Monday 15th of April 2024

Pervasive Scripted Narratives in House of Commons Speeches Generate Illusory Polarization, Asserts Speaker Fergus

In his ongoing efforts to enhance parliamentary decorum, House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus is shedding light on the impact of scripted speeches, which he believes contribute to a "false polarization" and a lack of familiarity among Members of Parliament (MPs). Addressing the issue in an exclusive interview with CTV's Question Period host Vassy Kapelos within his West Block Speaker's office, Fergus emphasized the need for MPs to forge stronger connections. One innovative approach he plans to implement is inviting MPs to dinner at The Farm, his official residence in Kingsmere, Chelsea, Que.

Fergus expressed concern about the limited understanding MPs have of each other, even within their own teams, attributing this to the hectic nature of parliamentary life. He remarked, "When we get here on Parliament Hill, our days are so programmed. We are running from meeting to committee, to briefing, to telephone calls with our constituents… We never really get the chance to know each other." The inspiration for his dinner initiative came from his experiences traveling with MPs from different parties during a finance committee study that ventured across Canada. While committee travels were a longstanding practice, they had recently resumed after a pandemic hiatus.

Reflecting on his time off the Hill, Fergus emphasized the importance of MPs understanding each other's backgrounds, motivations for entering politics, and shared commonalities. He clarified, "I'm not looking for people to become best friends. But, I think there's a better respect when you have an understanding of where that person is coming from, why they have those beliefs." Fergus acknowledged that while MPs may engage in pointed and passionate debates, a fundamental respect for each other is crucial.

Fergus also identified scripted speeches and rehearsed answers during question period as a hindrance to improving parliamentary debates. He argued that such practices create a distorted sense of polarization and exacerbate differences between parties. "It creates a false polarization or a false sense of the gap that probably isn't as wide as most people think that it is," Fergus remarked, emphasizing the need for a more authentic and respectful discourse in parliamentary proceedings.

Despite acknowledging that ideological gaps can be wide at times, House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus emphasizes the importance of fostering camaraderie. Drawing an analogy to sportsmanship, he envisions MPs, like participants in a hockey game or curling match, shaking hands and sharing a beer after spirited debates. Fergus, driven by a desire for collegiality, has faced challenges in his mission to address what he perceives as a decline in MPs' conduct within the "sanctum of democracy."

His initial speech on the matter, delivered two weeks into his tenure, was met with heckling, underscoring the existing tensions. Undeterred, Fergus remained committed, concluding his controversial address by pledging ongoing discussions with all parties to enhance parliamentary behavior. When queried about progress, Fergus noted collaboration with House leaders from all parties and the value of MPs' feedback in his role as an impartial adjudicator.

Acknowledging varying opinions, Fergus revealed ongoing efforts with Deputy Speaker Chris d'Entremont and Assistant Deputy Speakers Carol Hughes and Alexandra Mendes to present a united front. The focus is on consistent application of rules to ensure fairness. Fergus emphasized the importance of fostering an understanding and acceptance of the rules among MPs, rather than imposing them as an authority figure.

Elected to the House in 2015, representing Hull-Aylmer, Que., Fergus brings a wealth of parliamentary experience. Reflecting on his first month as Speaker, he expressed satisfaction, noting that the role has exceeded his expectations. Despite initial challenges, Fergus remains optimistic about his ability to cultivate a more respectful and cooperative atmosphere within the parliamentary setting.

"As a Member of Parliament, it's undeniably the greatest privilege of my life. The opportunity to now champion our parliamentary traditions and serve as their impartial arbiter is truly remarkable," remarked Fergus. Sitting in the Speaker's chair has provided him with a unique perspective, deepening his appreciation for the responsibilities entrusted to him.

Addressing early concerns from opposition MPs about his potential partisanship as a former Liberal MP, Fergus swiftly dismissed such apprehensions. Reflecting on his transition, he explained, "It only took me all of 60 seconds to shed my political bias." Having spent years defending the government on political panels and occasionally participating in procedural maneuvers, Fergus sees the role of Speaker as distinctly different.

"It's just a different role that you play," Fergus emphasized. He acknowledged his past mistakes, much like anyone else, and anticipates making new and innovative errors in the future, aspiring to avoid repeating the old ones. Fergus's commitment lies in navigating the Speaker's role with a fresh perspective and a dedication to impartiality, contributing to the continued evolution of parliamentary proceedings.

In conclusion, House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus passionately embraces the profound privilege of being a Member of Parliament, recognizing it as the pinnacle of his life's journey. His current role, serving as the impartial arbiter and promoter of parliamentary traditions, adds a new dimension to his appreciation for the responsibilities entrusted to him. Despite early concerns from some opposition MPs regarding potential partisanship, Fergus swiftly dispelled such notions, emphasizing the transformative nature of the Speaker's role.

Fergus candidly acknowledges his past as a Liberal MP, regularly defending the government and engaging in procedural intricacies. However, he views his present position as an opportunity to play a different and vital role. Reflecting on his political journey, Fergus expresses humility, acknowledging past mistakes and anticipating new ones in the future. His aspiration is to make innovative errors, steering clear of repeating old patterns.

As Fergus navigates his role as Speaker, his commitment to consistency, fairness, and fostering a more respectful parliamentary environment shines through. With a focus on collaboration and unity among House leaders, he aims to apply rules consistently and encourage MPs to internalize the spirit behind them. One month into his tenure, Fergus finds the experience to be even more rewarding than anticipated, underscoring his optimism for the ongoing evolution of parliamentary proceedings under his stewardship.