The Commons: Selective memory
Let he who has not made a Neville Chamberlain reference cast the first stone
Aaron Wherry, Macleans.ca | May 2, 2007 | 13:11:45
Scrumming with reporters after Tuesday's Question Period, NDP leader Jack Layton was asked for his take on Elizabeth May's questionable use of a Neville Chamberlain reference to describe the Conservative government's stance on the environment. Layton did not mince words.
"Well, we certainly would have never made any such comparison," he said. "I think it's very unfortunate and certainly not something that we consider to be wise or appropriate."
Pity Layton. His memory obviously fails him.
Now, I'm not generally in the business of doing the Green Party's homework, but a quick review of Hansard finds more than a few Chamberlain references on the record. In fact, here's Layton questioning then-prime minister Paul Martin about the Liberal government's failure to meet Kyoto targets:
"Mr. Speaker, enough is enough. We have been hearing those kinds of comments from the Prime Minister for 16 years since he began promising to clean up the air for Canadians and instead we have worse pollution than ever. He makes Neville Chamberlain look like a stalwart in standing up to a crisis. Smog is sending people to emergency wards at unprecedented levels. The prairies are drying up. We have forest fires like we have never had before. All we get are promises of plans to be brought forward some day. Will he bring forward a plan, yes or no?"
After QP, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion added his voice to those calling for May to withdraw the comments. One assumes he said the same thing to Liberal MP Robert Thibault, who, just a little more than a month ago, mustered this during a budget debate:
"I listened to the Minister of Finance when he was reading his budget speech. He said that the long days of bickering between the federal and provincial governments were over. I have not heard a quote like that since I read about Neville Chamberlain talking about peace in our times right before the second world war."
And before the Conservatives get cocky, let's remember this year-old gem from Peter MacKay, during a debate over extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan:
"I do not expect members of the NDP to understand this. I fully expect that the Neville Chamberlains of the 21st century in the NDP do not want to be part of an effort that is aimed at elevating the lives of the people of Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that they would take this off track and try to debase the real activity, the important quality of life changes that are taking place because of our forces being in Afghanistan."
MacKay was at least speaking in reference to a military operation. But then, if a reference to Neville Chamberlain is always "inappropriate," a multi-partisan apology seems in order.
Update. My colleague Philippe Gohier has done some further research on this. His short history of Neville Chamberlain references can be found here.