Unparliamentary language—Canadian edition

Picture of the Canadian House of Commons

Legislators in governments based on the Westminster system enjoy parliamentary privilege, which means that, while in the House, they can speak their minds without the fear of being sued for slander. But to retain some modicum of decorum during debates, the Speaker of the House has the authority to rein in politicians who use language deemed unparliamentary, asking foul-mouthed lawmakers to withdraw their comments or face discipline.

Because Canadians will soon head to the polls to elect their forty-second Parliament, I figured now was a good time to look through Canada’s Hansard for some choice quotes from past parliamentarians. As with the Australian edition of our unparliamentary language feature, you’ll likely find the offending words or phrases tame by Strong Language standards. I’ve also included some quotes where the honourable members feel out the boundaries of what’s considered unparliamentary.

Missing from these quotes is Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s outburst in 2011 when he called then Environment Minister Peter Kent “a piece of shit,” which wasn’t recorded in the Hansard, although his apology for it was. Also missing is the infamous fuddle-duddle incident of his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, because the transcripts in the database I searched go back to 2001 only. The historical debates are harder to search, but there’s probably quite a bit of good stuff in there, and I may have to do a follow-up.

For now, though, I hope you enjoy this sampling of modern political profanity. In no particular order:

1.

Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel): Mr. Speaker, in terms of the announcement that was made last week it was in typical Conservative fashion. One of the members chosen to be on the advisory board is the president of the Conservative Party association in my riding. The government was supposed to name seven people but it was not able to find seven people so it named three.

I have a press release put out by the National Congress of Italian-Canadians which reads, “A shameful attempt to divide and conquer”. That explains everything.

Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges—Markham): Mr. Speaker, in 1990, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney actually apologized to Italian Canadians on behalf of the government. He further pledged that we would not go down that road again and he accepted the principle of redress.

I also note that it was a Liberal prime minister who actually identified Italian Canadians as enemies—

Massimo Pacetti: You’re full of shit.

House of Commons, 2009-03-24

2.

Bill Casey (Cumberland—Colchester): Mr. Speaker, earlier, in a question the member addressed to a previous speaker, I thought he was using unparliamentary language. I was so shocked when I heard him refer to our damn procedures. I now realize that he was referring to our dam procedures.

House of Commons, 2001-09-27

3.

Right Hon. Paul Martin (LaSalle—Émard): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right when he says that small and medium size businesses are the engine of growth. What he ought to know is that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been doing regular surveys over the course of the last three to four months. Those surveys have shown a great deal of optimism in terms of the economy and their ability to create jobs. What they are saying is that they support this government’s policies and they are absolutely right to do so.

I do not know if I am allowed to raise a point of order in question period, but calling anybody a conservative minister is surely unparliamentary language.

House of Commons, 2001-12-07

4.

Shelly Glover (Saint Boniface): Mr. Speaker, yesterday you cautioned all members about the use of abusive language and personal attacks. As a new member, I want to thank you for that.

I was astonished yesterday, however, by the conduct of the Bloc Québécois member for Drummond during the meetings of the heritage committee, who interrupted the proceedings with language that I am unable to repeat in the House or in my home, in fact. There were repeated references to bovine excrement and I will say no more.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices with committee members to urge them to apply the same restraint that you placed on the House yesterday?

Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands): I am sure the hon. member will raise the matter in committee. Committee matters are not normally the preserve of the House unless there is a report from the committee. None has been received, so I suggest the hon. member deal with the matter there.

House of Commons, 2009-02-29

5.

 Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d’Orléans): Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am sure you will need to turn to our knowledgeable clerks once again and ask if the word “imbecilities” is permitted in this House.

According to the dictionary, “imbecilities” are the words spoken by imbeciles. Can the member for Beauce call me an imbecile? I would just like to know, Mr. Speaker, because if the decision you make suits me, I will use it mightily in the future.

Réginald Bélair (Timmins—James Bay): Order, please. I believe the words “imbecile” and “imbecility” are not listed as unparliamentary language in the Standing Orders. Nevertheless, I would ask you to be generous with each other and cooperate a little in order to maintain some decorum in the House. Just be careful of the words you are using.

The hon. member for Beauce may finish his question or comment.

House of Commons, 2004-05-13

6.

Betty Hinton (Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys): I would ask hon. members to please remain calm. I realize that this is an emotional issue. I would ask the hon. member to try to stay within the confines of parliamentary language.

David Anderson (Cypress Hills—Grasslands): Madam Speaker, I have a question. Was the unparliamentary language the word “incompetent” or was it the word “corrupt”?

House of Commons, 2004-03-08

7.

Hon. John Reynolds (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country): Mr. Speaker, during question period, while the member for Calgary—Nose Hill was asking a question, the President of the Treasury Board was yelling some perhaps unparliamentary comments across the aisle, but at the same time, he called her “sweetheart”.

I know her husband thinks she is a sweetheart, but I do not think she wants people to know that the President of the Treasury Board is her sweetheart. I would ask him to apologize for making that statement to the hon. member during question period.

Hon. Reg Alcock (Winnipeg South): Mr. Speaker, if that was what was understood, I certainly would apologize for it. I believe what I did was call the member for Pictou—Antigonish–Guysborough a scumbag, not a sweetheart.

Hon. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands): I do not know who the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough is, but I see the hon. member for Central Nova rising on this matter. Perhaps he has a question of privilege.

Hon. Peter MacKay (Central Nova): Mr. Speaker, I do not even know that I have to rise to that kind of ridiculous unparliamentary language. Surely you as the Speaker presiding over the House, who wants to maintain decorum would not permit a minister of the crown to stand up and call another member of Parliament a scumbag, as we have just witnessed from the minister.

I know that he will now be invited to retract that comment and I know that he will rise in his place laboriously and do that immediately.

Hon. Reg Alcock (Winnipeg South): Mr. Speaker, I am only too willing to retract the remark. I just wanted to clarify what I said.

House of Commons, 2004-11-17

8.

Hon. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands): In oral question period, the hon. member for Outremont used unparliamentary language when asking two questions. I am now requesting that he withdraw his remarks immediately. Thank you.

Hon. Jean Lapierre (Outremont): Mr. Speaker, out of respect for you, I withdraw the word that has offended your delicate ears.

House of Commons, 2006-11-01

9.

Hon. Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra): Mr. Speaker, the emails and phone calls continue to pour into MPs’ offices from financially devastated Canadians following the government’s broken election promise on income trusts. Let us take, for example, Mr. David Taylor of Vancouver, who writes under the title “A damaged Canadian”, and says:

A significant percentage of my portfolio was lost today, with further destruction still to come. My monthly income is now in serious jeopardy, since by the new rules income trusts will have to lower their distributions to account for the new tax. I will have to sell my house as my new lower income will not support the mortgage. I wish I only had myself to blame, but this is entirely the fault of a callous and indifferent politician who has lied and now cheated me of my retirement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor is not the only one in this predicament. Thousands of Canadians have lost billions of dollars overnight because of the government’s broken promise—

Hon. Peter Milliken (Kingston and the Islands): Order, please. Hon. members cannot do indirectly what they cannot do directly. Using language that is unparliamentary because they are quoting somebody is not satisfactory. We will not have these quotes read this way.

House of Commons, 2006-11-08

10.

Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North): Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Premier from Alberta is coming to Ottawa and he wants to meet with the Minister of Immigration and other Alberta members of Parliament. The minister’s response to the suggestion is, and I quote, “He is a complete and utter asshole”.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Hon. Andrew Scheer (Regina—Qu’Appelle): Order, please. The member knows that he is not supposed to do indirectly what he is not allowed to do directly.

House of Commons, 2012-06-19

11.

Elsie Wayne (Saint John): Mr. Speaker, during question period, the Prime Minister referred to some of the hon. female members of this chamber as baying like hounds in heat. I do not bay like a hound. A baying hound is a bitch, and I am not a bitch.

House of Commons, 2004-04-20

12.

Isabelle Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine): This is Canada. We have a wealth of natural resources and raw materials. We have good universities and can become the richest country in the world. However, Canadians have been fucked over by the government so often that many are living in poverty. People have to use food banks because they cannot make ends meet. Seniors often come to see me. They have rotten teeth and need to go to the dentist, but they cannot afford to go and are not doing well. Then people ask me if they can still trust our political system. I am tempted to tell them to ask the Prime Minister, because my own trust is somewhat lacking right now […]

James Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake): Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you review the Hansard transcript of what the member was just saying. I believe she used unparliamentary language, the f-word.

The f-bomb in French and English both start with f, and they both kind of translate to the same meaning. I do not believe that is parliamentary language that we should be adopting here. She may admire the Liberal leader for dropping the f-bomb this weekend at a charity event, but we do not need to start emulating that type of language in the chamber.

House of Commons, 2014-04-01

13.

Michel Gauthier (Roberval): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Earlier, you made a ruling relating to a question that had been asked. I would like to request some further information from you. There are two separate aspects to my point of order.

The first is the following. Last March, the Minister of Finance made a decision in his budget. That ministerial decision was unfavourable to the microbrewers’ association and favourable to the major breweries. Not long after, he went on a sailing vacation with family members and members of the Brewers Association. So, last week, we asked the minister, given the potential for conflict of interest, whether this trip had been provided free of charge within the framework of his duties, as was common practice at the time, or whether he had paid. You allowed the minister to respond and his response was that he had paid the cost of his trip in full.

It is our impression, however, that what the minister paid for was his plane fare. As for the sailing vacation itself, today we merely asked the Minister of Finance, as a supplementary question, how much he had paid the person who provided this trip to reimburse him for its value. The Minister of Industry was asked the same question several weeks ago, and it was allowed.

It seems to us that it is important to know and that we have the right to ask a minister who went on a trip that could place him in an apparent conflict of interest situation whether or not he paid for that trip and how much. I would say that is a minimum. What is good for the industry minister should be good for the finance minister, even if we are talking about larger amounts.

Second, and this is of some concern to me, when questioned about this, instead of answering through the official channel, since you had risen, we very clearly saw the minister tell us in this House, “Fuck off”.

It seems to me that it is somewhat unparliamentary for a finance minister to answer this kind of question in such a despicable way. Is the question so terrible? Is that how dismayed the minister is to have to reveal how much he spent for this cruise with his family on the Caribbean, along with people from the Brewers Association, whom he had just favoured in his budget?

We do not know. But we are perfectly justified by political morals to ask this kind of question. I would therefore appreciate it if you could explain how the question about details on costs was in order when asked of the industry minister but not when asked of the finance minister. This is tied closely to decisions he made in his last budget and to a possible breach of ethics and conflict of interest. It seems to me that we can inquire.

House of Commons, 2003-11-03

14.

Michel Guimond (Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord): Mr. Speaker, I find it ironic that, at the beginning of each parliamentary session, the four whips meet to discuss ways to improve decorum and discipline in the House of Commons. Once again, we have proof that those meetings are just for show. They are completely meaningless, because each party ends up doing whatever it wants anyway. This kind of behaviour does not do our offices justice.

On to my point of order. Earlier, our colleague, the member for Joliette and House leader of the Bloc Québécois, asked a very legitimate and important question about the Geneva convention with respect to the torture of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities.

While my colleague from Joliette was asking his question, members on this side clearly heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence say the word “bullshit”. At the time, he was seated on the front bench next to the Minister of National Defence.

I regret having to repeat—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Michel Guimond: Does that hurt you people over there?

I regret having to repeat such an unacceptable and utterly unparliamentary word, particularly given the parliamentary secretary’s position.

For reference, I would like to read from page 614 of O’Brien-Bosc, which states that:

Remarks directed specifically at another member which question that member’s integrity, honesty or character are not in order. A member will be requested to withdraw offensive remarks, allegations, or accusations of impropriety—

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I would refer you to chapter 13, page 618, which addresses order and decorum, where the authors provide clear examples of unparliamentary language.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence to withdraw his words, if he is capable of acknowledging that he said them.

Hon. Laurie Hawn (Edmonton Centre): Mr. Speaker, the words were not spoken. The words were mouthed. I applaud the leader of the Bloc’s ability to lip-read in English. That is very commendable. I do apologize for mouthing inappropriate comments. The next time I will mouth something more appropriate, like “bovine scatology”.

Since the hon. member is so good at lip-reading, I assume he can read minds, so I would like to apologize for what I am thinking right now.

House of Commons, 2009-12-08

15.

Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa): Mr. Speaker, June 2 will be my 10th anniversary as a member of this House. I have always worked hard, passionately and with great determination.

During question period, we ask honest questions. We are now spending $6.1 billion on a mission, and we support our troops, yet we have a minister who says that it costs a certain amount of money, then comes back the next day and says that it costs twice as much, so I think it makes sense to ask about that during question period.

I invoke Standing Order 18. The government whip cast aspersions on my passion and my patriotism by calling me an idiot. He said:

“Tell that to the troops we are supporting, you idiot”.

Hon. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River): Mr. Speaker, I too have been here quite some time now, about 14 years or close to it.

I have, as my colleagues have, for the past number of weeks listened to the member for Bourassa denigrate and personally attack our Minister of National Defence. The member says he has been asking these questions properly. The Minister of National Defence is a man with an outstanding 35 year career serving our country in the Canadian armed forces. The member has called him an “arms dealer”. Today he called him a “spendthrift” for the minister’s efforts to rebuild the Canadian Forces and to give it the equipment it needs, to give it the tanks it needs.

If he wants me to apologize, I will apologize. I should not have called the member an idiot because even an idiot would support the Minister of National Defence.

House of Commons, 2007-05-18

16.

Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In recent weeks, various types of unparliamentary language have been called out of order. One example is that when I used the word “fascist” it was ruled to be out of order and unparliamentary. My colleague is now calling us “Bolsheviks”. Both words are types of governments that we frown upon in this Parliament. We do not approve of calling each other names.

If one legitimate form of government that has fallen out favour, i.e. “fascism”, is unparliamentary, would it not also be unparliamentary to call someone another form of government that has fallen out of favour, and that is “Bolshevism”?

Réal Ménard (Hochelaga): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I urge my hon. colleague to be very vigilant and very careful. It seems to me that, by comparing the word “fascist” to the word “socialist” or the term “neo-Bolshevik”, he is taking liberties with history that are not his to take. I also hope he understands that I did not mean to make the slightest allusion to any authoritarian ideology, nor did I intend to insult him.

Thus, he should be very careful and more vigilant.

Hon. Bill Blaikie (Elmwood—Transcona): I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Hochelaga for their interventions. The Chair will take the matter under advisement as to whether calling someone a neo-Bolshevik is unparliamentary. If there is a need on the part of the Chair to get back to the House, then the House will be gotten back to.

House of Commons, 2007-04-30

17.

Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie): Mr. Speaker, I did not say he was stupid; I said that his remarks were stupid and that he did not know anything about his portfolio. Once again, people have been telling tales in the House and outside, and the Prime Minister is refusing to set the record straight. I said that he did not know anything about his portfolio, and I will say so again.

House of Commons, 2009-02-04

18.

Hon. Andrew Scheer (Regina—Qu’Appelle): Order. I think that allusion caused a little bit of disorder in the House and the hon. member might want to withdraw it. I do not know what some cultures think about leprechauns, but I do not know if it is an appropriate way to describe a member.

Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe): Yes, Mr. Speaker, the leprechauns that I have known are perhaps much more jolly than the minister and the comparison was not fair.

In short, will the hon. member—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Hon. Andrew Scheer (Regina—Qu’Appelle): Order. I think we will move on to another question, unless the hon. member is willing to withdraw the remarks.

Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe): Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the remarks. The comparison was unfair.

House of Commons, 2009-02-04

19.

Tom Lukiwski (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre): Mr. Speaker, in response to the recent intervention by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, at least on translation, the words came across accusing the government of lying, lies and untruths.

I wonder if the member could confirm that is what he said, and if so, would he withdraw his remarks immediately.

Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie): Mr. Speaker, I never claimed that the government had lied. I said that the Conservatives had established a pattern of lying. That is quite different.

The Speaker already confirmed to the House that we may talk about reaching the heights of hypocrisy. That was one of your rulings, Mr. Speaker.

House of Commons, 2010-04-01

20.

David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): The members talked about history. We have seen history repeat itself. Lo and behold, here we are today and those three senior cabinet ministers who were part of bill 26, the omnibus bill that they tried to ram through the Ontario legislature back in 1995, are here today in 2012, having rammed through one bill and getting ready to ram through another omnibus bill. It was unacceptable then and it is damn well unacceptable today.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh): Order, please. I understand the passion of the speaker but the use of that term is unparliamentary and not allowed in this chamber.

David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I was wrong, Mr. Speaker, and you have probably done me a favour because I would have heard from my mom anyway. I apologize to both you and the only higher authority I would acknowledge on the planet, which would be my mom. I have to stop doing that. There is another word I use that I think is okay and is not okay. I stand corrected.

House of Commons, 2010-04-01

14 thoughts on “Unparliamentary language—Canadian edition

  1. rossmurray1 October 9, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    These are wonderful, and the responses suggesting that the entire notion of decorum is, to our parliamentarians, a crock.
    John Crosbie, from Newfoundland, had a magic tongue, and got into trouble in reference to fellow MP Sheila Copps, who herself was no slouch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC28H_oLr04

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iva Cheung October 9, 2015 / 5:04 pm

      Haha! This is great!

      I heard Peter Milliken speak a few years ago, and he told the crowd that Parliament used to have three sittings, including an evening sitting after a two-hour dinner break, when MPs of all stripes would eat in the same area and get to know each other a bit. After the evening sitting was eliminated, Milliken reported a chamber much harder to control. Food for thought…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Y October 9, 2015 / 4:26 pm

    Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant:

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Y October 9, 2015 / 4:27 pm

    (I should add, one of many Canadian stereotype cartoons Beaton has done.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. duplicatorbooks October 10, 2015 / 7:22 am

    A bunch of crooks hiding behind a figleaf of decorum…

    (Sorry, I meant ‘corks’, of course… no offence meant)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iva Cheung October 12, 2015 / 5:22 pm

      Thank you! Yes, a UK edition will definitely happen sometime. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fred Sampan June 25, 2016 / 8:48 pm

    Didnt Harper call Nelson Mandela a terrorist and everything? Id think someone would have gone “oh, oh!” To that, at least id hope. It was a while ago. Then Harper did a big nice speech when Mandela died , hoping people would forget that he himself had campaigned for Mandela to be locked up

    Like

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