01/29/2013 15:48 EST | Updated 03/31/2013 05:12 EDT

NDP launches Civility Project to bring decorum to House

NDP House leader Nathan Cullen announced what he calls the Civility Project Tuesday in Ottawa, calling for more powers for the Speaker to discipline name-callers, hecklers and generally rude MPs who behave badly in the House of Commons.

Cullen tabled a motion calling for changes in the standing orders that would give the House Speaker the power to suspend MPs and even dock the pay of repeat offenders for using "harassment, threats, personal attacks, or extreme misrepresentation of facts."

The motion also suggests that the party in question should lose some of its scheduled questions in question period if one of its members continually breaks the rules.

The Speaker already has the power to evict MPs from the House, or, alternatively, he can simply freeze them out by refusing to recognize them, but these sanctions are rarely used.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in the foyer of the House of Commons, Cullen described the Civility Project as "Jack's Legacy." Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, put improved decorum at the top of his list when he addressed caucus shortly after the last election.

'We've had MPs crying ...'

Cullen said the Civility Project didn't arise just because of a particularly nasty incident just before Christmas when Government House Leader Peter Van Loan crossed the floor and angrily shook his finger at Cullen and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. Although there was no sound, House of Commons cameras showed that other MPs had to intervene and lead Van Loan back to his side of the House.

There have been lots of similar incidents, said Cullen, and not just in question period. "We've had MPs leaving the chamber crying after the results of personal attacks that come across during debates," he said.

Cullen explained that some MPs spoke to him about the days when MPs used to cross the floor to choke each other, as if to say, "As long as we're doing better than that."

"I don't think that's a good bar to set, " Cullen said.

He was asked what action should have been taken against one of his colleagues, NDP MP Charlie Angus, who, on Monday, said of Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, "Even when he has his clown nose on, he still doesn't make any sense."

House Speaker Andrew Scheer told Angus to refrain from making those kind of remarks. Cullen said he thought that was an appropriate reprimand for a “first offence.”

With his clown nose remark, Angus was responding to something some former Liberal MPs think should be an offence: refusing to answer a question. NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice had asked how the government would respond to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty writing a letter in support of a constituent's bid for a radio licence to the CRTC. The matter is being looked into by the ethics commissioner.

Tasked to answer the question, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Pierre Poilievre spoke for a while on the fact that Boulerice donated to Québec Solidaire, a sovereigntist party that elected two MNAs in the Quebec provincial election, prompting the clown remark from Angus.

Cullen said, "Canadians don't elect people to become partisan bulldogs."

A Civility Project Facebook page has been started.

Late Tuesday, Van Loan, who is a Conservative MP, responded to Cullen's motion. Van Loan chastised the NDP for "extreme misrepresentations of facts or positions in the House," and he singled out what he called the NDP's $21-billion carbon tax that he said the party keeps denying.

"Although the Speaker already has most of the authority suggested by this motion, we are open to study these suggestions," Van Loan added.