I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord concerning remarks made during question period on Thursday, February 26, 2009, by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Since the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour raised a point of order on March 5 concerning very similar remarks made that day, I will also rule on that matter in this ruling.
In his submission, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord stated that in response to a question he put to the hon. minister, and following her reply to a question posed by the hon. member for Québec, the minister had said that “threats and calls for violence are not part of Quebec's values. That is more like the Bloc's ideology.” I am referring to the House of Commons Debates at page 1038.
The member went on to say that these remarks were offensive, that the Bloc Québécois has always denounced all calls for violence of any kind and, consequently, that to accuse the Bloc Québécois of supporting threats and acts of violence was unparliamentary. The member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord felt that the remarks were in contravention of Standing Order 18, and asked the Chair to rule the hon. minister’s remarks unparliamentary and require her to withdraw them.
In replying to the point of order, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister said that the minister's comments were in reference to the newspaper Le Québécois, the content of which he found offensive. He noted that members of the Bloc Québécois had purchased advertisements in the paper.
In raising his point of order on March 5, 2009, the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour stated that he felt that the use of the terms “extremists” and “promotes violence” in reference to the Bloc Québecois that day by the hon. member for Saint-Boniface during statements by members and by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister during oral questions were also directed to him as a member of that political party. He expressed his belief that the use of such language should be condemned.
As I have stated in the past, it is the duty of the Speaker to ensure that all debates in the House are conducted with a certain degree of civility and mutual respect in keeping with established practice in this House. House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 503:
Members are to show respect for one another and for different viewpoints; offensive or rude behaviour or language is not tolerated. Emotions are to be expressed in words rather than acted out; opinions are to be expressed with civility.
It goes on to mention on page 526:
Although an expression may be found to be acceptable, the Speaker has cautioned that any language which leads to disorder in the House should not be used. Expressions which are considered unparliamentary when applied to an individual Member have not always been considered so when applied “in a generic sense” or to a party.
At the same time, it should be remembered that proceedings in this House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect for the integrity of all members. In addition, House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 526:
In dealing with unparliamentary language, the Speaker takes into account the tone, manner and intention of the member speaking; the person to whom the words were directed; the degree of provocation; and, most importantly, whether or not the remarks created disorder in the Chamber.
In the case before us, it may appear that the remarks made by the hon. Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, the member for Saint-Boniface and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, because they were directed to a party rather than an individual member, were not unparliamentary in a narrow, technical sense. However, they were undoubtedly intended to be provocative and they clearly created disorder.
It should be noted that a considerable body of precedents has developed over the years with respect to statements by members. Not only are personal attacks prohibited, but House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 364:
The Speaker has cut off an individual statement and asked the Member to resume his or her seat when
offensive language has been used;
a Senator has been attacked;
the actions of the Senate have been criticized;
a ruling of a court has been denounced; and
the character of a judge has been attacked.
The Speaker has also cautioned Members not to use this period to make defamatory comments about non-Members, nor to use the verbatim remarks of a private citizen as a statement, nor to make statements of a commercial nature.
I draw this particular quote to the attention of all hon. members and urge them to have a look at that before statements today at 2 o'clock.
It is, therefore, in the strongest possible terms that I encourage members to refrain from these sorts of remarks in the future. The Standing Orders provide the Speaker with considerable authority to preserve order and decorum and the Chair wishes to make it perfectly clear that transgressors risk being cut off by the Chair. All members must realize that such provocative commentary only invites equally inflammatory responses and contributes greatly to the lowering of the tone of our proceedings. In recent weeks I have been obliged to intervene more than once to remind members on both sides of the House of the standards of order and decorum which are expected of them both by the traditions of the House and by their constituents. Once again, I reiterate the need for proper decorum and temperate language in the House.
The hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois on a point of order.