The Commons: Don’t cry for Max

by Aaron Wherry

If he’s being treated unfairly, he has only his Prime Minister to blame

The Scene. Say what you will, but these Conservatives can be quite sensitive. At least when it suits them.

When Maxime Bernier walked into the House this afternoon, just moments before the start of Question Period, backbencher Daniel Petit treated him to a one-man standing ovation. Then, as Bernier stood and answered the opposition’s first question, the entire caucus rose to cheer.

Peter MacKay patted the Foreign Affairs Minister on the arm. When Bernier returned to his seat, Jacques Gourde and Laurie Hawn competed to see who could more enthusiastically pat his right shoulder.

Yes, it was all very emotional and righteous and redeeming. Those flipping through the channels this afternoon might’ve come across CPAC and wondered when the parliamentary channel started carrying Oprah.

“Never did I think I would get such a nasty and low attack by an opposition member,” Bernier lamented after Michael Ignatieff had asked if the absent prime minister still had confidence in his lead diplomat. “This is about my private life, the private life in the past of my ex-girlfriend. People’s private lives are none of the member’s business.”

Despite such obvious heartache, the Liberals and Bloc persisted in their questions. John Baird decided the most appropriate response was to boo. Literally.

Peter Van Loan, who would spend most of the afternoon on his feet defending various cabinet ministers against allegations of wrongdoing, opted for an only slightly more refined approach. “Mr. Speaker, it was prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who said, ‘the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,’” he said. “The deputy leader of the Liberal party is clearly no Pierre Trudeau.”

Even Bernier cracked a smile at this one.

Van Loan surmised that the Liberals couldn’t possibly both show concern for Omar Khadr and worry about organized crime. Lawrence Cannon suggested the Bloc leader had threatened journalists working on this story. “No threats to journalists were ever made,” Gilles Duceppe swore. “I am not a Conservative.”

The Conservative house leader pointed to the obvious class of Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic not rising this day to ask questions of Bernier. But faced with an allegation of credibility, Rae shook his head in the negative.

When Ralph Goodale rose to pose a query, Baird unleashed the full extent of his eloquence. “You’re sleazy Ralph!” he cried. “You’re a sleaze bag!”

Then back the Environment Minister went to booing. So incessantly and loudly, in fact, that Goodale could not be heard.

(The Liberals returned the favour later when Bernier rose to take a question on Burma and found himself serenaded by the simulated sounds of motorcycle engines revving.)

Still, the Liberals insisted on asking the government to account for the obvious security questions raised by the Foreign Affairs Minister escorting around town a woman with reported ties to a biker gang. And so Van Loan flirted with the nuclear option.

Furious with self-aggrandizing indignation, he lamented the decline of Canadian democracy and the opposition’s insistence on reducing politics to the stuff of smears. “Mr. Speaker, I am really saddened but I am not surprised that the Liberal party continues to engage in deep personal attacks that are not matters of government business,” he said. “If anybody’s judgment as to their personal partners is something that people disagree with, I do not think that is a matter of government business. If we are going to spend time in this House of Commons inquiring into people’s personal lives, I think people can conclude that whichever politicians are engaged in that are entirely wasting taxpayers’ money and are not fit for public office.”

Indeed, the house leader should be congratulated on this count. For as a denunciation of this Conservative government, this was pitch perfect.

Fourteen months ago, of course, it was Van Loan’s leader, the right honourable Stephen Harper, who rose in this place and attempted to speculate on a Liberal member’s father-in-law and what that familial relationship might tell us about the opposition’s approach to national security.

The Liberals bawled then and demanded the Prime Minister withdraw his insinuation. He would not. Indeed, he would keep at it unabashedly.

It would be only fair now if Her Majesty’s loyal opposition returned the favour.

The Stats. The Foreign Affairs Minister, 13 questions. Burma, five questions. The Minister of International Cooperation, four questions. The environment and transportation, three questions each. The economy, Quebec, the Olympics, the Environment Minister and Omar Khadr, two questions each. Fisheries, natives and industry regulation, one question each.

Peter Van Loan, 16 answers. Lawrence Cannon, seven answers. Maxime Bernier, six answers. John Baird, three answers. Bev Oda, David Emerson and Peter MacKay, two answers each. Loyola Hearn, Chuck Strahl and Jim Prentice, one answer each.

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