Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark says the House of Commons has become “more a stage than an institution,” and it is impacting the “state of mind of people who come to serve there.”
“I can’t help reflecting now at the current state of politics, because… the House of Commons has become much more adversarial to some degree,” Clark said.
In an interview with CTV News’ Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos in Ottawa, prior to attending Ed Broadbent’s state funeral, Clark reflected on his time in the House and his experience working with other parties. He also spoke about how politics and the dynamics on Parliament Hill have changed in the decades since.
“The House of Commons can’t avoid being a showplace, but it has to be much more than a showplace. And the focus has to be upon what gets done, rather than what is seen. We’re losing that now,” Clark said, echoing comments made by fellow former prime minister Jean Chretien in the fall.
“There will be a growing cynicism… There’s always been some cynicism about politics, but I think it could aggravate and grow,” Clark continued.
Speaking about Broadbent, Clark said that while they were leaders of different parties, the two had a shared respect for the institution of Parliament.
“Both Ed and I came into Parliament before television was there… That informed our attitude in the House towards one another, towards the public, toward Parliament,” he said.
“In fact, one of the things that’s really quite interesting about that period and now, is that there was a much greater degree of, I guess, respect and cooperation, practical cooperation between the two parties.”
Clark said at the time both political leaders were in the Commons, there was a degree of cooperation on major political and international files between his Progressive Conservatives and Broadbent’s New Democrats, which required “a sense of camaraderie” that he thinks “might be more difficult now.”
The former prime minister said he was raising this point, on the eve of the House resuming for the 2024 sitting, in hopes that with politicians of all stripes understand that there is another way to comport themselves in the Commons.
“It would be well worth taking a look at how some of the principles for which [Broadbent] stood, can be respected now,” Clark said.
You can watch the full interview with Joe Clark, at the top of this article.