Is ‘wacko’ an unparliamentary word? A look at the rules on decorum

Click to play video: 'Poilievre kicked out of parliament for calling Trudeau a ‘wacko’'
Poilievre kicked out of parliament for calling Trudeau a ‘wacko’
WATCH: Poilievre kicked out of parliament for calling Trudeau a 'wacko' – Apr 30, 2024

After Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was ejected from the House of Commons Tuesday for refusing to withdraw what was deemed unparliamentary language, many Canadians began asking: who decides what words are unparliamentary, and what words count?

Conservatives called the decision biased and demanded House Speaker Greg Fergus resign, saying he had lost the confidence of the opposition, who have since rallied around Poilievre’s use of the term “wacko.”

But Immigration Minister Marc Miller said in Parliament, the rules are the rules.

“There are plenty of unparliamentary words that are used (that) may seem arcane and archaic — I’ve been guilty of using them myself,” he told reporters moments after Poilievre’s removal. “When I’ve done it, I’ve gotten up and apologized.

“He wasn’t sanctioned for using the word, he was sanctioned for not retracting it…. That attacks the integrity and the authority of the chair, which is sacrosanct in this House.”

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Indeed, while lists of words and phrases deemed unparliamentary exist, the official House rules are focused on how that language is used, rather than banning specific terms.

“Currently, in the House of Commons, a term that is deemed parliamentary one day could be determined to be unparliamentary another day,” Mathieu Gravel, a spokesperson for the Office of the Speaker, told Global News in an email.

“It is up to the Speaker to judge each situation according to the circumstances.”

Click to play video: 'Why did Pierre Poilievre get kicked out of question period?'
Why did Pierre Poilievre get kicked out of question period?

The House rules say codifying a list of unparliamentary language into law “has proven impractical,” as the Speaker looks more at “the context in which words or phrases are used.”

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Crucially, those rules say “personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order,” while those same attacks and insults may sometimes be allowed “when applied ‘in a generic sense’ or to a party.”

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Poilievre appeared to cross that line Tuesday, Fergus had determined, when he called not only the federal government’s policies surrounding drug decriminalization but also Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “wacko.”

Only after Poilievre repeatedly refused to withdraw the word without replacing it with a different term — the alternatives he proposed to use in response to Fergus were “extremist” and “radical” — did Fergus bar him from the chamber.

The current rules say the “most important” factor the Speaker must consider when dealing with unparliamentary language is whether or not the words used “created disorder in the Chamber.”

The “tone, manner and inflection of the Member speaking, the person to whom the words at issue were directed, (and) the degree of provocation” will also be considered.

What language has been deemed unparliamentary?

Although not official or codified into law, there is a list of words and phrases in the Library of Parliament that have been ruled unparliamentary — though it hasn’t been updated since 1989.

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The list, found in the sixth edition of Beauchesne’s Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, does not include “wacko.”

But it does contain several terms that have led to more modern consequences for members using them.

Chief among them is “liar” or “lies.” Even in more recent years, speakers have admonished MPs several times — and even ejected members — for accusing others of lying.

The most recent example was in December 2023, when Conservative MP Damien Kurek was removed for calling Trudeau a liar and refusing to apologize when asked by the Speaker.

Click to play video: 'Chaos to calm: Question period subdued as Poilievre returns to House of Commons after ejection'
Chaos to calm: Question period subdued as Poilievre returns to House of Commons after ejection

Even using the term “dishonest” has been ruled unparliamentary several times, according to the 1989 list, which includes the specific dates when the rulings were made.

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Curse words and accusations of low intelligence are also included in the list, as well as the phrase “Canadian Mussolini,” which was ruled unparliamentary in 1964.

Other terms once ruled unparliamentary, however, have since been heard in various forms in recent question periods and not prompted an intervention from the Speaker.

Those include accusations of members “distorting the facts,” “seeking cheap notoriety” or even the word “false” — the last of which was used repeatedly by both Poilievre and Trudeau as recently as Wednesday without incident.

Here is the full list of what had been ruled unparliamentary, as presented in Beauchesne’s Rules & Forms of the House of Commons of Canada from 1989:

  • A parliamentary pugilist and political bully
  • Abusing his position in the House
  • A bag of wind
  • Scarcely entitled to be called gentlemen
  • A servile follower of the government
  • Honourable only by courtesy
  • Inspired by forty-rod whiskey
  • Sitting for his constituency by the grace of the leader of the Government
  • Coming into the world by accident
  • Insolent and impertinent
  • A parliamentary babe and suckling
  • A blatherskite
  • Disgracing the House
  • Talking twaddle
  • Living politically by deceit
  • Grovelling in the dirt in order to get an office
  • A cowardly slanderer and a bully
  • Misrepresenting his constituency
  • The political sewer pipe from Carleton County
  • Seeking cheap notoriety
  • A trickster
  • Lacking in intelligence
  • Hysterical
  • Stooping to pretty low motives
  • Attempting to distort the facts as he had in the past
  • A dim-witted saboteur
  • Above the truth
  • Ass
  • Attempted to misrepresent
  • B and B gang
  • Bullshit
  • Canadian Mussolini
  • Cheap political way
  • Crook
  • Deceive
  • Deceived
  • Deliberate distortion
  • Deliberate malignity
  • Deliberate falsehood
  • Deliberately trying to pervert
  • Deliberately deceived
  • Deliberately distorted
  • Deliberately misstated the truth
  • Deliberately misled
  • Deliberately misleading
  • Demagogue
  • Devoid of honour
  • Dictatorial attitude
  • Dishonest
  • Dishonest insinuations
  • Dishonest performance
  • Dishonest answers
  • Does not have a spine
  • Evil genius
  • Fabricated a statement
  • False
  • Fabrication
  • False representations
  • False statement
  • Falsehood
  • Falsify
  • Fraud
  • Fraudulent character
  • Has not got the guts
  • Hypocrites
  • Hypocritical
  • Idiot
  • Ignoramus
  • Illegal
  • Illegal actions
  • Insolent and irresponsible reply
  • Intentional deceit
  • Irresponsible Members
  • Irresponsible reply
  • Joker in this House
  • Kangaroo court
  • Lie
  • Lies
  • Members have aligned themselves with the murderers in Quebec
  • Mislead
  • Misleading the public
  • Nazi
  • Nefarious
  • Not telling the truth
  • Not telling the complete truth
  • Obstruct the operation of government
  • Obstructionist
  • Offensive
  • Pompous ass
  • Reneged promises
  • Scurrilous
  • Shameful conduct
  • Sick animal
  • Silly reason
  • Slanderous accusations
  • Small and cheap
  • Stealing
  • Theft
  • To hell with Parliament attitude
  • Trained seal
  • Treason
  • Trickery
  • Underhanded
  • Untrue statement
  • Violated his oath
  • Wilfully misled

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