The Commons: A rhetorical downturn

Harper invites Ignatieff to “actually provide some economic policy suggestions”


The Scene. With the Prime Minister back in the House, Michael Ignatieff decided to pick up yesterday’s line of questioning where it had been left. Perhaps he figured Stephen Harper might be better equipped to explain this government. Perhaps the Liberal assumed the mutual respect between opposition leader and government—the Liberal-Conservative coalition, as Jack Layton puts it before crying himself to sleep each night—might lend itself to a clear and fulsome discussion of our present situation.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister said last Friday there would be no new stimulus measures even if the economy continues to decline; the so-called economic action plan is the plan,” Ignatieff began. “However, the same day, the finance minister appeared to say the opposite.”

His use of the term “so-called” did not bode particularly well.

“The Prime Minister and his Minister of Finance appear to have some kind of disagreement and Canada needs clarity,” Ignatieff continued. “Will there or will there not be further action beyond the budget as the crisis worsens?”

Obviously troubled at the suggestion that his public comments might be confusing Canadians, the Prime Minister jumped to his feet to correct the record. “Mr. Speaker, last week the leader of the Liberal Party supported the budget. This week he is out criticizing the budget,” Mr. Harper reported. “I can assure him that both the Minister of Finance and myself agree that we do not change budgetary policy once a week.”

The Prime Minister’s use of the passive aggressive bode even less well.

So challenged, Mr. Ignatieff attempted that rarest of Parliamentary feats—the spontaneous retort.

“Mr. Speaker, can I therefore take it as being the policy of the government that the economic action plan is the plan, that it is not going to change?” he asked. “The facts are changing hourly. The government is not going to adapt? It is not going to respond? Is that the meaning of the Prime Minister’s answer?”

In response, the Prime Minister opted first for repetition. “It is important that we proceed with a plan,” he said, “that we act on a plan and that we do not change our plan every week.”

That clarified, he went back to sounding altogether hurt at the Liberal leader’s insistence on acting like a member of the opposition. “If the leader of the opposition believes there should be changes,” he said, “I would invite him to do something he never did in the pre-budget period; which is, actually provide some economic policy suggestions.”

The Prime Minister’s rediscovered peevishness surely has nothing to do with the latest poll numbers. Perhaps he’s just getting tired of having to listen to complaints about a federal budget he likely wasn’t particularly fond of in the first place. Perhaps travelling the country pledging to build more hockey arenas wasn’t what he had hoped to do with his second mandate. Maybe he’s simply grown tired of feigning indifference with the Liberals, while repeating for months now the same complaints about the NDP (too critical!) and Bloc Quebecois (too interested in Quebec!).

If he’s made restless by the current unrest beyond this place, he is hardly alone.

Engaging in a fiscal measuring contest of sorts, Mr. Layton invited Mr. Harper to “get on the same train that we see the president of the United States taking.” The Prime Minister took the opportunity to explain, somewhat incomprehensibly, how his government had reacted in the fall of 2007, months before he denied the possibility of a recession, to combat the recession that is now here.

Conservatives Jason Kenney and James Moore—a pair who seem to find each other quite hilarious—couldn’t resist mocking a series of British Columbia MPs who were sent up to lament their province’s state. Liberals responded in kind when the Finance Minister, growling and barking despite having to speak just three times today, rose to warn of something called a “synchronized global recession.”

Awhile later, the NDP’s Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Treasury Board president Vic Toews engaged in a spirited discussion of who could more loudly assert their concern for women’s rights.

“When will this government stop with its macho politics and stop turning the clock back on women’s rights in this country?” asked the New Democrat.

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Toews, “the fact that the member shouts and yells from the other end of the House does not change the facts.”

When Question Period concluded, various points of order led to a discussion that seemed to have something to do with what might be done about members who freely abuse the truth during proceedings in the Commons. Much apparently to everyone’s chagrin, the Speaker appeared to suggest there was not much he could do about this.

The Stats. The economy, five questions. Aerospace, British Columbia, arts funding, employment and Omar Khadr, four questions each. The environment, three questions. Mining, forestry, food safety and women’s rights, two questions each. Child safety, child care, taxation and electoral law, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Tony Clement, five answers. Diane Finley, James Moore and Lawrence Cannon, four answers each. Jim Flaherty, three answers. Denis Lebel, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Vic Toews and Josee Verner, two answers each. Lisa Raitt, Peter Van Loan and Jim Prentice, one answer each.


The Commons: A rhetorical downturn

  1. Female MPs do not shout and yell. They become shrill. It’s right there on pg. 11 of my media watch handbook. Please update your copy.

    • Really? Can you give me a single example of the word “shrill” being used by someone in the Canadian media to describe a female MP? It doesn’t have to be recent – feel free to go back a few years if necessary.

      • Did you ever read an article that mentioned the words “Sheila” and “Copps” in the same sentence?

        • I’ll help you out. The last time the word “shrill” appeared in the Canadian media to describe Sheila Copps was a January 23, 2004 column by Rick Salutin, who wrote:

          “The gracelessness of Paul Martin. Chapter, um . . . I wish they would stop playing those eighties clips of shrill, feisty Sheila Copps taking on the good old boys in the House. You’d think that was the person Paul Martin has been, in effect, trying to eject from his party.”

          Nothing since then. I checked the database. Sorry to burst your bubble, Sophie.

          • Don’t be deliberately dumb. Try ” Alexa McDonough,shrill “. Now, Alexa comes by it honestly. For years in the NS legislature she had to yell over the good ‘ol Tory boys telling her to “sit down, commie slut” in order to be heard. When the boys yell they’re aggressive or assertive. When women yell they are shrill.

          • Yet Harper gets a free pass for this?
            The Prime Minister took the opportunity to explain, somewhat incomprehensibly, how his government had reacted in the fall of 2007, months before he denied the possibility of a recession, to combat the recession that is now here.

            He and Obama should get along famously. Harper, it seems, can simply change the past, present and future reality to fit his latest interpretation of it.

          • The most recent “shrill” reference I found for Alexa was a Fotheringham column in the G&M on February 3, 2001. Foth wrote:

            “It is 2:29 and finally time for the shrill Alexa McDonough, whom half the country still thinks is Audrey McLaughlin. The security cops, in winter, still wear blue short-sleeved shirts. It is an Ottawa custom. Preston Manning’s seat is still empty.”

          • Nowadays, shrill can be applied quite easily to men as well as women. Indeed, when it comes to Conservative men, it’s practically inescapable. The men are shrill and the women are harridans.

            …heh. Oooh, I’m gonna get it now…

          • It’s fine. You’re making fun of conservatives, and hence are given carte blanche to offend who you will – it’s not generally assumed that you’re bigoted and quite possibly, deep down, eeeevil.

    • I’m never deliberately obtuse. It’s always purely accidental, I assure you. The point is that if you’re going to suggest that the media routinely uses what you apparently consider to be disparaging terminology (and not just tonal interpretations), to the point of it being included in a handbook, you’d have to do better than a google search that turns up a bunch of blogs.

    • Did your google search help find a single example of a female MP being described as “shrill” in a Canadian publication since 2005?

      Probably not – because there aren’t any. In other words, the sexist use of the word “shrill” has now been erased from that “media playbook” you were talking about.

      Get with the times – we’re not living in the 1990s or 1980s anymore.

    • To further illustrate my point, Preston Manning, also a dude, was quite often referred to as shrill. Because his voice was shrill. Which in a way, kind of makes sense. Using your scrupulous “type the name and the adjective into Google” method, his name comes up with nearly 6 times as many hits as Alexa. But yea, lets not ever allow an old drum to remain unbeaten.

      • That’s nice. Let’s all pretend. What’s interesting is if you do “female MPs, shrill” you can take an international tour of the descriptive limits of political language as it relates to females. They seem to be shrill everywhere.

        • I didn’t even know the TV and AM radio had all been logged into google’s search engine. That’s some awesome work they do down in Mountain View.

  2. Google is useless for searching Canadian periodicals. I use the Proquest Canadian Periodical Database, which covers 99% of the print media in Canada.

    By the way, we are talking about the Canadian media here – specifically, the published media. Not blogs. Not radio. Not crap from other countries.

    • Thank you. So kind to tell me what I’m talking about.

      • Since you’re probably not going to concede the point, I may as well say “you’re welcome” and move on.

        • Sure. Since it’s your point, let’s do that. Bye.

  3. Hey, all the NDP caucus (except Comartin) scream and wave their arms around – very theatrical.

    Ever watch Peter Julian – he knows he’s on camera and has a little smug smile when he screams and waves his arms around.

    Yup, for the NDP screaming is the way to go – somehow they think that makes their points right.

  4. Women deserve the same pay as men.. Obama said so too.. I have to to admit that I am very disappointed, for the only new thing that Canada’s prime Minister Stephen Harper could do to supposedly help the recessions is to basically copy the same old past Liberal programs and they were not all that great for a start too. http://thenonconformer.wordpress.com/

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