Possibly more interesting now than the actual controversy of the NDP’s “satellite offices” is Thomas Mulcair’s public handling of questions about that controversy.
Above is last night’s At Issue panel, which included rather mixed reviews of the NDP’s leader performance and David McLaughlin has also weighed in, while Campbell Clark wrote about Mr. Mulcair’s scrum on Wednesday.
New Democrats and fans of the NDP are perhaps more likely to have enjoyed Mr. Mulcair’s time in front of the cameras this week. As ever, it is difficult to guess how the general public might feel about how Mr. Mulcair handled himself, presuming of course that some significant percentage of the general public was watching or will become generally aware of his performance.
Here is CPAC’s video of yesterday’s committee hearing, here is Mr. Mulcair’s scrum on Wednesday and here is the NDP leader’s Tuesday scrum. In all, you end up with a little less than three hours of Thomas Mulcair taking questions. I suppose we could debate the line between seeming tough and formidable and seeming overly aggressive and argumentative, and what precisely we expect of our political leaders. (I suppose it also might matter how serious you perceive both the controversy and the proceedings.) It is obviously superior to the alternative of not taking questions or answering only in banal talking points or entirely ignoring the questions asked, but perhaps that is a low bar to exceed.
It’s easy to reduce this stuff to caricature—for all of the Angry Tom taunts, did Mr. Mulcair ever actually seem angry this week?—but the contrast with Mr. Trudeau is something else to consider. On a certain level, they’re offering opposite alternatives to the same problem—those who want to see the government changed have a distinct choice of personality. The pleasantness of Mr. Trudeau or the toughness of Mr. Mulcair. Both have to round out those ideas and how they do so might determine whether one or the other becomes the primary alternative to Mr. Harper, but the choice alone is fascinating.
For the sake of posterity, here are some of the highlights from yesterday’s two hours before the Procedure and House Affairs committee, including both put-downs and some attempts at explanation. Some of these lines might lose something in simply appearing as text (I think, for instance, that the second quote here was more of a joke than it might seem in print), but it’s at least worth compiling as evidence of a politician saying vaguely interesting things. In addition, the Globe has him saying, “I’m giving you a full answer, coco” in response to Stephen Woodworth, but I confess I didn’t catch that (and it didn’t show up in the early transcript).
“I understand that the members of this committee are quite keen to learn how to serve Canadians better and how these best practices are within the rules.” -from his opening statement
“I’ll be happy to answer your questions in the unlikely case that you still have some.” -concluding his opening statement
“Oh darn.” -when informed that the time for Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s first round of questions had concluded
“Well, that’s an interesting question, because it’s so comically loaded it’s worthy of nothing but contempt.” -responding to Liberal MP Sean Casey
“In my 36 years in government, Mr. Woodworth, I’ve never seen the governing party get together with its handmaiden in the third party to convene the Leader of the Opposition. But you know what, I’m here, and I’m going to answer all your questions.” -responding to Woodworth’s suggestion that he had never seen a more evasive witness
“You’re not dignifying yourself.” -to Woodworth
“I’m sure that the member is not suggesting that through his retroactive retrospective reflections we’re somehow bound by something that didn’t exist at the time.” -to Woodworth
“Our parliamentary staff only did parliamentary work, our political staff did political work—never the twain shall meet—and that’s the issue before this committee. We’ve respected that every step of the way.” -to Woodworth
“I know that the member is going to find this difficult to understand but rule 4.1 is about using House of Commons’ money to rent parliamentary office space.” -to Woodworth
“As you know, one of the primary institutional roles of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is to hold the government to account. So, of course the fact that the government has been adding these offices at a rapid pace has made our job more difficult. We have to hold them to account. That also means following them at ground level.” -in response to a question from NDP MP David Christopherson
“That would be completely the case, Mr. Woodworth, were it not for one fact that gets in the way of your narrative, the fact that every single month of rent has in fact been paid for by the NDP itself.” -to Woodworth
“I guess we underestimated the extent to which you are capable of making something out of nothing.” -to Woodworth
“Well the rule that you are trying to refer to is usually called ejusdem generis but in fact the rule you should be trying to use is exclusio unius est exclusio alterius.” -to Woodworth
“By the way there’s an excellent work entitled Bibliographie sur la redaction et l’interpretation des textes legislatifs, 375 pages, published in 1979 by the Éditeur officiel du Québec I am the author of it and I’ll be glad to give you a signed copy.” -to Woodworth
“If only you knew anything about statutory interpretation and the interpretation of documents.” -to Woodworth
“I thought you were a lawyer, but maybe I’m wrong.” -to Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc
“I’m sorry, I was trying to read the document you just gave me which you were trying to reference and which I hadn’t had occasion to see. And it’s just a simple explanation of the fact that 59,000 New Democrats across the country took part in the election of a new leader, including 4,600 here in Toronto, blah, blah, blah, strengthened by the election of the new leader, New Democrats, blah, blah, blah. That’s the type of work that you do, we do, everybody does. I don’t see what the big deal is, but anyway keep going. What’s your next question?” -to Casey
“Sorry to destroy your Perry Mason moment, Mr. Casey.” -to Casey
“We just went over that. If you want to have the same answer and eat up some of your own time, but I think the answer couldn’t have been clearer to your colleague who just asked the exact same question.” -to Woodworth
“Mr. Woodworth, since the beginning you’ve had great difficulty understanding a very clear proposition.” -to Woodworth
“Mr. Chair, I would appreciate it if Mr. Woodworth were to provide Anne McGrath, our party general secretary, with his address so we can share the fee of our attorneys. I thank him for proving our case for us.” -to Woodworth