Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.
Nobody made a big deal of it, but Ed Fast is Canada’s acting foreign minister. He’s already a full-time trade minister, which means he currently runs most of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (all but the last “D” in DFATD, currently overseen by Christian Paradis). How long that monstrous interim gig lasts is up to the big boss, and your best guess is as good as mine, but the House needed someone to show up to question period and account for the government’s foreign policy. Today, Fast did indeed take his seat in the Commons…
…but he didn’t answer any questions that his predecessor might have fielded. This afternoon, only a parliamentary secretary was up to the task. NDP MP Paul Dewar grilled David Anderson on Russians he wanted the government to sanction.
Dewar, a foreign affairs critic who paid glowing tribute to Baird hours earlier, was incredulous at the government’s refusal to slap sanctions on Igor Sechin, the head of oil giant Rosneft; Sergey Chemezov, the head of industrial conglomerate Rostec; and Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russian Railways. Canada’s list of sanctioned Russians currently comprises 77 and dozens of entities. Why not those three men?
Anderson read from pre-written boilerplate. He told the House just how much the government supports Ukraine and just how much it opposes Russian aggression. All the while, NDP staffers mocked Fast for keeping his seat.
Where is the Foreign Affairs Minister???
— Karl Bélanger (@KarlBelanger) February 3, 2015
— Jordan L (@supposedly_fun) February 3, 2015
Then, just as it seemed Fast would stay quiet all day, a question at the back end of QP, on international trade, came from Independent MP Andre Bellevance. Who stood to respond? You’ll never guess.
The trade minister might get a pass today for letting a parliamentary secretary do the heavy lifting on foreign affairs, given the brevity of his tenure. But the House can’t go on without a full front bench. Someone’s gotta learn about the Sechins, Chemezovs and Yakunins about which the Tories are sure to face more questions. Someone must replace the inimitable Baird.
This morning, the House witnessed the resignation of a foreign minister.
John Baird spoke of his maturity in cabinet, and the ultimate utility of good government. He started at the start, when he was elected to Queen’s Park.
“When I joined my good friend, Mike Harris, back in 1995, I was perhaps just a little naive, driven by ideology, defined by partisanship at the age of 25,” recalled Baird, much to the pleasure of colleagues who endured that partisanship for parts of nine years. “I quickly learned, though, to make a difference, to really make a difference, one cannot be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. One needs, instead, to be defined by one’s values. I believed then, and I continue to believe, that government has to be there for people; that, through hard work, it can be a force for good.”
Without him, the government’s front bench is down a man. Prime Minister Stephen Harper now has seats to fill on two cabinet committees—priorities and planning; foreign affairs and security—and he’ll have to name a full-time replacement. Ed Fast, the trade minister who’s travelled the world plenty in his role as chief salesman for Canadian exports, is apparently “poised to” take over the acting gig. Speculation about a successor will consume many corners. The House of Committees waits with bated breath.