shouts of “Oh!” before being simmered down by House Speaker Geoff Regan.
“Let me finish what I am saying. I am trying to keep perspective,” she continued. May turned her attention to Trudeau by saying his actions were clearly “unwanted” physical contact and how everyone’s behaviour did not reflect well on their roles as elected officials.
She defended Trudeau’s apology, saying there’s “truth” in his explanation that he didn’t see NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau behind him when he grabbed Conservative whip Gord Brown to bring him to his seat.
File photo of Berthier—Maskinongé MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau speaks in the House of Commons. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Parliamentary rules dictate that votes cannot get underway until government and opposition whips are seated. Brosseau left the chamber after the incident and didn’t register her vote.
“Members can like it or not like it, but nothing that happened here today reflects well on us. We do not want to be the House of Commons for some country that other countries watch on CNN and wonder what has become of us.” May said. “We are grown ups.”
Possible breach of privileges
On Thursday, the prime minister again apologized for his actions.
“I apologize to my colleagues, to the House as a whole, and to you Mr. Speaker for failing to live up to a higher standard of behaviour.”
The incident caught the attention of international media and drew questions if Trudeau’s conduct constitutes as a breach of parliamentary privileges.
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