VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan says he lowered the level of debate in British Columbia's legislature by engaging in aggressive heckling while in opposition, but now that he's on the government side he supports a ban on derogatory language and name calling by politicians.
Horgan said Wednesday he backs a ruling by legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas to no longer allow questions that refer to cabinet ministers by nicknames because they're derogatory, disrespectful and reflect poorly on the house.
Plecas also said he will not tolerate future challenges to his authority by legislature members.
"I gave as good as I got as an opposition member," said Horgan. "I'm not suggesting I was without fault in lowering the level of debate in the legislature at certain times over my time as an opposition member."
But he said Plecas has made a ruling to set a new tone of debate in the legislature which politicians should respect.
Horgan said the current minority standing in the legislature — with the New Democrats at 41 seats, Liberals 41, Greens three, one Independent and one vacant seat — strongly signals the time for change has arrived.
"I can appreciate the BC Liberals want to have their opportunity to name call, but I think we all benefit from the thrust of the Speaker's ruling," he said.
Horgan said he's certain every B.C. politician has felt the innocent eyes of school children watching the loud and sometimes vicious exchanges in the legislature.
"When they see on many days pretty childish behaviour, I don't think that's an example any of us want to set," he said.
Plecas said he had to act after the Opposition Liberals persisted in addressing New Democrat cabinet ministers and the premier by nicknames rather than their formal titles.
The Liberals have called Horgan minister of defence, and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham minister of intimidation during recent question periods.
"I conclude the unofficial and at times mocking or derogatory titles when directing questions to a minister of the Crown is indeed disrespectful to the minister and reflects poorly on this institution," Plecas told the legislature.
Plecas was elected in May as a member of the Liberal party, but was dumped from the party after accepting the Speaker's position in the slim minority government. He now sits as an Independent.
Liberal house leader Mike de Jong said Plecas unilaterally changed parliamentary language rules.
Interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman said Wednesday outside of the legislature, the nickname he would chose for Plecas would be "incompetent."
Prof. Michael Prince, a social policy expert at University of Victoria, said Plecas is on the right track trying to make changes to decorum at the legislature.
He said he's heard from teachers who say they will not bring their students back to the legislature after witnessing embarrassing behaviour by politicians.
"I think most British Columbians would be sympathetic in what the Speaker is trying to do," Prince said.