The Commons: Way to go, Skippy

And so the day of apology begets its own apology

The Scene. It couldn’t last. Or at least we knew it wouldn’t last. And, in some ways maybe, it shouldn’t last.

But who knew yesterday’s spirit of common good and cooperative effort was so null and void before most of us had even gotten around to feeling good about ourselves?

Indeed, before the Prime Minister had so much as spoken the first words of this Parliament’s most remarkable hour, exuberant Conservative Pierre Poilievre had put forward a revolutionary, if rather insensitive, reading on the politics of healing. Speaking with the “Lunch Bunch” on an Ottawa radio station, he suggested that compensation for the victims of physical and sexual abuse should be treated as investment. A full accounting required. A proper return demanded.

Worse still, he made gratuitous and silly use of the term “partook”—speaking, as it were, several classes above his weight.

The only surprise in what came next was that it took the Liberals a full 24 hours to formally demand Poilievre’s resignation.

As that press release reached blackberries around the capital, Poilievre was already preparing to apologize. Or, rather, the government was preparing to apologize for him.

In the House, his script at the ready, Poilievre waited his turn. To his left sat Chuck Strahl, the Indian Affairs Minister. Behind Poilievre sat Rod Bruinooge, Strahl’s parliamentary secretary and an aboriginal Canadian from Manitoba. Over Poilievre’s right shoulder was placed Rona Ambrose, well-dressed as always.

All appeared set. But just then arrived Rob Clarke, the newest Conservative MP. A member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation and a former RCMP officer who was posted to various native communities in Saskatchewan, it was obviously important that he be in the frame. But where to put him?

After some discussion, an agreement was reached. Clarke would take Ambrose’s seat and she would move to an empty spot in front of Poilievre. Gary Goodyear, a paragon of virtue whose assistant was recently dispatched for ordering a ticket in his name to a naughty film, completed the scene, filling the seat to Ambrose’s right.

Rising immediately before Poilievre, Liberal Derek Lee helpfully set the stage, reading into the record the young parliamentary secretary’s statements—”Are we really getting value for all of this money?”—and calling on Poilievre to apologize. Dutifully, Poilievre then stood.

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer a full apology to aboriginal people, to the House and to all Canadians,” he said.

He furrowed his brow and gulped.

“Yesterday, on a day when the House and all Canadians were celebrating a new beginning, I made remarks that were hurtful and wrong,” he continued. “I accept responsibility for them and I apologize.”

As is the habit whenever a Parliamentarian takes responsibility for his or her egregious failings, Poilievre’s mates in the Conservative caucus stood and applauded. Still standing, the member for Nepean-Carleton shook hands with Strahl, Goodyear, Clarke and Bruinooge. And then, with attention turning to the first query of Question Period, Poilievre’s new friends returned to their usual seats.

Not that the parliamentary secretary was yet in the clear. With their fourth question, the Liberals sent up Todd Russell, a Métis from Labrador.

“Mr. Speaker, first let me thank all party leaders for their words yesterday. They were words of apology and sorrow for the horror of residential schools. I honour those words and hope they are embraced by all Canadians,” Russell began. “But yesterday the parliamentary secretary to the President of the Treasury Board demonstrated through his words ignorance and intolerance, the same attitudes that led to the historic wrongs that were the subject of yesterday’s apology. Will the Prime Minister denounce those words, words that smack of racism and paternalism?”

The Liberal side stood and applauded. Poilievre grimaced.

To his defence came Mr. Strahl. “Mr. Speaker, I think we all heard the words from the parliamentary secretary just before Question Period. I urge all members to consider those. They were heartfelt and I appreciated his honesty and candour.”

Russell was rather unsatisifed. “Mr. Speaker, I am saddened and hurt by the attitude expressed by this official spokesperson for the government. Referring to the residential school settlement, he said: ‘Some of us are starting to ask are we really getting value for this money.’  But how do we place a value on a stolen child?” he asked.

“Just two hours later the Prime Minister stated: ‘There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the residential school system to ever again prevail.’ Will the Prime Minister stand by his words and remove his parliamentary secretary?”

The Liberals stood and applauded Russell once more.

Mr. Harper turned to Peter Van Loan and spoke, apparently to tell the government House leader that this required a Prime Ministerial response.

“Mr. Speaker, as all members of the House know, the parliamentary secretary has apologized for remarks that were wrong. I know that he also forthwith contacted national aboriginal associations to indicate that,” he said. “I know that yesterday we had an historic event, something that aboriginal people in this country have been waiting a very long time for. I know that all parties in this House were supportive of that spirit of apology. I also know the honourable member in question was very supportive of those actions of the government.”

Poilievre sat for the rest of the hour grim-faced, hands folded in front of him. Through pages, he appeared to pass notes, one to Todd Russell, another to John Baird. The Environment Minister, perhaps Poilievre’s biggest fan and seemingly something of a mentor, turned and nodded in his direction.

The young partisan received a note too and after reading it, he turned and exchanged nods with Tom Lukiwski. One disgraced parliamentary secretary commiserating with another.

The Stats. Maxime Bernier, 12 questions. Natives, nine questions. The economy, seven questions. Omar Khadr, four questions. Copyright law, tourism, water safety, child care, fisheries and France, one question each.

Peter Van Loan, 10 answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Deepak Obhrai and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, four answers each. Chuck Strahl and Ted Menzies, three answers each. Jim Prentice, Diane Finley, Laurie Hawn, Monte Solberg, Loyola Hearn and Lawrence Cannon, one answer each.

The Commons: Way to go, Skippy

  1. Alas the poor kid learned a lesson today and that’s for sure. Man is that guy ever young makes my back hurt thinking about it. But demanding his resignation that’s even worse than what he did. There is an ol joke about the big mouthed frog and catching flies well it’s too long to type here. Then again minor details since when don’t young parliamment secretary’s develop foot and mouth disease in every party – the Lib’s should talk if you listed all the numbnuts they have had – well way too long for here.

  2. “But demanding his resignation that’s even worse than what he did.”

    No it’s not.

  3. Rahim Jaffer blew it in a panel on Newman’s show and didn’t even know it and no one else seemed to notice – he said Poilievre is a bright young man saying what he believes……..

    So, Lewiswski, apoligized together with a promise to make it up to the gay community, etc., etc. He hasn’t done that.

    Apologies NOT accepted as far as I am concerned.

  4. Don’t bother Wayne, he’s doing laps in the CON koolade now. It’s no-harm, no-foul 24/7 at the CON ‘hood. No doubt he’s equally as gracious and forgiving when it was the ‘Liberal numbnutz’ doing the blathering.

  5. As was the case a few weeks ago with the other knuckle-dragging Parliamentary Secretary, Lukiwski, Poilievre “accepts responsibility.” Doing so without “consequences” is certainly not “accountable” – shallow, but not surprising with this bunch of Harperites.

  6. Poisonous Pierre delivered a ‘heartfelt’ apology in the same vain as disgraced MP Tom Lukiwski. Their spoken words were nothing more than appeasement to Canadian voters and NOTHING more. Perhaps, if had been Pierre had been forceably removed from his family and Tom had been gay-bashed by a pack of homophobes then they’d ‘get it’ although I doubt it. At the end of the day, I’d rather be a B guy than an A hole like these cretins.

  7. Umm… not to get all grassy knoll on everyone, but little Pierre (as my wife calls him) is usually right there with PVL as the main message flag bearers for the PM. Perhaps these remarks were staged as a way to reach out to that certain portion of the Conservative base that doesn’t favour an apology (or any government support for aboriginals period)? So much else in this regime has been carefully scripted, why not this latest happening?

  8. Apology or not, we know his mindset.

  9. Certainly they probably didn’t think anybody but CON koolaid drinkers (hat tip to Wayne- Hi;^)) would be caught listening to that Ottawa bilge-spilling station. However, despite the machavellian chess master who is their ruler having nothing dotted until he dashes, i doubt Harper’s idea was to score points with the locals on what was to be a good news day and topical distraction from all his other worries.
    Of course, its all up to how those in the Aboriginal community feel and see it.

  10. Pierre Poilievre is the gift that keeps on giving. Encore, Pierre! encore. Sometimes you feel a bit sorry for PM Harper.

  11. A DIFFERENT PRIME MINISTER’S APOLOGY FROM AN ALTERNATE CANADIAN UNIVERSE WHERE THERE WERE NO RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS.

    Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology for the former non-education of Indian residents.

    Our apathy towards the schooling of Indian children was a kind of mistreatment, and a sad chapter in our history.

    In the 1870s, the federal government, partly to avoid its obligation to educate aboriginal children, declined to develop or administer any system of Indian schools.

    Two primary objectives of the non-system were to force children to remain isolated within the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to alienate them from the dominant culture.

    These objectives were based on the assumption aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were superior and egalitarian. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Canadian in the child.” Today, we recognize that this policy of alienation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country…

    The Government of Canada built no educational system in which very young children could be forcibly removed from their homes or taken far from their communities, even if they were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. British, French and European languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these reserves…

    Tragically, many of these children died in grinding poverty with their parents, grandparents and communities, while never attending any school. Others never knew insulin.

    … Therefore, on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada’s failure to develop an Indian residential schools system.

    We now recognize that it was wrong to imprison children in backwards and static cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done nothing about this.

    In moving towards healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad legacy of Indian non-schooling, the dismantling of the Indian Act began on September 19, 2007. Years of common-sense thinking culminated in fee-simple land/house ownership for individual Indians, the dissolution of land claims, and an opportunity to move forward together in citizenship.

    As to whether we should cut a cheque for $2,000,000,000, to the likes of Phil Fontaine and Ed John, Mr Speaker, we don’t live in some freaky alternate universe where Conservative governments forge new relationships by paying out shakedown money, do we? As Bizarro Prime Minister Stefan Harpo, I promise to spend Canadians’ scant tax wealth only in real improvement of the whole nation, Indians included.

    God defend the alternate-universe Dominion of Canada, Mr Honourable Speaker; and God Save the Queeg.

  12. So, Report Abuse, the alternative to forcibly removing children from their families and beating them for speaking their own language (to name two atrocities that were part of the DESIGN of the residential schools system) is no education at all? You really see no middle ground? Such as, to pick an example off the top of my head, ON-reserve, NON-residential schools, that wouldn’t separate parents and children, like what we have now? Or perhaps you are writing from an alternate reality after all, where such things don’t exist.
    Also: “backward and static cultures”: classy touch. That’ll win you friends.

  13. Ain’t lookin’ to make friends, Mark, but to improve the lives of Canadian aboriginals, believe it or not.

    On-reserve schools were never, even remotely, a possibility for most of the tribes, you know. (Some of the larger ones did have such schools; most of their reserves today are mired in exactly the same social pathologies as the rest.)’Cos Canada is a big, big country, chum; it was even bigger then. You could look it up. Lacking the resources to build and staff hundreds of new schools for every eensy reserve, and with the native leadership apparently incapable of doing it for themselves, Ottawa and the churches took the next-best option: boarding out, as it was called then. This doesn’t mean the policy was right: but it should signify something, that most forward-thinking Canadians of that era would have *killed* to have their children “removed” to live at a decent school 10 months of the year for, you know, educational purposes. Few could afford it, though.

    Here’s another shocking fact, Mark: *every* Canadian schoolchild was “beaten” in the era we’re talking about. What an “atrocity,” eh? Until a generation ago, in fact, Canadian schoolteachers were free to whip, smack, paddle and/or kick any of their charges anytime for such infractions as, oh I dunno, let’s say, speaking English in French class. What an enormous apology must be owed to those tens of millions of bruised white kids, eh? And what an enormous cash settlement. I think you should pay it.

    This doesn’t mean the residential-schools policy was right. Every Indian kid who was actually injured by a teacher is certainly owed an apology, and even a cash payment, in remedy. These should come from the rogue sadists and criminals who actually committed the crimes. Or, you know, you could pay it.

    I suppose calling pre-Contact Northern Indian cultures “backwards and static” is going to hurt some feelings. So? Socially sophisticated and artistically advanced though some indigene societies were (especially my faves, the glamourously bloodthirsty Haida)these were tribal peoples, scarcely acquainted with agriculture, or writing, or metallurgy, or geometry, or astronomy, etc., etc. No Mohawk or Cree or Dene had stumbled across such concepts in a hundred generations; there was no indication, at Contact, that they were about to, either.

    Which doesn’t mean they were sub-human, or unintelligent, or unworthy of respect; it also doesn’t mean the residential schools policy was right. It just means their cultures were backwards. And static.

    Dispute the characterization if you like, Mark; if you have any evidence for pre-Contact socio-technical dynamism or disruptive intellectual development among the tribes, I know about a zillion New Democrats, anthropologists, and tax-fattened bureaucrats slavering to see it.

    But all their romantic wishing isn’t going to make it true; nor will it improve the life of a single Canadian Indian. Nor will the soggy half-truths of this stupid Apology, nor will the wasted oceans of Indian Affairs cash.

    Because gestures ain’t policy, my young friend; and the only policy that will end the misery of my aboriginal fellow-citizens is total normalization. The destruction of the Indian Act. The breakup of the festering reserves. The dismissal of all “land claims.” The extinction of every kind of racial preferment and entitlement, throughout the entire Dominion. The rejection of the vicious idea that the welfare of Indians is all Canadians’ responsibility; that natives are our special wards, our dependents, our children.

    Can’t you see how debilitating that notion is, Mark? And how modern guilt-ridden identity politicking is just Imperial paternalism in another guise? The misery of the modern Indian won’t end until we *stop taking responsibility* for him, and he is free to be Canadian, and responsible for his own life, his wealth, his family. When that’s achieved, he can be free to be as Indian as he wants, if he wants.

    Kof, kof. Well, I probably will not make many friends with this, huh? I have the consolation of being right, though. You keep apologizing and writing big cheques, Mark. It is important that you feel good about yourself.

  14. Oh, forgive me: had you only told me you were right from the beginning, I’d never have questioned you! Especially had you informed me I am younger than you, and therefore… what? Stupid? The Internet is just full of revelations, isn’t it?
    I’m no cultural anthropologist (maybe when I grow up? It’s either that or astronaut), but I know enough to avoid terms like backward or static: I could bore both of us with an explanation as to why your phrasing is both wrong-headed and wrong, but its not my job to educate you, and utterly beside the point in any case (though I’d recommend Jarred Diamond’s “Guns Germs and Steel” as a starting point, if you have any genuine interest in the subject).
    However, perhaps you can enlighten me from the perch of your advanced age: how is it that Canada could afford a school in practically every hamlet deserving a dot on the map but not a few hundred reserves?
    And again, that abuse occurred elsewhere is sad but not the point (not to mention, as Paul Wells has already eloquently pointed out on his blog, not comparable): in this case the schools were designed to destroy the indigenous people’s culture, institutionalized abuse was part of that. That other parents of the era would kill to send their kids away to school is not germane: these families were not given a choice. Thus why the term “forcibly removed” keeps getting bandied about.
    As to the rest of your post: Indian Act bleah bleah bleah racial preferments bleah bleah bleah tax fattened bureaucrats bleah bleah bleah: I’m sure there are people somewhere at your retirement home willing to discuss how to solve “the Indian problem” with you, especially if you provide them a spittle-shield of some sort, but I’m not interested. My starting and ending point remains that there were options beyond the residential school system/no education paradigm you presented earlier. It’s probably the rebelliousness of youth, but despite the indisputable fact that you are “right” (I read it right here on the web!) I find my opinion on that score unchanged.
    Respectfully yours!

  15. Can I just step in and say that there is one thing that I agree with Report Abuse on, and that’s that the entire apology was really just a giant, conscience cleaning, excersize in making everyone feel good about themselves. That said, there is a huge difference between corporal punishment and the persistent abuse that native children went through. Somehow, I think their *might* have been an outcry if children were raped, belittled and beaten if they spoke their own language. But, as I have said before, what we need to do is move on from that and do something to help the aborignals of today and tomorrow. The past is done. We can’t change the past, only the future. Oh, and ‘static and backwards’? Really? THe first whites to arrive in BC kidnapped the two sons of the tribal chief. Entire tribes were wiped out from smallpox brought over by Europeans. Ooh, ooh, an d who remembers the Beothuk? They were slaughtered for no particular reason. Not to mention that the early explorers and settlers would have died come first snowfall without the help of the natives. Static and backwards, eh?

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