Interview with Andrew Scheer: 35th Speaker of the House of Commons

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Leadership Monday, January 25, 2016 View Count = 3339

Interview with Andrew Scheer: 35th Speaker of the House of Commons


Last week we released "Cheering or Jeering? Members of Parliament Open Up About Civility in the House of Commons" based on surveys conducted with MPs in the 41st Parliament. Mackenzie Grisdale, one of the researchers on this report, spoke with then-Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle. She asked him about the Speaker's role maintaining decorum in the House of Commons. Here's an excerpt from their interview along with curated tweets from his time as Speaker:

MG: How do you see your role regarding heckling and whether the way that you address it might differ from what you saw Speaker Milliken doing?

AS: I think that the fundamental the role of the Speaker when it comes to heckling is to ensure that members are able to participate in the debate properly. So if a person is asking a question or answering, they have to be able to do so. And when the noise level in the chamber reaches a point where it's distracting, where a person putting a question or answering can't complete their remarks, or where it's where I can't hear them, or where it reached a level where it's problematic -- to step in. There's 307 people in the chamber. Not all of them are heckling. Some of them are carrying on conversations about issues they may be working on. So there's always a general background noise level, and my job's to make sure that debate can happen as orderly as possible.

MG: What do you find are the most effective things that you've found you can do as Speaker when you decide, "Ok, this has gone too far"?

AS: Well when it's a general issue of an entire caucus being a little bit rowdy -- you know sometimes things that happen in a caucus meeting spread out to the chamber, or events outside Parliament Hill -- I have used the tactic of taking away a question from a caucus. Or taking away a question or two sometimes. That can be very effective because members guard their ability to ask questions very tightly. There aren't often regular options for members to ask questions. So if there's a threat that one or more of them may lose a spot, it can be very effective. If it's a particular individual, often telling him or her that they will have a challenge getting recognized by the Chair until they come to order is effective. And I have singled members out in the Chamber during Question Period when things are problematic. And I think sometimes the group shaming tactic and having the other members know who's doing it, that often brings them to order for at least the rest of that day.

MG: Who besides you, as Speaker, do you think has had a role in influencing how much heckling there is in the House?

AS: The whips, for sure. That's where I've tried to work with them. That's where an issue like taking a question away from a caucus comes into play, because the whips can go over to the members who are being noisy and say "out of respect for this guy or this woman who has a question, you've got to be quiet for the rest of the day otherwise the Speaker's going to take that other person's question away." And there is a real team mentality in the House and whips will use that to assist the Speaker.

And of course the Party Leaders. Every Party Leader sets the tone for their own caucus and is the face of their caucus. And if they buy into better decorum in the House, then I think their caucus members will be more likely to as well.

MG: How has your perspective on heckling evolved over time, since you were a student and came to watch QP, and became an MP, and then started to be a Chair Occupant and now the Speaker?

AS: There's an ebb and flow to it. Sometimes it gets more intense. My view of heckling is that I think it stems from certain frustrations. There are 307 MPs and only 45 minutes of Question Period every day, so many members know they're in the Chamber and they won't have an opportunity to participate in a formal way, and that often is frustrating. If they want to get something off their chests or make a point, they often do it through heckling. And I think there are different kinds of heckles.

There's the good natured witty barb that often has members of all parties laughing. They can appreciate a good point, a good burn, a good joke, or a good reference to something.

But I think there are some members who are a little bit more rascally, disruptive. They're doing it to throw off the Minister or someone asking a question -- to throw them off their game a little bit. So the question doesn't come out quite as effective, or the answer sounds a little bit jumbled.

And then the ones where I really try to focus are the mean-spirited ones. The ones where, every once in a while, a member loses their temper or forgets where they are and gets into some more mean-spirited shouts or yells and that's where I try to nip it in the bud. Those are the types of things that can lead to further disruptions and raise temper levels on both sides. I try to get to those as quickly as I can.

Read the report and RSVP to #SamaraChat X: Cheering or Jeering? on January 29th at 1pm EST.

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Mackenzie Grisdale worked as a public radio producer for eight years before starting medical school at the University of Calgary in 2015. She published the first iteration of her study on heckling in 2011 after participating in the non-partisan Parliamentary Internship Programme.

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