44

The Commons: A cold and miserable day

BY AARON WHERRY


 

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The Prime Minister arrived promptly at 9:30am. Stepping out of the car, he waved to the reporters assembled 70 metres away and then strode through the back door of Rideau Hall. His staff followed behind.

Half a dozen news trucks idled in the Governor-General’s driveway. A dozen television cameras lined up by the fountain, aimed at her front door. Madame Jean’s staff had set out coffee and, though lukewarm, it eventually became necessary.

Thus, the wait began. Two and a half hours of chilly anticipation.

***

So how did we get here? The answer depends on your perspective.

In a simplistic reading, our present situation is a direct result of what happened last Thursday. That day, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stood in the House of Commons and delivered his government’s fiscal and economic update. Presented as a national plan at a time of profound economic crisis, it included promises to eliminate subsidies to political parties, tamper with the public service’s right to strike, and fiddle with the system through which women are able to seek equal pay for their work.

It seemed designed only to corner the opposition. So challenged, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois found themselves with common cause and interest. Enter the coalition. And under threat of forced exit, the Prime Minister retreated to Rideau in search of reprieve.

That is the short version.

In the longview, it is the latest chapter in what is now an epic and troubling story.

In-and-Out. Chuck Cadman. Afghanistan. Torture. Linda Keen. Arthur Carty. Marc Mayrand. Dalton McGuinty. InSite. Listeriosis. Crime. Science. Academia. Elections Canada. Omar Khadr. Gordon O’Connor. Maxime Bernier. Canadian soldiers. The Military Police Complaints Commission. The ethics committee. The press gallery. CAIRS. Access to information. Notaleader.ca. The federal budget. The economy. The recession.

The emblem of this government has become a furious male face screaming indignation in the arena of our democracy. At every turn, the response has been to obfuscate, manipulate and demonize. Everything has been opportunity to divide. Truth has been tangential. Ethics and morals have been deemed quaint. The Game has superseded all. Short-term political advantage is all that’s mattered. Nothing worth doing if it is not in one’s own personal interest.

Each time, it was possible to believe it wouldn’t happen again. But inevitably there was another low. And while individually these moments might seem relatively minor—at least when compared with the great political and human challenges of our time—taken together it is a dispiriting collage.

I confess, at this point, that I have never before observed a government from this vantage point. Perhaps this is typical. Perhaps Stephen Harper’s government is no worse than any other. For sure, every administration commits its sins, some maybe in greater number and severity. But then even if this government is in line with the norm, I’m not sure that doesn’t just make this all the more crushing. I’d like to believe we’re better than this. I’d like to believe they’re better than this.

There should though be no separating this from that. What happened today was not singular, except maybe in the historical sense. It is merely an extension of all we’ve seen and heard this past year. Having exploited all else, Mr. Harper has now bent democracy to his will. A dangerous precedent has been set. The country is divided. But his desire for power has been requited.

***

A few dozen demonstrators had gathered at the gates of Rideau, awaiting the Prime Minister’s arrival. They waved signs and chanted slogans in his support. Reporters identified several of them as staffers in his government.

Reporters stood and waited and gossiped and joked. TV correspondents sent back dispatches to their networks on the complete lack of identifiable developments. The front doors of Rideau were opened, raising expectations, then closed. The Governor-General’s photographer stepped out to snap a few shots of the mob. The sun came out, brightening, if not warming, the scene.

Then the doors opened once more. The tarp was pulled off the wood podium and the podium wheeled into place. A man brought out a glass of water on a small silver platter and placed it at the stand. The microphones were duly checked. One of the Prime Minister’s aides deemed the spotlights too bright and had them adjusted. Another aide appeared to explain that reporters would be allowed four questions—two in English, two in French.

In the moments before the Prime Minister arrived, the skies clouded over. It began to snow, then hail. Mr. Harper appeared in a long black coat and maroon scarf, but no gloves. As he spoke, white pellets bounced off his shoulders and collected in his hair. Every so often the storm would gust, the wind rumbling over the Prime Minister’s microphone.

He announced Parliament to be closed. He appealed to mystical public opinion. He made promises. His answers were long and periodically pleading. He did not yell and scream. But he was hardly contrite. If there was any kind of apology contained therein, it was hardly explicit.

All stood and watched and listened in the cold and hail. Everyone and everything looked miserable.


 

The Commons: A cold and miserable day

  1. Aaron: a well-expressed indictment of Harper’s record.

    His strategy and tactics have been Nixonian. Un-Canadian.

    And as Bob Rae described it, the atmosphere finally snapped. Harper’s Cons have brought us to this, a deep, American-style chasm between Canadians. Our political representatives are at each others’ throats while the economy collapses, and Harper will wear this shame forever.

  2. Acer, did Tin Pot Harper send you out to court the women vote?

  3. This is a Pyrrhic victory for the CONs.

    I’ve been on the road listening to the radio the past few hours and Canadians are in disbelief and outraged at Harper and the Conservatives.

    What has Harper won?

  4. Funny thing Aaron – the more I watch Harper perform, the more I’m reminded of the same desperate, often hypocritical stance taken by Paul Martin and his government during its dying days.

    That doesn’t make Harper’s decisions any less reprehensible, but I think it’s at least somewhat amusing that you didn’t see Martin in the same way.

  5. Ekos with a new poll showing Harper in majority territory:

    44-24-14. The people are with our leader. 44%. Higher than Chretien ever got in any election. The people aren’t with you Coalition. They are with our leader.

  6. How do you know he didn’t see Martin in the same way?

  7. In other words, the same things that encouraged me to abandon the Liberals and vote for the Conservatives have moved me away from the Conservatives – and I’m not sure where to. Dion’s a desperate figure at this point, barely hanging on to a divided caucus and his successor has yet to be determined. Try as I will, I can’t take Jack Layton seriously, and Elizabeth May has destroyed whatever respect I had for the Greens.

    Bold prediction: turnout for the next election is even lower than the last one

  8. Chris B.:

    “I confess, at this point, that I have never before observed a government from this vantage point. Perhaps this is typical. Perhaps Stephen Harper’s government is no worse than any other. For sure, every administration commits its sins, some maybe in greater number and severity. But then even if this government is in line with the norm, I’m not sure that doesn’t just make this all the more crushing. I’d like to believe we’re better than this. I’d like to believe they’re better than this.”

  9. Holy cow – check out Alberta in that EKOS poll!

    CPC – 75.1, LIB – 11.1, NDP – 7.1

  10. … EKOS goes on to say in conclusion:

    • The Conservatives are winning the initial public opinion war.
    • There seems, however, to be a modest night-to-night trend that favours the coalition on
    all measures (i.e., vote intention, three-partner coalition).
    • While too early to say, it may be that the public are digging into deep and irreconcilable
    differences on this issue.
    • What started as a political skirmish over the economy now has the potential to produce
    deep wounds to national unity.

    Sounds about right — initial public reaction being violently against something very new, but gradually warming a bit. But the bigger story is probably the deepening of divisions, like Aaron says.

  11. … looking at the poll, I don’t know if Harper would be in majority territory. He would win 1 more seat in Alberta, maybe 2 more in BC, maybe 2 more in the Prairies, 10 more in Ontario, and lose some in Quebec and Eastern Canada. So I think he would have the potential to get a majority, but that Alberta Advantage ™ really skews the overall numbers

  12. acer: “menstruates in public”

    Offensive and misogynistic. Agree with Andrew’s blog, and am struck by “The emblem of this government has become a furious male face screaming indignation”. None of what I’ve seen this week is what I’d like to believe our elected reps should be doing. Wonder why women participate in such low numbers?

  13. Is that we’re going to get at Macleans now for the next six weeks? Results of polls posted by paid Conservative staffers?

    By the way, I couldn’t care less what Albertans think. They don’t even vote in their own elections, after all.

  14. The polls do not matter. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s a matter of parliamentary procedure.

    Either that matters or it doesn’t. Be careful which way you choose.

  15. Acer, what was that again about a Tory majority depending on Quebeckers and women? Did we just turn into a country of rude anglo males, or are your calculations a bit off?

  16. Aaron, please delete Acer’s vile and disgusting comment. I have tried the report abuse button but it is not working.

  17. Acer’s last misogynistic comment demonstrates why Wherry did so well to say “a furious male face screaming indignation” and why the Opposition and all non-die-hard Cons want this government gone. Now.

    I don’t want to give anyone nightmares, but imagine if they had a majority.

  18. “Sand in your vagina” is a south park joke, as is the menstruation thing. Christ you people need to get out more and stop taking yourselves so seriously.

  19. EFL: “I don’t want to give anyone nightmares, but imagine if they had a majority.”

    Don’t worry, Harper has taken care of that. He now stands to lose 10 seats in Quebec, which means he’d need 21 more seats in the ROC. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen — ever.

  20. Acer’s last misogynistic comment demonstrates why Wherry did so well to say “a furious male face screaming indignation”

    What else is new? We’ve all known that for a long time. Unfortunately most our media is run by wimpy milquetoasts, who, for the most part, get a vicarious thrill from it.

  21. I wonder who shot these photo’s for Macleans today, they are brilliant.

  22. “Results of polls posted by paid Conservative staffers?”

    Aaron Wherry may be many thngs, but Conservative staffer he is not.

  23. An excellent article that highlights the extent to which the Conservatives have put their concern for power before public policy. The other parties have done the same, but when you are the governing party, and the PM, you are held to a higher standard. You have more responsibility to the nation. Time and time again, they were more concerned with optics than substance. They were bitterly partisan and mean spirited.

    Harper and the Conservatives have failed to convince Canadians that they are capable of being honest brokers in a divided body politic. As such, Harper will not lead them in another election if it is after 2009, and this will be remembered as the turning point when Harper overplayed his hand and showed how weak Conservative national support really is.

  24. “What started as a political skirmish over the economy now has the potential to produce
    deep wounds to national unity.”

    Resonates with me for sure, and I do blame Harper an his minions. I wish these Conservatives would take some cues from the Wizard of Oz and find some brains, some heart and some courage. It may be too much to ask, but I can hope.

  25. Well, whatever anyone may think of Martin, he stood up like a man and faced the vote. He didn’t create a constitutional crisis, he didn’t divide the country and he didn’t attack our democracy.

  26. His strategy and tactics have been Nixonian. Un-Canadian.

    Not Un-Canadian. Anti-Canadian. Harper has always shown that he has no respect or regard for Canadian institutions or values, and today is the extreme extension of that.

    It’s funny you mention Nixon. I’m in the middle of reading Nixonland, and Harper’s strategy is basically the same as Nixon’s — divide the country by any and all means at your justification, rely on an apathetic public to not pay little attention to what you do and to take what you say at face value, hope that you’re able to antagonize people on the other side just enough to make the slightly-engaged feel nervous. It’s the strategy that Republicans have used for decades, from Nixon down to Reagan down to Bush, and it’s what Harper wants to do here. He wants to split the country down the middle, and as long as he gets to be in power, that’s all that matters, because that’s the Republican and the Conservative way. It’s absolutely disgusting, and it’s only going to get worse, especially if those numbers the Conservative trolls are trumpeting hold. We’re headed for a very dark period unless people on the other side get their act together quickly and stop him and his band of thugs. Even as a card-carrying Liberal, I don’t know if they have it in them right now to do that. For that matter, I don’t know if they have it in them to realize they have to do it. But unless we want to follow the US down the paths of Nixon, Reagan and Bush, people from across the centre and the left are going to have to wake up, get engaged and fight back before the Conservative drones dig in deep.

  27. It does me great good to read comments that echo my own feelings, and to read Mr. Wherry’s postings. Many thanks for that, folks. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

  28. get out more? And watch a cartoon?

  29. “Everyone and everything looked miserable.”

    You must have felt the same way on October 14, eh?

    The wickedness you and the Talking Heads accuse Stephen Harper of is no different from the righteousness you attribute to your own preferred choice. Your attitudes and actions are just as partisan, ideological, divisive, mean, or whatever insult catches your fancy as the Tories’. Just look at the vitriolic nature of your writing.

    On October 14 a majority of Canadians voted for Conservatives and expected a Prime Minister Harper. We do not elect our Prime Minister but 90% of votes are cast for the party’s leader, not the local candidate. Nobody voted for Prime Ministers Dion, Layton, and Duceppe. All for one, none for three. Nobody voted for a Senator May. I urge you to accept this gracefully, and to take up the new role you will be playing in the House of Commons in the coming year. I urge you to accept the verdict of your fellow Canadians, and not to create further instability and delay in these tough economic times. Gracefully.

    Thank you, all.

  30. Only in the fevered, mentally ill imaginations of a Conservative supporter would less than 37% mean a majority. Way to have a command of basic math. Of course, given that Conservative math has plunged us into deficit and recession, that’s pretty much par for the course for you people.

  31. Chretien said not to Iraq which pissed Bay street off.
    I respect him for that
    Martin wanted war in Iraq as Minister of Finances he was also a very greedy goblin.
    Martin was a crappy politician and his mess up paved the way for Haper who came to mess our country up from the land of Calgary Black Gold.
    haper sucks, now he has diarrhea because he sees that he gets no love in Canada. He looks like the leader of the KKK.
    I like Trudeau because he genuinely cared about other cultures. Harper only kissed blonde and blue eyed cherubs during his election.

  32. Fevered? Mentally ill? Making fun of my arithmetic? Thanks Matthew.

    Although a majority in the House is more than half, majority can mean the greater number. So, a greater number of Canadians voted for Conservatives and expected a Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Sorry for the misunderstanding. 37% isn’t far off a majority in the House, either.

    I don’t think its fair to blame the Tories for our economic woes either. This crisis is obviously global, so the cause must be global as well. Unless you contend that they are to blame for the entire world’s economic woes? The truth is that we’re doing incredibly well, under Stephen Harper, compared to the rest of the world. Maybe that is because of Stephen Harper or maybe its because of Jean Cretien and Paul Martin. I don’t know.

    He sucks? He has diarrhea? He looks like the leader of the KKK? He’s insincere? You’re accusing Harper of being a monster, but look at what you’ve just said. When is that kind of talk ever acceptable? And what does that mean, he looks like the leader of the KKK? Is it because he’s white? Are you a bigot? I don’t understand.

    I hope this has humbled the Opposition and taught them to cooperate. Dion and Layton need to understand that in a minority Parliament they can’t act like they’ve got a majority. I’m tired of their partisan games, putting their own desire for power ahead of Canadians. They need to put their left-wing, Barack Obama inspired, progressive ideology aside and work with the Conservatives for Canadians. And I mean now, not in February or March when this Coalition can get their act together. Don’t they care about Canada?

    (If that last paragraph looks vaguely familiar, look at the Talking Heads comments lately. They’re just, opposite.)

  33. Tonight on Parliament Hill, Stephen Harper lit the ceremonial HolidayChristmas Tree.

    The flags of Canada and the provinces and territories were ranged behind him.

    The federal (not national) flag of Canada was shunted off to the sides of the stage.

    Stephen Harper is not a Real Canadian™.

  34. Although a majority in the House is more than half, majority can mean the greater number.

    No, in that case the word you are looking for is “plurality”.

  35. Listing all the so called grievances or preversions against democracy levied at the Harper government in an isolated form is blatantly unfair and biased in my opinion.

    There is a reason for each of those decisions but lets not confuse the column with details. Let’s list all of the issues by the Chretien/Martin gang over 13 years in isolation and see how that adds up.

    The opposition parties want Harper to become a left wing socialist party or at best Liberal lite. That is not going to happen and while he remains in a minority Harper is going to govern to the best of his ability to get his agenda passed. If you and the rest of the left wingers in this country think he should be put out of office for his so called slights against democracy then it should be through a democratically held election.

    For all the opposition parties to try to obtain indirectly what they could not get directly from the electorate….power is not in the best interest of our democracy. People who want to support this junta with the formal/informal support of the Bloc are playing with fire.

    The people of Canada voted for a Conservative party to be their government less than 6 weeks ago. At least wait until there is budget and vote up or down. That makes sense but the opposition is terrified that an election will be called. In that eventuality Jean has no choice but to call an election. Putting the country in the hands of a desperate opposition would set a dangerous precedent for any future minority government in the future.

  36. The opposition parties want Harper to become a left wing socialist party or at best Liberal lite. That is not going to happen

    Newsflash: it already has, dear.

  37. hllinm ……. I don’t know whether it’s willful blindness or just another stupid talking point ….. but the people of Canada clearly DID NOT vote for a Conservative party to be their government less than six weeks ago.

    They ALMOST did. But they didn’t.

    If they really did the country wouldn’t be sitting in the middle of this current mess. It would be a whole other kind of mess.

  38. Wilful blindness, stupid talking point…when it comes to Conservatives, is there really a difference?

    I don’t think its fair to blame the Tories for our economic woes either.

    Apart from the fact the Parliamentary Budget Officer himself — you know, the non-partisan one appointed by Harper — said that it was Conservative policies that have damaged Canada’s financial standing, you’re totally right!

  39. Sisyphus, blind and stupid too? Keep ’em coming.

    If Canadians clearly DID NOT vote for the Conservatives then who did they clearly vote for? Not Stephane Dion, the worst Liberal leader of all time. Not Jack Layton, leader of the perpetual third party. Not Gilles Duceppe, who’s attraction ends at the borders of Quebec. Not Elizabeth May who couldn’t even win her own seat, despite being the only ‘progressive’ candidate. So then who, Sisyphus? Who DID Canadians clearly vote for on October 14?

    A greater number of Canadians wanted Stephen Harper over anybody else. Respect that.

  40. Matthew, again, thanks for taking the debate a little close to the gutter.

    And again, do you blame Stephen Harper and the Tories for the world’s economic woes? I didn’t read Page’s report. Most people I know didn’t. Did you? If you didn’t read it, then how do you know what it says? Just repeating what the Talking Heads told you?

  41. I cannot describe how much despair … and anger … I feel at watching the real strengths and possibilities of this very fine nation so cynically and so definitively squandered. And for what? Wherry helps to describe, in a more reasoned way and with a longer view than I would have been able to muster. Canadians deserve far better than this and somehow we need to make it clear that we will simply not accept divide and conquer politics, nor the childish, dishonest, brutish and all around reckless behaviour that has defined Harper’s Conservative parliament. I am unspeakably angry and I hope many, many others of my fellow Canadians are too. More of us need to join in a reasoned but determined effort to register that we will simply no longer tolerate this. There is much to lose. Democracy is fragile and depends on the good will and the good sense of a nation to sustain it. Harper has done more to damage ours in a few months than I could ever have imagined.

  42. Hi Aaron,

    As a guy who was mostly hoping for prorogation, I just wanted to say thank you. As someone who reads much too much dry reporting on a regular day, and is inundated with piles of characterless non-fiction on the other days, it was an absolute pleasure to read some finely crafted prose for once. Your quick post beautifully and faithfully describes what was a truly historic day for our country. Great work!

    Keep at it,

    Clarke Olsen

  43. Lots of anger in some of these posts. Which is a good thing. I’m never satisfied with what the government is doing unless I see some progressive heads exploding. You think you’re mad now? Wait until the budget, which will contain more austerity measures than it will “stimulus”.

    That’s assuming Harper has the stones to dismiss the ridiculous calls for “massive stimulus” (i.e. deficits) to rescue the economy. It is not possible for governments to steer us clear of recessions, and trying to do so is only self-defeating and harmful. But economists like to theorize about just the right “stimulus” and so do Opposition parties apparently. You’ll all get your chance to defeat the government on January 27. Problem is, by then, the likely result will be an election, not a coalition.

  44. Jean Chretien won his 2000 majority with 37%. You replace that one paragraph in Mr. Wherry’s post with Adscam, Shawinigate, APEC, GST, NAFTA, et al, his post could be entirely about JC and his willingness to abandon any principle for power (with the notable exception of never playing footsie with the sep.., I mean, sovereigntists).

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