The Commons: Happy Birthday, Mr. Prime Minister
The opposition members all pitched in and got you some new allegations of detainee abuse
Aaron Wherry, Macleans.ca | Apr 30, 2007 | 21:25:44
The Scene. You could tell, as soon as the Prime Minister rose to respond to Stéphane Dion's third question, that something was up. His voice was a little looser. Bouncy even. There was that slight hint of mischievousness.
"I guess Mr. Speaker, when you talk about changing stories, I'd like to know whether the leader of the opposition still holds by his position that the way to solve this is bringing Taliban prisoners to Canada," Stephen Harper said. "Again, Mr. Speaker, we're in Afghanistan to keep the Taliban out of Canada."
You'll remember this move from last Monday - the same talking point that failed to head off the Harper government's worst week since taking office. It didn't sound any better the second time around, but perhaps the Prime Minister is to be forgiven - this being his 48th birthday. Surely he would've much rather been home, eating cake and playing "Pin the slanderous allegation on the opposition leader." I mean, really, who wouldn't?
Indeed, as the detainee debate begins its second week, all sides are finding it difficult to find new and inventive ways to properly convey shock and outrage at the sins of the other. And much of Monday's Question Period descended into rote play acting.
Opposition: Do you still have confidence in the Minister of Defence?
Opposition: How bout now?
Opposition: How bout now?
Opposition: Well how bout... now?
Government: Why do you love the Taliban so much?
As to the first question, the Prime Minister continues to brush aside any and all suggestions that Gordon O'Connor be(somewhat mercifully)dumped. It seems, for now, the Defence Minister will be allowed to hang around. He just won't be able to say anything.
O'Connor was mum again this day, meaning a full 51 questions about Afghanistan have passed since he was permitted to address Parliament. Not since last Wednesday has he seemed to be in charge of his own file.
In his absence, the opposition has tried to push the debate forward with livelier rhetoric. The government and its mismanagement were variously termed "pathetic," "embarrassing" and a "farce." The NDP's Jack Layton said the Conservatives were in "full denial." One Bloc Québécois MP accused them of both "misinforming" and "disinforming" the public - a rare feat even by the diabolical standards of the Prime Minister.
In need of response, the government's options are increasingly few. O'Connor is persona non grata, Peter MacKay is off single-handedly reforming China and Stockwell Day can't be trusted to speak in public too often. That leaves the Prime Minister(who took the first seven questions on Afghanistan)and last week's breakout star, Helena Guergis.
I am beginning to see what the Prime Minister must like about the Honourable Member for Simcoe Grey. Not only is she decidedly not an old white dude(the rarest of commodities), Guergis - like all of Harper's trusted deputies - has mastered the ability to be both nasty and patronizing. Often at the same time. Behold this response to Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre.
"Mr. Speaker, I do not know how many times we have to stand in the House to explain to the previous Liberal government that their inaction with respect to developing a policy on the transfer of detainees is unacceptable."
(Your silly questions bore me. Also, this is all your fault anyway.)
"What also is extremely unacceptable is the fact that far too often they are so ready to take the word of Taliban detainees over our Canadian brave men and women."
(Why do you love the Taliban so much? And why do you hate our soldiers?)
"Mr. Speaker, Canadians are finding themselves offended at this."
(I have polled the electorate and they hate you.)
Her nastiness-per-word ratio is staggering. She will go far in this government.
But Coderre was unimpressed. "Mr. Speaker," he said, "what is unacceptable is the smile on her face when she answered that question." Making life uncomfortable for CPAC's sign language woman, he railed against allegations of "pulling fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil and sexual humiliation."
Suffice it to say Guergis looked very serious with her next answer. That Coderre can be quite the buzz kill.
The Stats. Afghanistan, 18 questions. The environment, 10 questions. Shane Doan, three questions. Arts funding and the RCMP, two questions each. Military detainees, gun crime, Senate reform, aboriginal children and taxes, one question each.
Doubts About Steve Yzerman's Ability to Responsibly Manage the National Hockey Team of the Day. Shaking, trembling and jabbing his finger this way and that, Bloc Quebecois MP Luc Malo put on quite a show to express the deep hurt felt by his countrymen upon learning that Shane Doan, alleged disrespecter of the French, was playing for Canada at the World Hockey Championships. "Mr. Speaker, Hockey Canada has once again demonstrated a lack of judgement by naming Shane Doan, a player who has made discriminatory, racist and xenophobic remarks about francophones, captain of its team," Malo said. Later, Liberal MP Marcel Proulx joined the cause with his own question. The versatile Helena Guergis advised both that the government had no input on Hockey Canada's decision. Doan, for his part, scored the decisive goal as Canada beat Norway 4-2 on Monday.
Most Sincere Birthday Wish of the Day. From Liberal MP Scott Simms. "Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer advice to the minority Conservative government and we can do that by checking the Prime Minister's horoscope. Today is the Prime Minister's birthday and caféastrology.com tells us, 'Restlessness, rebellion, and impatience figure prominently.' It is a clear reference to the Conservative Atlantic caucus. It says, 'Your energy tends to be erratic and temperamental” and can “act on sudden impulses without considering consequences.' That is an allusion, no doubt, to the government's confusing storyline regarding Afghan detainees. The horoscope says, 'Confrontations engaged in this year could clear the air and help you move forward.' Are the stars speaking of the Clean Air Act? Is there hope for a real environmental plan to emerge from the Conservative chaos on this file? The future seems uncertain, except for one last prediction. It reads, 'Arguments and confrontations are likely. Anger can erupt seemingly from nowhere.' Can Question Period be far off? Finally, sincerely, to the Prime Minister, happy birthday."