The Commons: A little light reading

The government is accused of delivering “two boxes of contempt” to Parliament

by Aaron Wherry

rob nicholsonThe Scene. Bob Rae sat with a great pile of paper on the desk in front of him. And after Michael Ignatieff and Lawrence Cannon had dealt with the question of what the government might say if the Americans were to ask about the possibility of Canadian troops staying a bit longer in Afghanistan, Ujjal Dosanjh stood to question the Conservative side about this pile of paper.

“Mr. Speaker, the government appointed Mr. Iacobucci at the last minute on a Friday morning, then took two weeks to release his terms of reference, and this morning, dumped some torture documents in the House without Mr. Iacobucci reviewing them,” Mr. Dosanjh reviewed.

Then the question. Or, more specifically, four questions, the last of which was actually two queries put together. “What was the government’s objective in hiring him? Was it just a stalling tactic? Why is Mr. Iacobucci being circumvented? Does he have a real job or is this just more cover for this government?”

The Justice Minister stood and shrugged and mumbled. “Mr. Speaker, quite the opposite,” Rob Nicholson said, though in response to which of the above questions it was unclear. “Mr. Justice Iacobucci is going to undertake an independent, comprehensive review of all the documents. The government has said that officials will make all relevant documents available, and the tabling today is part of that process.”

At least as far back as November 23, days after Richard Colvin testified before a House committee, the opposition has been asking for documents related to this country’s handling of detainees in Afghanistan. And it was at least as far back as that afternoon that a minister in this government—in this case a beleaguered Peter MacKay—vowed a full and total review of the documentary evidence.

“Mr. Speaker, here is what we will do. I will do him one better,” Mr. MacKay had snapped that day in response to a challenge from Mr. Rae. “We will look at all the documents that will be placed before the parliamentary committee, going back beyond the time that we took office. We will see what his government’s record was and how it stacks up against the efforts that we have made to improve the conditions in Afghan prisons. We will look at all of that evidence and then we will see where conditions were improved, when actual investments were made and when the real work was done to improve the situation in Afghanistan, not the Liberals’ lame effort.”

The Prime Minister, absent from the House that afternoon on account of an urgent photo-op with the national lacrosse team, turned up the next day to place an asterisk at the end of everything his Defence Minister had just said. “The fact of the matter,” he said, “is the government has and will continue to make all legally available information available.”

Two and a half weeks later, unsatisfied with the government’s efforts to that point, the opposition moved and passed a motion demanding a forthwith release of all relevant documents in their uncensored form. The House then rose for its Christmas break.

The House was set to return in January, but 20 days after it rose the Prime Minister called the Governor General and asked that the House’s return be delayed until March. Parliament resumed on March 3 and on March 5, 85 days after Parliament’s demand for documents, Mr. Nicholson announced that former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci would be asked to review the paperwork in question and advise the government as to what might be made public. Eight days after that, the government got round to providing Mr. Iacobucci with the terms of reference necessary for him to proceed.

Unsatisfied, the opposition parties demanded last week that the order to produce documents be enforced. The government demanded a chance to respond. A week later, it still has not done so, nor will it say with any specificity when it might.

Instead the parliamentary secretary to the government House Leader rose this morning and tabled 2,500 pages of variously redacted documents, none of which had been reviewed by the former justice this government has apparently charged to do just that.

It was perhaps with all this in mind that Ujjal Dosanjh rose for his supplementary and seemed to quibble with the Justice Minister’s use of the term “process.”

“Mr. Speaker, as I said, this government dumped some torture documents in this House. They have been ready since January to be released to the House, yet there was no translation, no copies. They were in no particular order,” he lamented. “This government has had three and a half months to provide these documents, yet its response today has been totally incoherent and totally disorderly, like chickens with their heads cut off. When will it provide a coherent answer to this torture scandal?”

“Mr. Speaker, at least we know how to vote,” Mr. Nicholson huffed, proceeding, without irony, to ask that the opposition let Justice Iacobucci do his work.

A short while later, the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair stood to declare that the government had only delivered today “two boxes of contempt” for Parliament. Quite besmirched, the Justice Minister responded that Mr. Mulcair should review the documents provided before passing judgment.

Mr. Rae was already doing just that. But he seemed, from afar at least, to be struggling to follow the plot, large black squares periodically obscuring the text. As he happened upon a series of pages blacked out entirely, Geoff Regan leaned over from his right with a spare pair of glasses, suggesting perhaps that Mr. Rae’s difficulty had something to do with his prescription.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 12 questions. The environment, three questions. CSIS, pensions, air travel, foreign aid, war memorials, education, securities regulation and Ann Coulter, two questions each. Foreign investment, taxation, steel, health care, government contracts, bilingualism, trade, infrastructure, agriculture and FedNor, one question each.

Jim Flaherty, six answers. Lawrence Cannon and Rob Nicholson, five answers each. Mike Lake and John Baird, four answers each. Jim Prentice, three answers. Vic Toews, Peter MacKay, Bev Oda, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Pierre Poilievre, two answers each. Leona Aglukkaq, Christian Paradis, Peter Van Loan and Gerry Ritz, one answer each.

The Commons: A little light reading

  1. "two boxes of contempt"

    Nailed it. And remember, that contempt is targeting Parliament, the heart of Canada's democracy and your representation as a citizen. Are we really going to sit back and take this insult?

    • Yes we are. Unfortunately.

  2. Pass a motion that Harper has to write out all the documents, uncensored, by hand.

    • In Pashtun.

  3. Yes!

    Lukiwski too, but first he has to clean the dirt from under his fingernails.

  4. Frankly – Parliament outnumbers these bums – two bums to one.
    I have been pounding on the door – like some grass roots Black Rod – telling them that they have the power to stop all this barnyard byproduct deleivery – BUT ONLY when ALL the Opposition act as a unified team.
    Mr. Ignatieff – are you listening? Mr. Layton? Monsieur Duceppe?
    Cooperation. Alliance. maybe even some kind of coalition?
    If ALL the main parties hadn't noticed – the general feeling of the public is – all this game playing is not impressing us – a little courage and non-partisan principle might!

    • Been there, done that, WW. Please do not mention a coalition, particularly with that self-described "resistant" Gilles Duceppe.

      Resistance to Duceppe, means, of course, resistance to Quebec's continued political inclusion within Canada.

      The Liberals should never, ever travel that low road. Ever. Again. Full. Stop.

      Didn't Canadians make that clear in December of 2008?

      Lest we forget.

      • Let me just point out the complete absurdity of using the phrase "lest we forget.", which is associated with remembering fallen soldiers, with the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition (with the Bloc promising not to vote non-confidence for 18 months).

        I think we should have a coalition govt so just so we can all witness jarrid's head explode.

        • Jarrid's and millions of other Canadians' heads exploding,

          and you'll get no argument from me,

          it would be quite a sight.

    • That wont work at all, most Canadians do not like the opposition leader and don't care about this issue,so it would backfire on them big time.

  5. “Mr. Speaker, at least we know how to vote,” Mr. Nicholson huffed

    Actually I think he chuckled. You know like he was bemused by the ineptitude of the liberal parties sucktitude.

  6. I wish the Defence critic would quit flaying this dead horse and get on with real defence issues such as: Where is the National Shipbuilding policy? Why is the Cyclone so late in delivery? What is DNDs plan to confront the recruitment and retainment issue? Will we be looking at the F35 to replace the CF-18? Will there every be a replacement for the AOR's and the DDH's? But that would assume that Ujj would have a clue of what his roll as a defence critic is.

    • I can get all those for ya:

      Where is the National Shipbuilding policy?

      We fully support the purchase of Canadian built and designed watercraft at some point in the future. Preferably from Bombardier.

      What is DNDs plan to confront the recruitment and retainment issue?

      We're going to stop going to active war-zones for a few years and hope everyone forgets they could be shot or blown up in this job.

      Will we be looking at the F35 to replace the CF-18?

      Provided we don't decide to just get some more UAV's, there will be a competitive process to choose an appropriate new airframe to replace the CF-18. [cough]It will be stacked to favour the F35.[/cough]

      Will there every be a replacement for the AOR's and the DDH's?

      We will announce our intention to purchase replacements for these in the near future in front of a crowd of military personnel with the mass media in wide attendance. Then cancel it quietly shortly thereafter. On a Friday. At 5 PM.

  7. Jack Mitchell, Biff, and today Paul Wells, announce their respective retirement from commenting here at Blog Central. Hopefully this won't trigger some copy-cat retirements.

    It is truly the end of an era. What will become of us?

    • Don't be afraid to follow them out the door. Maybe that would convince them that it is worth returning.

    • "Jack Mitchell, Biff, and today Paul Wells, announce their respective retirement from commenting here at Blog Central. "
      ———————————–

      One of these things is not like the others.

  8. Arron, I'm not sure you spend any time reading these comments, but on the off chance you do, allow me to offer this:

    Your posts on Question Period are, almost without exception, the most depressing and infuriating reads of my day. Rarely is there a day that I read something – regardless of source – that leaves me feeling so utterly despondent as do your QP missives. I get all sorts of business material in a spectrum from brilliant to doorknob dumb, but at least with that I'm in a position to applaud and encourage the former and work to fix the latter. With QP, my reaction begins with fury and usually ends with despair.

    Our Parliament is in the toilet and it appears there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

  9. That Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives Party continue to represent Canada in a manner that no other country can match.AND that those who continue to express disappointment via the blog,call in shows,letters and of course
    the Eastern Media,that they cannot accept that there are will be no change in the foreseeable next five years.
    That the government is firmly in control, have an excellent cabinet ,[compare those in opposition,not one] petulance and
    frustration always have been the response of those who are negative by nature and contrary to positions they can attain.
    If the Media Mavens continue to write or offer what they believe are good suggestions they are taking money from the
    companies under false pretense! Think I am not serious? KEN BARCLAY

  10. This is the same kind of stunt they pulled on Kevin Page. It didn't stop him, or even slow him down.

  11. I think the Afghan documents should be provided in chronological order–from 2001 on when the Liberals first signed us on to this mission. Perhaps as the assigned Justice goes through them, they can then be handed off. Makes sense to me.
    Other than Paul Wells, everyone in parliament is strangely silent about this issue. They aren't getting the mileage out of it they thought they would. I think the Opps have now moved on to Canadians paying for an indeterminate number of abortions in third world countries–you know high priority stuff for us Canadians.

    • Well Mr. Webb, you are not alone. Not one single opposition MP is opposed to the idea of looking into this from the very beginning, not even the Liberals. This may be that there are very few of them left in the house that were there in 2001 but regardless nobody is opposed to the idea of going back to 2001.
      On the other hand…. Paul Wells lost my respect when he opened fire at commenters and then decided arbitrarily to no longer allow comments on his posts. Not that he has posted any real content since he stopped following the affair at Rights and Democracy. He almost had me fooled though, titling an article "Reporter at Work" which obviously wasn't him. Quite frankly until Mr. Wells entitles an article, "I'm sorry I acted like a third grader" I pretty much plan on skipping anything he posts.

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