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Beavers, goblins and ostrich jockeys force Speaker to scold MPs

Ostriches strut for the camera at a farm outside the village of Campos, on the Spanish island of Mallorca, on Oct. 16, 2011.


House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer was forced to shush the chamber and call for order at least half dozen times in a rambunctious Question Period Tuesday that delivered more sizzle than steak.

At one point, Mr. Scheer prohibited MPs from continuing to use animal metaphors. "Beaver fever" (Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to NDP MP Pat Martin in an exchange about dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board) was one and "failed ostrich jockey" (Mr. Martin and Mr. Ritz again, with the New Democrat referring to the animals minister used to raise on his farm) was another.

"I think some of these metaphors involving animals may be causing a little disorder in the House," the Speaker warned. "I would urge all honourable members to try to avoid that so we can get through Question Period."

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At another point, the Speaker admonished Defence Minister Peter MacKay for using the word "goblin" in describing his NDP critic, David Christopherson, who wanted to know about the accuracy of published reports suggesting military bases might be closed across the country.

For the second consecutive day, Mr. MacKay dodged the question. "I know we are getting close to Halloween now, and I know that the member is a bit of a goblin on this. He wants to scare people," the Defence Minister said.

The Speaker felt the word "goblin" was unparliamentary. Mr. MacKay apologized after Question Period.

MPs have observed a breakdown in decorum in the Commons of late. Opposition House Leader Joe Comartin told The Globe he believes it has deteriorated over the past couple of weeks and he is planning to address the issue with Conservative and Liberal colleagues.

Tuesday's session, meanwhile, certainly bolstered his criticism. It was a 45-minute session packed full of accusations about government waste and mismanagement. In addition to demands for answers about the potential closing of military bases, the NDP went after the Conservatives over new infrastructure spending allegations.

The Toronto Star, through Access to Information documents, suggested that cabinet ministers were directly approving the use of G8 legacy money to fund infrastructure projects submitted by MPs. Prime Minister Stephen Harper skated around the question, noting it had been reviewed by the Auditor-General, who made some recommendations that his government will follow in the future.

More fur flew over the Conservative decision to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board and also its tabling Tuesday of new legislation to scrap the controversial long-gun registry – something the Tories had tried but failed to do when they were in a minority government.

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In fact, Conservative MPs were gloating over this. Pierre Poilivere, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport, tried to turn the tables on NDP MP Charlie Angus. Rather than answering his questions about pork-barrelling at the G8 summit in Huntsville, he asked Mr. Angus if he would support the new legislation to abolish the long-gun registry.

"We are also, in the spirit of generosity, giving the honourable member an opportunity to do the right thing and to finally keep his promise to vote in favour of the elimination of the long-gun registry as he promised for so many years," Mr. Poilievre said.

Mr. Angus, who represents a rural riding in northern Ontario, had initially voted to scrap the registry but later changed his vote to keep it alive.

He ignored the taunt by his Conservative colleague. It was that kind of day.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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