A House of Ill Repute

Friday, March 22, 2019


Eating chocolate, c. 1886. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Already mired in scandal for asking his attorney general to reconsider the criminal proceedings against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau apologized to Parliament this week for eating a chocolate bar. His snack required an expression of his regret because he ate it in the House of Commons during a marathon overnight voting session. Members of Parliament are prohibited from eating food or drinking anything other than water while in the chamber. Conservative MP Scott Reid rose to call out several members for eating in the House of Commons, including Trudeau. CTV News reported that Reid had accused the prime minister of hiding a bagel in his desk:

Reid gave one last parting shot at the prime minister when he stated: “Mr. Speaker, the prime minister has already stained this place with corruption, he does not need to stain it with mustard as well.”

The Conservative politician was referencing the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal that continues to dog the Liberals more than a month after it became public.

The SNC-Lavalin affair is also the reason why members of Parliament were in the House of Commons on Wednesday night. The Liberal majority shot down a Conservative motion calling on the prime minister to allow former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify again about the scandal.

This led to a Conservative-sponsored filibuster that has continued into Thursday morning.

In response to Reid’s accusation, Trudeau stood up and acknowledged he had eaten during the session.

“Indeed Mr. Speaker, I apologize. It was a chocolate bar and I apologize,” Trudeau stated as members of his party suppressed smiles behind him.


Parliament of Canada, Ottawa, c. 1880. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

In April 1896 a letter to the editor of The Scotsman reported that Canada’s parliament was significantly rowdier than Britain’s. During a thirty-eight-hour long session debating the Manitoba Remedial Bill, a piece of legislation that attempted to solve the political crisis surrounding the question of language and religion in Manitoba schools, several members of Parliament engaged in behavior “not by any means flattering to the good sense or good manners of the Dominion Parliament,” including an impromptu rendition of the song “Swanee River.” The writer suggests that the MP’s actions were those of “schoolboys when the master’s back was turned, instead of the actions of mature men and people’s representatives in a great assembly.” He quotes from a Canadian newspaper account:

On the Speaker’s left at the rear of the chamber a small gang, flanked by Mr. Forbes and Mr. Sutherland, commenced a cock-crowing competition, when Mr. Forbes signally distinguished himself, exciting a smile upon the usually composed features of Mr. Foster even.

Mr. Martin lower down opened a drum solo by kicking the front of his desk, but he was soon distanced by the group at the back, who discovered they could make more noise by kicking the top of the desks. Mr. Gibson joined this group and rendered valuable assistance in the way of contributing a variety of indescribable sounds.

On the side of the chamber, by the Sergeant-at-Arms’ chair, two or three members indulged in target practice, making Mr. Metcalfe’s hat the target, and using paper balls as the pellets. On the Speaker’s right, Mr. Gillies, who is an adept at throwing cards, kept his hand in by throwing squares of thick blotting paper, one of which landed in Mr. Ouimet’s ear, while several landed in the galleries. The Speaker rising to put the question caused a temporary lull, but the ringing of the division bell caused it all to break out again.