Quick, someone tweet this: Member of Parliament, Charlie Angus wants to keep his colleagues off Twitter! According to Angus, the micro-blogging platform is making politicians look like “idiots.”
Angus’ uproar is a response to a tweet posted by Liberal MP Michelle Simson during the all-party ethics committee. In it she said that Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro should “grow up (not out).” By 11:42 PM Simson was already defending herself and claiming, “nowhere did I make fun of someone’s weight.”
Larry Bagnell, the MP for Yukon, says he was nonplussed by the idea, “I have no problems with Twitter.” The only reason Bagnell says he is not on Twitter himself is that he can “barely keep up with [his] hundreds of e-mails and Facebook.”
The problem here is not Twitter, it’s MPs acting without discretion. While Angus may be well intentioned, getting rid of Twitter wont make MP’s behave any better. Take away their Twitter and they will simply embarrass themselves in other, usually more vocal, ways.
Immature antics, petty anger, and fights are all par for the course in the political world. In fact they are in many ways part of the rich history of parliamentary politics. The distance between the opposition and the majority in the British parliament, which is the source of our federal system, is the width of two sword lengths. This is because, when MPs were allowed to carry swords into the House, heated debates would often result in some very nasty cuts. Parliament was originally designed to keep our representatives from killing each other, literally. Tweeting at least is fighting with words rather than blows, which could be called a step forward.
What’s also surprising is how innocuous Simson’s comment was when compared to some of the other things shouted across Parliament. An exchange between former immigration minister Joe Volpe and opposition member John Reynolds is proof that MPs don’t need social networking sites in order to be belligerent. In 2005 Volpe pondered aloud as to how Reynolds could spend $106,000 on travel expenses. “I wonder, when he gets on a plane if he takes a champagne shower and asks for caviar?” Reynolds returned with his own witty retort, saying “Mr. Volpe is a sleaze bag.”
Actually if you think about, Twitter should be mandatory. If we forced each MP to tweet every offensive comment, sexist bash, racial slur, and swear word they say during question period, no one would think that Canadian politics were boring. But, if Angus is truly serious about keeping House discussions civil and polite, then he should be asking to ban politicians from the house, not Twitter.