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Politicians behaving badly: Rash of rudeness marks fading sense of civility in government

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  • Civility seems to be in short supply in politics everywhere these days.
  • People weary of waiting for companies and governments to take serious action to curb contributors to climate change are taking their battle into the court system.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Uncivil society

Politics is supposed to be an art of persuasion, but a lot of legislators seem to be falling back on cruder methods these days.

This morning, British MP Mark Field was suspended from his job as a junior Foreign Office minister following a physical confrontation with a female Greenpeace protester at a ritzy banquet in London last night.

A group of women, dressed in matching red ball gowns and wearing sashes emblazoned with the words “Climate Emergency,” crashed a speech by Britain’s Finance Minister Philip Hammond.

Video of the event shows the tuxedo-clad Field reaching out and shoving one of the women against a pillar as she tried to pass his chair. He then leapt up and grabbed her by the back of the neck and frog-marched her from the room as she objected that it was a “peaceful protest.”

Footage from a London gala shows Foreign Office Minister Mark Field grabbing a climate change protester. 0:19

In the aftermath, Field issued a statement claiming that he had been “genuinely worried” that the woman might have been armed, and apologizing for his actions.

Theresa May, the country’s outgoing prime minister, reviewed the footage and suspended Field from cabinet pending a full investigation. “She found it very concerning,” said a Downing Street spokesperson.

Civility was also in short supply in Alberta’s legislature yesterday, during an all-night debate on the new government’s efforts to limit bargaining rights for 180,000 public sector workers.

As the opposition spoke, Premier Jason Kenney walked around the government benches handing out earplugs — reports differ on whether they were bright orange or hot pink — and telling his MLAs that they were so “you don’t have to listen to the comments from the NDP.”

The United Conservative Party government defended the stunt as “harmless and light-hearted,” but opposition and labour leaders were not amused.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, seen here in Montreal on June 12, raised eyebrows Thursday when he handed out earplugs during an all-night debate. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Of course, decorum could be much worse.

Fistfights broke out in the Afghan parliament on Wednesday, as legislators came to blows in their long-running dispute over who should occupy the speaker’s chair.

A disagreement over a single, disallowed ballot has now dragged on for two months, preventing the body from beginning its session.

This week, supporters of Mir Rahman Rahmani, the man who won the internal vote, tried to forcibly put him in place — only to see their rivals destroy the speaker’s desk and chair, and fling the pieces out into the hall.

Tensions also boiled over in South Africa’s parliament this week, as MPs pushed and shoved each other during an orientation and welcoming session for newly elected members.

Things got physical following a series of insults and taunts between government and opposition members. Although legislative punch-ups are becoming commonplace in the country.

Hong Kong has also seen an outbreak of politician-on-politician violence. In mid-May, hard feelings over a proposed extradition law blew up into a shouty scuffle in the legislative assembly, a prelude to the massive protests in the streets that continue today.

The United States, however, is arguably now the world leader in impolite politics.

Former White House advisor Hope Hicks, who now works as the chief spokesperson and corporate communicator for Fox, spent eight hours stonewalling the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, failing to answer 155 direct questions on everything from the Mueller report to where her West Wing desk was located.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks leaves her closed-door interview Wednesday at the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, after almost seven hours of questioning. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

And this morning, the House Intelligence Committee said it would issue a subpoena for another Trump associate, Felix Sater, after he failed to show up for a scheduled interview.

All of which pales in comparison with the current situation in Oregon, where Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has sent the State Police out to round up Republican senators who fled the Capitol to try and delay the passage of a climate action plan.

The minority Republicans are dead set against new cap and trade measures that are meant to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and want to put them to voters in a referendum before they are passed into law.

Several appear to have crossed state lines in an effort to evade the cops.

And at least one sounds deadly serious about resisting arrest.

“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Sen. Brian Boquist told reporters on Wednesday, before he peeled out of town. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”

So far, all of the missing Republicans remain at large.

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New front line in climate change fight

People weary of waiting for companies and governments to take serious action related to climate change are taking their battle into the court system, producer Jill English writes.

From The Hague District Court in the Netherlands, to the Lahore High Court in Pakistan, to the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia, it only takes a quick look at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law database to see that courtrooms are a new frontier of climate activism.

“There’s this growing wave of climate litigation all around the world, because communities who are often frustrated with the politics are going to the courts,” says Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart is watching closely as climate lawsuits are launched all around the world. 0:54

With more than 1,000 cases globally, the legal system is being leveraged in a variety of ways and by a diverse mix of plaintiffs.

In some cases, like the City of New York vs. BP PLC, local governments are seeking damages from fossil fuel companies for climate change-related costs.

In others — like Friends of the Irish Environment vs. Ireland — the allegation is that fundamental human rights are being violated by government inaction.

In Peru, it’s an individual on the offensive. In Quebec, the class action lawsuit represents every resident aged 35 and under.

Climate litigation is trend we at The National have been watching for some time, and the CBC News In Our Backyard series provided a great opportunity to dig into the who, why and how of climate change as a justice issue. That story —  with reporter Duncan McCue —  will air tonight, and you can read his feature here:

Through interviews in Toronto, Montreal and Victoria, Duncan digs into why some activists think litigation is a critical tool in the fight against climate change, and why others say it’s simply not the best approach. Like mayor Lisa Helps of Victoria.

The bike-riding leader and her council explored the idea of suing “big oil,” and even passed a motion to bring the idea to surrounding municipalities. But when recent scientific reports emphasized the speed at which Canada and the world are warming, she became certain it wasn’t the right way to pursue change.

Victoria’s mayor Lisa Helps says she is committed to fighting climate change, but that lawsuits aren’t the way to do it. (Jill English/CBC)

“As Canadians, we have a responsibility to have productive dialogue, rather than throwing stones and starting lawsuits,” she told us. “A climate action lawsuit would be a giant swath of legal resources … there are much more important things we need to do with our limited time and limited resources.”

That includes initiatives from improving public transit, to creating bike-friendly streets, to retrofitting buildings.

Municipal action is something else we wanted to explore for In Our Backyard, so we also went to the place aspiring to be the world’s greenest city —  Vancouver —  for a panel discussion hosted by Ian Hanomansing. Watch that on the show this Sunday.

– Jill English

This story is part of a CBC News series entitled In Our Backyard, which looks at the effects climate change is having in Canada, from extreme weather events to how it’s reshaping our economy:

Quote of the moment

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, … not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

– U.S. President Donald Trump explains, via Twitter, why he backed off a planned military strike against Iran last night.

U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, centre, and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both of whom have been portrayed as more hawkish in their stance toward Iran than the president. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • President Donald Trump faces new rape allegation (NYMagazine)
  • Russia’s $180 billion plan to own the Arctic (CBC)
  • Novichok victim: “We’re being kept in the dark” (Guardian)
  • UN food agency suspends delivery to Yemini capital (CBC)
  • No let-up as extradition bill protestors lay siege to Hong Kong police HQ (South China Morning Post)
  • At least 30 dead in fire at Indonesia matchstick factory (Reuters)
  • Being transgender at Goldman Sachs (NYTimes)
  • Walmart uses AI cameras to spot thieves (BBC)
  • Man who faked blindness for eight years is caught after driving (Sky News)

Today in history

June 21, 1976: Lloyd Robertson leaves CBC for CTV

“It’s not the money,” Lloyd Robertson says of his decision to switch networks. But with a 10-year, $1 million deal in hand, that was surely part of it. In a revealing interview with Take 30, the anchorman doesn’t bother to hide his frustration with “overlapping union jurisdictions” that conspired to keep him behind a desk in the studio, rather than out in the field hosting and reporting. And at age 42, he figures — correctly — that he’s got a long career ahead of him.

In 1976, broadcaster Lloyd Robertson explains why he left CBC for rival CTV. 5:25

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