There is no miracle recipe for bringing down the temperature of a parliament on edge, believes the former president of the National Assembly of Quebec Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, especially when attacks on politicians become attacks on politicians.

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau in interview.

Former President of the National Assembly of Quebec, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau

Photo: Radio-United States

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, who was president of the National Assembly of Quebec from 1996 to 2002, sounds the alarm about the excesses of the discourse and warns politicians: this game can turn against them and against the institution that they represent.

People don’t realize how far this can leadsays Jean-Pierre Charbonneau in an interview on the show Behind the scenes of power in reference to the muscular exchanges between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre last Tuesday in the House of Commons.

At some point, people push things too far. (…) When you don’t have too many ethics or when ethics are not that important in relation to your objective of taking power and then keeping it (…), you find yourself in quite dramatic situations.

A quote from Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, former president of the National Assembly of Quebec
Daniel Thibeault discusses with Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, in a videoconference interview.

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau is Daniel Thibeault’s guest on the show “Les glaces du verre”.

Photo: Radio-United States

A system of civilized fighting and an ultimate weapon

The parliamentary system constitutes a set of civilized fighting, says Mr. Charbonneau, who chaired the National Assembly under Lucien Bouchard then under Bernard Landry. A political contest takes place in which the President of the House is the master and in which there are rules.

The expulsion of a parliamentarian is the ultimate weapon, supports Jean-Pierre Charbonneau. It must be used sparingly, when things go too far and when the authority of the presidency is not respected.

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On Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Greg Fergus, used this power.

During an exchange with the Prime Minister, Pierre Poilievre described the policy of decriminalization of hard drugs of the government and then the Prime Minister as weirdos (wacko“,”text”:”wacko”}}”>wackoin English).

Poilievre standing in the Chamber.

Pierre Poilievre was asked several times to withdraw his comments by the Speaker of the House of Commons, before being expelled on April 30, 2024.

Photo: The U.S. Press / Adrian Wyld

Greg Fergus asked him to withdraw his remarks, but the Conservative leader instead tried to replace the term. After several calls to order, the president finally expelled the conservative leader. His entire caucus followed suit.

Minutes earlier, Conservative MP Rachael Thomas was also expelled for ignoring the president’s instructions, which she called shameful.

Jean-Pierre Charbonneau believes that maintaining order in a Parliament is a question of dosage and balance between authority and neutrality. Each intervention by the president must be measured, without invoking his authority at every turn, so as not to antagonize parliamentarians.

Cure for partisanship

After his expulsion, Pierre Poilievre declared on the social network X that he had been censored by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Conservatives accuse Greg Fergus of being partisan and call for his resignation (New window).

What is the remedy for these accusations? Confidence in the president’s decisions is built over time, answers Jean-Pierre Charbonneau. When they displease both sides of the House, a certain balance is establishedhe adds.

According to Mr. Charbonneau, the government as well as the opposition parties have the responsibility to respect the rules which prohibit ridiculing the opponent or reacting in an exaggerated manner.

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Jean-Pierre Charbonneau also attributes part of the blame to spin doctors“,”text”:”spin doctors”}}”>spin doctors political parties, which he also calls chaos engineerswho are the authors of the sharp replies used by politicians to destabilize the adversary.

Greg Fergus was elected Speaker of the House of Commons on October 3, 2023, following the resignation of Anthony Rota. The latter had to leave office for inviting the assembly to applaud Yaroslav Hunka, 98, a resident of his constituency who was a member of the SS Galicia Division, a volunteer unit under the Nazi command of the Waffen-SS during the Second World War, during the visit to Canada of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Greg Fergus in the House.

Speaker of the House of Commons, Greg Fergus

Photo: The U.S. Press / Adrian Wyld

Ripple effect and loss of confidence

This phenomenon of one-upmanship in political discourse is not unique to Canada. Charbonneau. We saw it in Brazil, we saw it in Hungary, we saw it in the Philippines.(…) People see what is happening elsewhere and have the impression that this is the new way of doing things.”,”text”:”There is a kind of ripple effect, says M. Charbonneau. We saw it in Brazil, we saw it in Hungary, we saw it in the Philippines.(…) People see what’s happening elsewhere and have the impression that this is the new way of do.”}}”>There is a kind of ripple effect, says Mr. Charbonneau. We saw it in Brazil, we saw it in Hungary, we saw it in the Philippines. (…) People see what is happening elsewhere and have the impression that this is the new way of doing things.

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He believes that Donald Trump’s political discourse in the United States has exacerbated this phenomenon in recent years.

At that moment, ethics goes out the window, that is to say, from the moment when, in a Parliament, there is no longer ethics (…) (and that we) can say anything, in any way, we are in trouble.

A quote from Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, former president of the National Assembly of Quebec

These provocative behaviors, according to the former President of the National Assembly, undermine the confidence of citizens, undermine the credibility of institutions and fuel the anger of certain voters, who begin to encourage unrestrained attacks by taking an example from attitudes the most provocative.

One thing is certain for Jean-Pierre Charbonneau: There is nothing stronger but more fragile than a democracy.

The episode of Behind the scenes of power which includes the interview with Jean-Pierre Charbonneau can be seen Sunday at 11 a.m. (EDT) on ICI Télé and on ICI RDI, or even catch up on the show’s website as well as on ICI TOU.TV.

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