A Conflict Management Assessment of Prime Minister Trudeau Incident in Canada’s House of Commons

The House of Commons is the focal point of Canada’s Parliament. It’s where Members of Parliament (MPs), regional representatives, from across Canada, elected by voters, debate issues and vote on bills (draft laws). Last week, an incident, without historical precedent?, involving Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, took place. This news video is a montage of what happened:

(Video not displaying? Watch here, on Youtube)

The video shows Trudeau”manhandling” Opposition whip Gordon Brown and (unintentionally, it appears) elbowing Quebec MP  Ruth Ellen Brosseau, in the process. The immediate fall-out from the incident included: multiple apologies from Trudeau, and the initiation of an all-party committee to investigate ‘elbowgate’.

My Conflict Management Assessment of Trudeau’s Behaviour and Apology

Putting on my hat as a professional neutral (conflict management coach, mediator, workplace fairness consultant), here’s my assessment of Trudeau’s behaviour and apology.

The basic principle of workplace fairness is that “all participants should be treated with equity of concern and respect in the management of workplace conflict.” (Workplace Fairness Institute).

The House of Commons is a workplace. Trudeau’s actions were precipitated by differences among MPs around the timing of a vote. Those differences can be seen as a conflict. Trudeau’s actions were his response to that conflict. From my perspective, his actions did not meet the basic principle of workplace fairness. He did not treat all workplace participants, MPs, with concern and respect.

Each workplace typically contains multiple paths, options, for managing conflict; power, rights, interests, communications… In this case, Trudeau chose power, physical power. In the context of a respectful workplace, Trudeau’s exercise of physical power could potentially be perceived as bullying, harassment or worse? (“assault”).

Quickly realizing his faux pas, Trudeau subsequently delivered multiple apologies. Here is a video of his apology, offered (in our two national languages) the day after the incident, in the House of Commons:

(Video not displaying? Watch here, on Youtube)

What of Trudeau’s apology? Was it a ‘true’ apology?

Years ago, I took an ‘apology’ workshop from Janet Bavelas, Professor of Psychology, University of Victoria. She is an expert on apology, and the differences between real and non-apologies. She published an analysis of the formal apologies given by Canadian churches for past harms done to aboriginal people.

According to Bavelas, crafting a true apology requires one to do four things:

  1. Acknowledge that you did it
  2. Explain what happened
  3. Express remorse
  4. Repair the damage, as much as you can

My opinion is that Trudeau’s apology addressed the first three items. He could do more on the last item.

Repairing the damage: A big opportunity

What else could Trudeau do to repair the damage? Maybe, the All-Party Committee will give some direction.

In the interim, I offer this option to the Committee: Propose a restorative  circle; a restorative circle that fosters dialogue between the primary participants in the incident. The circle would be private; not open to the public. Have it facilitated by a mutually agreed-upon neutral; maybe, from the aboriginal community?

A restorative circle would be an incredibly courageous move. Its’ impact and influence might reverberate far beyond; to the House of Commons as a whole, to the Nation…  for relationship-based conflict management

An effective way to address a difficult challenge is to build on one’s strengths. Trudeau’s difficult challenge is to, once again (employ constructive behaviours), nurture a House of Commons that truly is more polite, less threatening, and to be a role model in that journey.

A restorative circle would model a process that a whole country could get behind.

Your thoughts – what would be your recommendation to the All-Party Committee?

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