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Verbal brawl erupts on the floor of the House of Commons

Video screen grab of Conservative and NDP MPs engaging in a heated exchange on Dec. 5, 2012.

Partisan tension is winning out over holiday cheer on the floor of the House of Commons as cameras captured a Conservative minister being separated from a heated face-to-face argument with senior New Democrats.

On the afternoon after a late night of voting on 47 opposition amendments to the government's budget bill, tempers flared on both sides of the House. MPs were buzzing over an exchange that went beyond the usual staged theatrics of parliamentary politics.

After Question Period, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen raised a procedural objection over how the Tuesday night votes concluded. The NDP argued that the closing vote – which took place around 10 p.m. – was out of order because the MP described by the Speaker as having moved the motion, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, had left. Mr. Flaherty's office said the minister was in the government lobby during the final vote and noted that it was common for MPs to take breaks Tuesday evening.

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After Mr. Cullen's remarks were finished, the cameras capture an irritated Peter Van Loan, the Government House Leader, crossing the floor, pointing his finger in Mr. Cullen's direction.

According to Mr. Cullen, the minister was angry and said something to the effect of "Don't you ever do that again" – but with more colourful language. Mr. Cullen gave his account of the incident during an interview on CBC's Power and Politics.

Mr. Cullen said that after listening to Mr. Van Loan's "angry" comments, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who was nearby, intervened. "He said: 'Don't threaten my House Leader,' " Mr. Cullen said.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Van Loan issued a statement on the incident. "I conveyed my disappointment to the NDP House Leader for the hypocrisy of his complaint which related to a mistake by a member of his own caucus [Tuesday night]," he said. "It is normal for me to speak with the opposition House Leaders. I was however surprised how Mr. Mulcair snapped and lost his temper."

Mr. Van Loan's office says the minister was arguing that the NDP was putting the government in a bind, because any procedural mistakes that may have taken place Tuesday evening were approved at the time by Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin, who is a New Democrat.

In the video of the incident, Mr. Van Loan can be seen crouching down in front of Mr. Cullen's desk, at which point Mr. Mulcair intervened. The NDP Leader cannot be seen on camera, but witnesses – who were happy to describe the altercation through their own partisan lens – say the NDP Leader had strong words for Mr. Van Loan.

According to Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, Mr. Mulcair began to "yell and scream" at Mr. Van Loan. "It wasn't quite parliamentary language that I heard coming of of [Mr. Mulcair's] mouth," Mr. Dykstra said on CBC.

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In the video, Defence Minister Peter MacKay can be seen crossing the floor to guide Mr. Van Loan away from the NDP benches. NDP MP Paul Dewar can also be seen intervening. "Thankfully," Mr. Cullen said, "no microphones were turned on."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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