The Commons: You bore us, Mr. Ignatieff

After initial civilities, the House erupts—making a ‘Sheeple’ proud

by Aaron Wherry

The Commons: You bore us, Mr. IgnatieffThe Scene. Shortly before 2 o’clock, in the midst of the capital’s first truly sweltering afternoon this year, a man in a dark suit and plastic animal mask—depicting a sheep, it seems—stood outside the Centre Block entrance reserved for Members of Parliament, handing out copies of former MP Garth Turner’s new book. Said book, as the animal mask was apparently intended to relate, is entitled Sheeple, a term apparently applied to people who often take on the characteristics—curly white hair covering most of the body, fondness for grazing, tendency to do as told—of sheep.

This was conceivably done to make some point. Or poke fun. Or sell a few books. Or some combination thereof. And, for sure, there should be nothing to prohibit anyone from making points, poking fun, or selling books about all that is obvious and absurd and obviously absurd about this place.

But then, in fairness, so much has changed in the six months or so since Mr. Turner was unceremoniously voted out of office. For one, the party to which he was most recently a member has found a new leader, this one fluent in all sorts of English verbs and tenses. For another, that leader has insisted on Question Period being something other than an opportunity to try and convict one’s rivals of various moral crimes.

Today’s session, for instance and as coincidence would have it, began with several fine and reasoned exchanges of inquiry and information. For perhaps a full half hour—with a man in a suit and an animal mask sweating away outside—the proceedings were both graceful and informative, genteel and respectful.

Oh, and boring. Dreadfully, dreadfully boring.

Michael Ignatieff rose first to request more information on the progress of swine flu in Canada. “Mr. Speaker, Canadians are concerned about the swine flu. There are six confirmed cases in Canada, four in Nova Scotia, two in British Columbia. Two Quebecers may have contracted the virus and other cases could be confirmed shortly,” he said. “What measures does the government therefore propose to address this situation?”

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the rookie suddenly tasked with managing a global pandemic, stood, expressed her concern for the victims of today’s earthquake in Mexico and proceeded to update the House on her conversations with international, national and provincial officials these last few days.

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Ignatieff, “I thank the health minister for the information she has given us.”

The Liberal leader asked about an international travel advisory, the Health Minister assured him of a multi-department response by her government. Ignatieff then wondered how the situation might effect the travel of seasonal workers.

“Mr. Speaker,” replied Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, “I thank the member for his important question.”

A short while later, it was Carolyn Bennett’s turn, the Liberal health critic rising to question the Health Minister.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said. “I would like to thank the Minister of Health for her call yesterday. After a quick reading of the main estimates, it appears that there is $12 million less this year for emergency preparedness response than last year in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s budget, which includes pandemic preparedness and response. Will the Minister of Health unequivocally assure this House that there will be adequate resources available to respond to this threat of a flu pandemic, and ensure an adequate supply of antivirals?”

Aglukkaq assured her there was.

Then it was Kirsty Duncan, the Liberal rookie and science professor. “Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the minister for the briefing this morning,” she began. “We were told that there are 55 million doses in the antiviral stockpile. I understand that the chief public health officer and the CFO of the Public Health Agency are in negotiations with Treasury Board to buy more. Will the minister assure Canadians that sufficient money will be provided for whatever the agency officials deem necessary to protect Canadians?”

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Aglukkaq, “the answer is yes.”

Aside from a couple outbursts—Bob Rae and Deepak Obhrai sparring on the appropriateness of Canada’s response to the situation in Sri Lanka, Pierre Poilievre using a question about the Parliamentary Budget Officer to direct scrutiny on the Speaker, Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff—there was, for awhile, a general sense of coherence and utility to the proceedings. Even Layton, who has often struggled to find the right tone and volume of voice in this new era of reasonableness, managed to pose at least one question in a non-hysterical manner.

Not until Carol Lavallee, the persistent Bloc MP, started hectoring the government about federal jurisdiction did that familiar noise return. Soon enough, Tony Clement was up waving his arms, conducting the imaginary orchestra in his head. Then John Baird was heckling Ujjal Dosanjh. Then Marlene Jennings was chirping at Peter Van Loan. And Baird was screaming at Jean Crowder. And Irene Mathyssen was calling across the aisle to Jason Kenney.

Then, with the second last question of the day, the Conservatives sent up Jeff Watson, the giddy backbencher who’d wandered into the House earlier with a pair of sunglasses perched atop his head. “Mr. Speaker, on April 14 the Liberal leader said, and I quote, ‘We will have to raise taxes,’” he said, expending great energy to seem serious. “Does the government agree with the Liberal leader when he says, and I quote, ‘We will have to raise taxes,’ and should Canadians take him at his word?”

The Liberals groaned, then moaned as the government sent up Pierre Poilievre to answer. At the sight of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Ignatieff decided the proceedings moot, packed up his papers and left the House, the Conservatives calling after him to stay.

“Words, Mr. Speaker,” Poilievre began. “As an academic, a journalist and author, the Liberal leader has built his entire career on words. Surely, he cannot tell us that his words mean nothing. If his words mean nothing, then he means nothing.”

Poilievre invited Ignatieff to return and answer whatever it was he was asking, then returned to his seat and shared a laugh with Tom Lukiwski. Watson smiled too. Chuck Strahl laughed uproariously. John Baird applauded.

For a moment, surely, the man in the animal mask felt a little bit redeemed.

The Stats. Swine flu, eight questions. Taxation and the auto industry, three questions each. Sri Lanka, forestry, arts funding, Quebec, the RCMP, Omar Khadr, crime, border security and Afghanistan, two questions each. Government appointments, flag pins, Canada Day, Chalk River, ministerial expenses, Pakistan and listeriosis, one question each.

Leona Aglukkaq and Denis Lebel, six answers each. Peter Van Loan, five answers. Deepak Obhrai and James Moore, four answers each. Jason Kenney, three answers. Jim Flaherty, Tony Clement, Peter MacKay and Pierre Poilievre, two answers each. Ed Komarnicki, Dave Anderson and Gerry Ritz, one answer each.

The Commons: You bore us, Mr. Ignatieff

  1. Was it Garth wearing the dark suit and the plastic animal mask? Any clues from the man’s height and build?

    • Hard to say, but the sheep completely freaked John Baird out by following him around and transcribing everything he said into a Blackberry…

    • If that was Garth in the sheep suit, who was the guy in the Garth suit?

  2. If Canadians (beyond the politics geeks who need their daily QP-fix from Aaron) start to pay attention, the Tories are in even deeper trouble.

    Iggy is raising the tone, guys. You look like (better term for “donkeys”). Pick up your game.

    • He’s going to raise the tone all over Canada, after the garbage has been picked up outside 22 Sussex.

      • that is “24 SUSSEX”

        • Well; I don’t know about you, but I was talking about 22 Sussex.

          Do you mean to say there will be garbage outside 24 Sussex as well, to be picked up after the next election?

          Kidding. My mistake, but still – you just assumed I meant the PM’s residence.

    • I don’t know about raising the tone all over Canada. I’m not even sure I know what that would entail. But I’m with MYL. That was a pretty sad effort by the CPC.

  3. “For a moment, surely, the man in the animal mask felt a little bit redeemed.”

    Indeed!

  4. Its nice to hear that their was some civility. Even if it didn’t last.

  5. “Kirsty Duncan, the Liberal rookie and science professor …”

    a bit of an understatement, the woman has won a Noble Prize, authored several books, ran the Boston Marathon and solved the flu of 1918! (a bit too late for anyone who caught it, but still)

    All hyperbole aside, it is an interesting revelation that there is that much talent on the backbenches AND that her specific area of expertise is epidemics. It would also seem that Leona Aglukkaq knew about and tapped into that resource. (I recall some thinking she would be out of her depth) Kudos to the 2 rookies!

    see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030526.wchp0526/BNStory/Front/

  6. Pierre Poilievre.

    As soon as I see the Harper government put him up I know what is about to occur is
    1) incredibly and unnecessarily partisan
    2) stupidly silly
    3) and a waste of time and taxpayers money.

    There is a reason why all of the former attack dogs, Baird, Van Loan for example, have begged off this duty. Pierre is either not smart enough to absorb that reason, or realizes he is at the pinnacle of his political life at this point and won’t get any further, so is willing to humiliate himself and his constituents is this manner.

    • I don’t think Pierre realizes anything. He does what he is told.

    • You have it all wrong, cam. Behavior such as that of Poilievre is rewarded in that caucus. As far as Poilievre is concerned, he is doing his party and constituents proud.

    • Equally guilty – the CPC people laughing with Polievre – Strahl, Baird, Lukiwski – talk about looking like idiots.

      And yet, they looked so proud – unbelievable.

    • I’d almost pity Poilievre if it weren’t for the fact that he believes there is virtue in his idiocy.

  7. WOW, what a peak behind the curtain of what QP could be, once was, will be on that glad day when Civility, so long in exile, returns at last to place the crown of Virtue on her shining head.

  8. Perhaps for the speakers next target he can take on something else relatively easy. Anyone ‘screaming’ gets the rest of the day off, say.

  9. Maybe QP can return to primarily being civil if it weren’t for quotes such as this…”Oh, and boring. Dreadfully, dreadfully boring.” (by Aaron Wherry).
    Canadian politics was more functional when it’s daily working weren’t front page news unless it was matters of true importance.
    Fear not loathing blogger/hack journalist : I hear Susie said Bobby has warts at the Green Tree Elementary, should give you an hour of recess to cover for us tomorrow.

  10. Don’t blame the clowns – it’s in their DNA. Blame those who elect the clowns.

    • Agreed. It is puzzling that some Canadians still vote for the Liberals.

      • Hmmm….so you think Canadians would rather vote for the intellect of grammar school kids? Milk and cookies anyone?

        • Don’t underestimate grammar school kids. They’re pretty bright, and can spot unfairness in a split second.

  11. Well done CPC – I like Pierre P. words indeed!

  12. I find it interesting that the encouraging bit of civility during this QP, related to the important questions/issues regarding the swine flu outbreak, occurred when women (the Liberal and NDP critics) queried the female Health minister, Leona Aglukkaq (who has been laudable in her transparency and clear communication during the last few days), in a reasonable and balanced manner. Maybe we need to get rid of some of the old frat boys in the House and encourage more capable, smart women to go into politics? The sooner, the better…

    • I absolutely love living in a world where political correctness makes it a sin to generalize about women in a manner that falls short of potential brilliance in everything imaginable, yet allows men to be dismissed as failures without qualification or consideration.

      • Not sure how you can characterize “some of the old frat boys in the House” as a mass generalization about all men but hey, knock yourself out dude…

        • “…encourage more capable, smart women to go into politics..”

          Why not simply encourage the participation of both men and women who are outside the “frat-boy” culture? By suggesting women are the solution, the logical conclusion is that men are the problem, or at the very least incapable of restoring appropriate decorum to the house. So yes, your statement was a generalization based on gender.

          So, the premise is that women tend to be more civil and reasonable in such settings, and thus we need more of them in Ottawa to improve the tenor of debate and discussion. How then, do you explain the fact that recent parliaments have had the most female MPs, ever, yet have been highly acrimonious?

          Sorry to dump all of this on you, D, I’m just getting a bit weary of a discourse that intends to establish gender equality (which is a good thing!) but seems to be manifesting a double standard that makes it too easy to dismiss men.

          • There is, if you ask some of the women who’ve been in Ottawa for a long time — an “old boys” network, that women were excluded from. It’s not easy for women in Parliament – time for a seasoned female veteran to write a book or 2 about it, because we’ve forgotten what some of the pioneers went through.

            Don’t know how it is now, but it’s liable to be similar. I wouldn’t want to be sharing work space with some of those beefaloes in Harper’s government. Have you seen the size of that Heritage Minister?

            Would be interesting to see whether cliquiness abounds still in Parliament – the kind that excludes women except for those who are dear to the PM’s heart – like Ablonczy; who might need one of those testosterone tests.

  13. Maybe the point lost in the messages boards that our Health Ministers background has her rely on consensuses politics instead of grandstanding allowing her feel comfortable in reaching out to her counterparts. We could certainly use more civil exchanges as the ones by Leona Aglukkaq, I just don’t think gender had anything to do with it. (have you ever seen PEI’s legislature, the female MLA’s slander as good as the old boys.)

    • True. Women can be the nastiest, the most political people. I much prefer working with all men; my experience working with women is often negative, and if it’s all women, God help ya.

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