The Commons: ‘I think you’re full of shift!’

by Aaron Wherry

The Government of Canada appeals directly to your most juvenile impulses

The Scene. Question Period had begun and Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh was asking the government to account for the unwieldy matter of Julie Couillard and the upright citizens brigade in the Conservative back row was displeased.

“No one cares!” lamented Dean Del Mastro.

“Let’s talk about policy!” pleaded Ed Fast.

Just moments earlier, their seatmate, the reliably obedient Rick Dykstra, had tried to do just that. Here, from his member statement, was his take on environmental taxation, the politics and practicalities of distributing wealth across civil and economic lines and how best the federal government can balance short-term necessities with long-term social sustainability.

“There is an old saying that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” Dykstra reported, “but if the leader of the opposition formed government, if he imposed a carbon tax, our country would face a wall of darkness.”

Nearly 50 years ago this July, John F. Kennedy referred to the same old saying upon accepting the Democratic nomination. Here was what he found in that proverb.

“We are not here to curse the darkness, we are here to light a candle. As Winston Churchil said, on taking office some 20 years ago: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future. Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.”

So perhaps Mr. Dykstra missed the point. Or maybe JFK was merely a wimp—unwilling to mock his opponent with ancient wisdom. Whatever the case, this Conservative’s groping at the profound would still come to represent the day’s intellectual high point.

Fast and Del Mastro arrived in the House with stickers that appeared to mock the Liberal leader affixed to their lapels. Either mindful of decorum or rebuked by Parliamentary authorities, they had the good grace to remove the stickers as the Commons got down to business. Not so for nearby Rob Anders who kept his proudly displayed throughout.

The Prime Minister soon used a question about rising gas prices to denigrate Liberal plan’s for a carbon tax. Later, the Environment Minister, asked about potential flooding in the British Columbia and how Canada might deal with the global problem of “food security,” came up with this.

“Mr. Speaker, we are obviously very concerned about floods in southern British Columbia but we will work to ensure that requirements of the boundary treaty act are maintained. However I have a warning for the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. There is a flood coming to his constituency, like every constituency across this country and it is disguised as a green tax shift.”

This was, apparently, an invitation to substantive debate. One the opposition obviously missed, instead persisting again in asking about the controversies of Maxime Bernier, Chuck Cadman, NAFTA, Vic Toews and Brian Mulroney. Maybe this had a point, maybe it didn’t. Either way, it was trying Peter Van Loan’s patience.

“Mr. Speaker, we heard there are lengthy lists of departments, a lengthy list of federal responsibilities, a lengthy list of ministers of whom the Liberals have not asked any policy questions at all in the past year. They really only have one theme which has nothing to do with good governance in this country,” he whined.

Later, he quoted from Little Women, surely one of the government House leader’s favourite comedies. “The problem with doing nothing,” he said, playing the part of Josephine March, “is that you’re never really sure when you’re finished.” This, he concluded, explained perfectly the Liberal Party of Canada.

Up shortly thereafter was Merv Tweed, the Conservative for Brandon-Souris rising with breaking news.

“Mr. Speaker,” he breathlessly reported, “no matter what you call it, a carbon tax is a trick.”

A trick that has apparently tricked no one—least of all the sharp minds on the government side—but a trick all the same.

Appealing for calm, the Conservatives sent Jason Kenney to address the nation.

“Mr. Speaker, I understand that the Liberal slogan for their carbon tax will be: shift happens. I suppose that means that an Air Canada worker who just lost her job because of high fuel prices, the Liberal message to her is: shift happens,” he said. “If an auto worker has lost her job because people are not buying SUVs and trucks, the Liberal message is: shift happens. If a rural Canadian heats his home with oil, their message is: shift happens.”

Then his grande finale.

“If the Liberals succeed with their carbon tax trick,” he said. “Canadians will be shift out of luck.”

Oh how the Conservatives giggled and squealed and cheered. Having finally heard the meaningful policy analysis he’d craved, Del Mastro very nearly shed tears of joy.

Later when Liberal Dominic LeBlanc rose to harangue the government about some scandal or another, Del Mastro could not resist.

“I think you’re full of shift!” he yelped.

And speaking of advancing the national cause, anonymous inside government sources expect this government to return in the fall with a proposal to lower the voting age. Indeed, the thinking goes, if 14-year-old boys were given the vote this bunch would surely be well on its way to the Republican dream of a permanent majority.

The Stats. Maxime Bernier, 13 questions. Gas prices, Afghanistan, Omar Khadr, Chuck Cadman, NAFTA, national security, ethics, Vic Toews, transportation and the environment, two questions each. A carbon tax, the economy, natives, food safety and Brian Mulroney, one question each.

Peter Van Loan, 12 answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Stockwell Day, three answers. Peter MacKay, Deepak Obhrai, James Moore and John Baird, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Rob Nicholson, Lawrence Cannon, David Emerson, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Chuck Strahl and Tom Lukiwski, one answer each.

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