UPDATE: Matt Godwin has worked professionally for both the NDP and the Jewish community. He was most recently a senior organizer for the Thomas Mulcair NDP leadeship campaign, has worked for numerous MPs and has held a number of lay positions in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Matt holds a BA from Dalhousie University, a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Toronto and he is currently a PhD candidate at UCL and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England.
I can only remember one instance of a member of parliament standing up and thanking another member of parliament. It was a very high-profile issue and the two MPs involved happened to be two major party leaders. What political advantage did this expression of gratitude garner? Through an entirely political lens, expressing gratitude may serve to humanize the giver of thanks which may lead to a perception of humility.
However, politics is often viewed as a zero sum game. To illustrate, let’s take two politicians and allot each 10 points at the start of a legislative session. The politician with the most points at the end of the session wins. An expression of gratitude from Politician A would likely result in both A and B being awarded a single point. Politician A appears humble and magnanimous, earning a point. While Politician B also receives a point in return for whatever service it is they are being thanked for. Indeed, Politician B may actually receive a greater return because of the unexpectedness of such a benevolent act on the part of Politician A.
Following this, both parties are up one point. However, the object of the game is not to end with the most points possible, but to end with more points than the opposing side. For this reason, it simply doesn’t make sense to express gratitude. On the contrary, it is far more beneficial to detract from the standing of the competition in the hope of removing one of their points, while retaining as many points as possible.
For example, politician A accuses politician B of having mismanaged departmental finances through a botched major procurement. Politician A retains all their points because they are not being unnecessarily defamatory, while politician B is down one. Politician A could have raised both boats and thanked politician B for doing a great job in all other respects, but by disparaging Politician B they are now comparatively better off.
Is there ever a time to be gracious in politics? While a healthy dose of gratitude in all directions may not lead to any political advantages, it may broadly raise the esteem of the parliamentary institution among the populace. Such a collective benefit may seem altruistic, but individual MPs across parties may see an incumbency advantage if the respectability of the institution is heightened across the board.