Question period at the Manitoba legislature has descended into accusations of inappropriate conduct in recent days after one MLA flashed their middle finger and another struck a colleague’s chair with the back side of their hand.
Such behaviour is at odds with the emotional speech made by Tory MLA Bob Lagasse at the start of question period Thursday, who after documenting his recent struggles with depression, urged his legislature colleagues to show each other kindness.
“In this environment of political theatre, we tend to be harmful to the detriment of our own and our others’ mental health,” he said.
His address brought MLAs from all parties to their feet, but the civility was short-lived.
The heckles continued as usual and, an hour later, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont raised his middle finger after he says he was frustrated at a non-answer from Progressive Conservative house leader Kelvin Goertzen.
Questioning her personal safety
Only a day earlier, on Wednesday, an emotional NDP MLA Bernadette Smith said she’s questioned her safety in the legislature, particularly as an Indigenous person, after PC MLA Blaine Pedersen hit her chair. He was trying to get Smith’s attention, Pedersen’s colleague had told the house.
Deputy speaker Andrew Micklefield urged legislature members after question period Thursday to keep their emotions in check.
“We can have all the benefits of of this place, including lively debate, I’m not wanting to squash that at all, but clearly things can get out of hand and have crossed some lines,” he said.
“Let’s make sure none of us are contributing to that, either by ourselves or perhaps by stoking others’ unfortunate behaviour.”
It started on Tuesday, during question period, when Pedersen seemingly tried to get the attention of Smith by whacking the back of her chair. Smith, who was seated, immediately turned around and the two MLAs appeared to have a brief discussion, according to legislature assembly video, which the NDP provided to media.
WATCH | Pedersen whacks the chair of NDP MLA:
Smith alleged Pedersen was trying to prevent her from speaking.
“The MLA from Midland may not like what I have to say, but the people of Manitoba sent me here and I have every right to say what I need to say without being hit while I sit in my chair. That’s wrong.
“We don’t hit people in their chairs when people are sitting in them and try to change the opinion of the person while sitting there or stop them from speaking their mind,” Smith said through tears.
Her NDP colleagues, Nahanni Fontaine, Malaya Marcelino and Lisa Naylor, stood in solidarity with Smith and rested their arms on her.
In response, Pedersen said he sincerely apologized for any grief and harm he caused.
PC House Leader Kelvin Goertzen said MLAs can watch the video and make up their own minds but he described the action as a “tap”
“I’m satisfied … that whatever was done was simply to try to gather the attention of the member,” Goertzen said.
He added he has known Pedersen, who he called an honourable individual, for a long time.
“When he says that he was not intending to cause any harm or any concern to the member, I support and I understand and I believe him 100 per cent.”
On Thursday, it was Goertzen raising concern about a fellow MLA’s conduct. He said Lamont “give me a hand signal that wasn’t indicating that I was No. 1 in his heart.”
Goertzen said he wouldn’t consider himself to be offended, but said the hand signal is “simply inappropriate in a democratic house.”
Lamont said he welcomed the opportunity to speak in response. He apologized for his actions, but wanted to offer the context that he felt Goertzen, in response to Lamont’s questioning earlier in the day, was dismissing the threats that politicians opposing this year’s convoy protests experienced.
He said some legislators in Manitoba were threatened, received death threats and were approached by protesters in their offices.
In recalling that, Lamont said, “I became frustrated, I will not do it again and I sincerely apologize.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew condemned the use of the middle finger, and then invited all MLAs in the house to “reflect on other behaviours that took place in this chamber this week,” seemingly a reference to what Smith experienced.
“I would ask that there not be a double standard when we adjudicate these matters, particularly not on a partisan basis. Everyone deserves to be able to speak here freely. Everyone deserves to be able to participate,” Kinew said.
Before returning to legislative business, Micklefield reminded all legislators of the value of decorum.
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