From the first day television cameras entered the House of Commons on October 17, 1977, the CBC network hinted at a shift toward spectacle politics. “[Pierre Elliott] Trudeau loved it and he demonstrated it by taking up the lion’s share of the broadcast,” a reporter said that day in an account of this historic first⁠1.

Nearly five decades later, it is on social networks that elected officials display their prowess. In the conservative camp, we have mastered the art of publishing video sequences of debates almost instantly. This quest for clicks is not without peril, however – the case of Rachael Thomas comes to mind, who was forced to apologize after asking Minister Pascale St-Onge to respond to her in English⁠2.

“Are they generating a bunch of clicks? It’s clear. But X is not representative of the population of Canada,” argues a Liberal who requested anonymity, not being authorized to speak openly on strategic issues. “Where they have an advantage, in a way, is that they don’t bother with nuances or facts,” notes the same person. They use foul language and they repeat the same succinct lines. »

Add to that the fact that the Conservative Party is swimming in money from political donations and that Justin Trudeau’s digital communications team is “ridiculously small”, and the advantage clearly goes to Pierre Poilievre’s training in this regard, concludes the same liberal tactician.

Stuck in the middle, the Bloc members are condemned to behave like “the adults in the room,” argues the parliamentary leader of the party in the House, Alain Therrien. Like the Conservatives, the Bloc also publish certain interventions on social networks, but “we are not putting on a show,” he argues.

Formerly a PQ member of the National Assembly, Alain Therrien finds that the format of the question period at the Salon bleu lends itself more to accountability. But the big difference is that the players in the arena are not the same, he believes. “The official opposition in Quebec does not say anything. Here, it’s monstrous. The worst part is that they [the conservatives] don’t even seem embarrassed. »

Former minister under Jean Chrétien, Sheila Copps still tunes into question period. The one who was part of the fanciful “Rat Pack”, a group of elected officials who took great pleasure in ribbing Brian Mulroney’s MPs, notes that linguistic excesses have been spicing up the parliamentary game for a long time, whether we like it or not.

“I was called a whore. So in terms of terms, I don’t think it’s worse now than before,” she expresses. In 2011, the CTV network took advantage of the fact that Justin Trudeau had called Minister Peter Kent a “pile of shit” to draw up an inventory of parliamentary vulgarities, some of which date back to 1849⁠3.

The tension between the MPs is also exacerbated by the context, notes Sheila Copps: “We have reached the end of the session, and the other thing is that we are in a minority government situation, and the Conservative Party really wants to have an election, because he’s so far ahead in the polls.”

The summer break will certainly be welcome for House Speaker Greg Fergus, whose resignation has been called for three times in less than a year. “His credibility is undermined. Does that contribute to some animosity? I think so,” argues Rodolphe Husny, a former conservative strategist.

Accused of being partisan, Greg Fergus is often heckled by the opposition when he speaks or makes decisions – the decibel level has increased since he kicked Pierre Poilievre out of question period, last May. “It’s all about trust. A president’s persuasive power comes from his legitimacy, and his is undermined,” said the man who is now a political analyst.

There is no blacklist of expressions in the House of Commons as is the case in the National Assembly. “Remarks deemed unparliamentary one day may not necessarily be so another day,” it is written in House of Commons Procedure and Practice. The wacko of discord had already been used, without sanctioning the person who had uttered it (the New Democrat Peter Julian).

Scandals have a certain effectiveness, notes Manuel Quintin, a doctoral student at the Groupe de recherche en communication politique (GRCP) at Université Laval. “Interventions of this style attract the attention of the media and the population. But they mobilize people who are already convinced,” he explains.

Incivility in political debate, however, is not popular in the country, particularly in Quebec, he continues: “This type of negative communication focused on attacking the adversary is perceived in a generally negative manner by the electorate, since it is a breach of social norms.”

There is a downside: the studies that allow us to come to these conclusions are generally conducted in an electoral context, and conducting a survey where participants would have to say whether they like the quarrel would involve a “social desirability bias,” the researcher points out. “Even in a survey, we try to be desirable, and the overwhelming social norm on the subject is that we don’t like quarrels,” Manuel Quintin popularizes.