The Commons: And so it begins

by Aaron Wherry

Shortly after the bells chimed to signal three-quarters past nine—after the Prime Minister had gone to Rideau Hall and after the Governor General had formally dropped the writs—Michael Ignatieff walked out from under the Peace Tower and stepped into the sun.

He wore a bright red scarf atop a long black coat. A dozen Liberal MPs walked alongside him. It was cold, but bright. A row of television cameras and television characters awaited. “We’re here today, a beautiful spring day, a little chilly, but you can feel spring is coming,” Mr. Ignatieff said after arriving at his appointed podium. “The Harper winter will soon be over.”

His retinue chuckled.

“We’re here in front of a symbol of our democracy. And we’re here to start our campaign. And it started because yesterday, in this place behind us, for the first time in our history, a Prime Minister was found guilty by the House of Commons of contempt for our parliamentary institutions. And that’s why we’re having an election,” Mr. Ignatieff clarified. “So this election is not just an exercise in democracy, it’s about democracy.”

Indeed, an hour earlier, Mr. Ignatieff had released a statement entitled “Rules of Democracy.”

“We will be asking Canadians to choose between a Prime Minister that shows scant respect for our institutions,” Mr. Ignatieff continued, “and a Liberal team that believes profoundly that the first thing you expect of a government is respect for democratic principle.”

And on that call to a minimum standard of acceptable behaviour does the 2011 election campaign thus begin.

It has been said that Michael Ignatieff did not come back for “you,” but whatever the initial inspiration, he arrives now at the greatest test of his chosen profession. Six years ago he decided to enter formal politics. The next five weeks will determine the outcome of that decision.

In the moments after yesterday’s vote, after the House had been adjourned and after everyone had begun to scatter, Mr. Ignatieff stood in his spot. Standing straight and tall, he lingered for awhile, smiling, but not quite grinning. After a few seconds, he turned and smiled at his wife up in the gallery. Maybe he was taking a moment to remember what it felt like. Maybe he was simply unsure what to do now. Either way, he had made his choice. Now it is for others to choose.

“This is a moment of clear choice between economic alternatives. Mr. Harper says, ‘oh we can’t risk our prosperity with an election.’ As if democracy was some kind of pesky obstacle. It’s not. We have elections so that people can choose their economic path,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “In this election, do you want tax giveaways for the most profitable corporations when their corporate tax rate is already competitive? Do you want to spend $30-billion on fighter jets? Do you want to spend billions of dollars on prisons?”

For those who desire to know what the “ballot question” is, here were half a dozen options.

“Wouldn’t you rather invest it in family care?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you rather invest it in child care and early childhood learning for every family who needs it? Wouldn’t you rather invest it in making sure that when kids want to go to college and university they can do so? Wouldn’t you rather have a society that thinks that our economic prosperity has to be based on equal opportunity for all?”

He stressed these last words and then made sure we hadn’t missed his emphasis.

“Equality is the key here,” he said. “Early learning and child care for every Canadian family. Making sure that no family’s excluded from the promise of post-secondary education because of income. Making sure that when mom and dad get sick, you can get some help, you can take some time off. Making sure that the Canada Pension Plan will be there for you when you retire. Making sure that you have a Canada that takes care of the environment, that invests in green technology and green jobs. These are the passionate, optimistic, hopeful options that we offer to Canadian people.”

These are the ideals and ideas upon which Michael Ignatieff now places himself for judgment.

But first, a couple clarifications. A Liberal government, Mr. Ignatieff said, will not enter into a coalition with any of the other parties. And a Liberal government, Mr. Ignatieff explained, will not raise taxes on Canadian families.

“And so,” he said, “we face the next 36 days with optimism and hope. Spring is coming. A spring is in our step. We’re looking forward to the campaign. We’re looking forward to a debate of ideas and principles.”

And indeed, more questions.

“Who can be counted on defend our democracy?” Mr. Ignatieff asked. “Who can be counted on to step up and defend our families? Who can be counted on to protect and defend our environment? Who can be counted on to protect and restore Canada’s prestige on the world stage?”

Then it was for the television characters to ask their questions, the first, inevitably, having to do with Mr. Ignatieff’s statement on democratic procedure.

“I feel I owe it to the Canadian people to be perfectly clear. So they know what they’re doing when they vote for the Liberal party,” Mr. Ignatieff explained. “And if they want an alternative to the Harper government, a compassionate, responsible alternative to the Conservative government, to a government which has betrayed the principles for which this Parliament stands, then they should vote for a Liberal government.”

That is Mr. Ignatieff’s answer, to this and all other questions. On May 2 we will see how many people agree with him.




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The Commons: And so it begins

  1. I like the article but it needs editing….there are both missing words and double phrases.

  2. If you would have told me a few weeks ago, that the Liberals would be running a campaign focused on the rules of parliamentary procedure, I would have thought you to be a jokester, engaging in tom foolery. But here we are, and the joke turns out to be a real platform. Or viewed from another perspective – one that voters may take – that this platform is a joke.

    Dare I say that parliamentary rules and procedures aren’t even in an average Canadian’s conciousness, let alone a pressing concern. This will not end well for the Liberals.

  3. I'm guessing you missed the parts where he touched on other issues, including military procurement, child care, pensions, corporate taxes, and support for people caring for sick loved ones.

  4. Well, that's a much better start than yesterday. I guess the LPC braintrust was so focused on drafting the contempt motion that they neglected to figure out what to say once that motion was passed.

    Now it appears the LPC finally started to find their footing, thank goodness. A real horse race is much more preferable to a race where one of the competitors pulls up lame.

  5. I think it is verbatim; I watched the speech on televiion and I remember one of the repeated phrases.

  6. Oops! "Television"

  7. "And it started because yesterday, in this place behind us, for the first time in our history, a Prime Minister was found guilty by the House of Commons of contempt for our parliamentary institutions."

    When you think of all the dodgy actions that have taken place in Parliament over the past century or two, the current Con scandals are rather middling. It seems rather curious that this is first time Parliamentarians could bother to rouse themselves to act. I don't think this is as important as Liberals think it is.

    Also, I think people have been holding Parliament/PM/MPs in contempt for a long time. It is contemptible that this is first time a PM was found in contempt.

  8. Contempt of Parliament leading to a loss of confidence of the House is what brought the government down – but it will be only one of many issues during the election (one that Harper will try his best to bury).

  9. AW only covers one speech here, but all five were interesting for different reasons.

    Harper is desperately trying to continue spinning the myth that (a) coalitions are "illegitimate" (his word) and that (b) the Liberals will resort to a coalition given the chance.

    Ignatieff dealt with (b) in his speech by flat-out stating the party with the most seats should form the government and he will not be part of a coalition to usurp the party in the lead. I'm sure Harper will accuse him of lying, but given his and his party's record, that is at best the pot calling the kettle black.

    Duceppe dealt with (a) by unequivocally stating that Harper himself led a coalition effort in 2004 and that any attempt to say otherwise is a lie. Clearly, if Harper wants to continue to chase this issue he will repeatedly be branded a liar and a man who himself is willing to lead "illegitimate" coalitions to obtain power. A nice, public smackdown by Mr. Duceppe; I'll never support his cause, but the man has my respect for being honest and forthright about what he does or attempts.

  10. Part deux:

    Layton gave the best speech by far, but he left the door open to a coalition – which leaves room for the seeds of doubt Harper has planted to grow in the minds of some.

    May promises daily, positive messages on which she feels all can build consensus. A nice, touchy-feely approach that will be a breath of fresh air but unlikely to gain her many seats. If it gets abstainers off the couch to vote, though, it will still have accomplished much.

  11. Yeah, they um and ah an hem too, but that's not usually included

  12. It's only one of many, many issues, but to say that it doesn't matter to Canadians is to point to the failure of successive governments and the press to put it in the Canadian consciousness. if it were where it should have been all along, we wouldn't be at the point we've now reached.

  13. Actually, when you think of all the dodgy actions that have taken place in Parliament over the past century ago, the fact that this is the first time Parliamentarians could bother to rouse themselves to act speaks to just how important an issue this is.

  14. Did Harper say you had to vote for him to be a real Canadian?

    CTV starting out showing true colours with host mentioning several times how Harper was "speaking from the heart".

  15. Harper has a heart? Who knew?

  16. Rating the performances just as speeches and how effective they were, I'd say:

    1. Layton. Strong speech, well organized, lots of issues. Very positive tone. It gives him a base to roll out his platform.
    2. Duceppe. Less strong performance, but he made his points. Pretty negative, but likely to play well in Quebec.
    3. May. She got her points across clearly. Positive overall, not much there.
    4. Ignatieff. He laid out his issues pretty well. Mostly positive, some negative. Balanced maybe? Seemed pretty sparse.
    5. Harper. Negative. He sounded whiny. He came across as arrogant and entitled. Not the Harper I expected on the campaign trail, more like a really bad day in the House.

  17. Sincere, non-snarky, question: What have Harper/Cons done in the past few years that trumps Chretien and Martin's actions?

    Libs should have not been acting so shabbily over the past decade or two if they were worried about Parliament and its traditions.

    Chretien – Somalia Inquiry – ""We achieved the dubious distinction of being the first public inquiry in Canadian history to be terminated by a government for blatantly political reasons before its work was completed. I still have a hard time believing that this actually happened, and an even harder time accepting and understanding that Canadians tolerated this violation of our democratic system with hardly a murmur." Peter Desbarats, Inquiry Commissioner

    Martin – Ignore Confidence Motion/Bribe Oppo MPs

    May 9, 2005: The Speaker of the House of Commons rules that a motion tabled by the Conservatives, which called for the government to resign, was in order.
    May 17 2005: Belinda Stronach, who helped merge the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties, crosses the floor to join the Liberals.
    May 19 2005: …. Paul Martin's government survives its closest brush with death.

    Even if you don't agree Libs lost confidence motion, convention says that Libs should have held proper confidence vote later same day or next day. There are no precedents about ignoring confidence motion, take a week or two to bribe oppo MPs, and then hold another vote when numbers are more favourable.

  18. If there were some major disagreements between the government budget and the policies of the Official Opposition, then there would be good reason to go to the polls.
    If there were some serious incompetence and corruption in the government, then there would be reason to go to the polls.
    If the government formed an alliance with a party devoted to separatism then the opposition parties would have good reason to force an election.
    If the government was showing real contempt for democratic practices in the country, then go to the polls.

    But, to force an election because your opposition members ganged up on the minority government members in Committee and came up with an exaggerated contempt charge—-well watch out—-there is a lot of common sense left in Canada and some Liberal Party is going to be punished.

  19. He keeps it in a jar in the bottom right hand drawer of his desk.

  20. If there were some serious incompetence and corruption in the government, then there would be reason to go to the polls.

    If the government was showing real contempt for democratic practices in the country, then go to the polls.

    Yes on both counts; that's two of your four. I dispute vehemently your characterization of the contempt charge as "exaggerated". Presumably even you admit there was contempt, or you would have said "tumped up", "nonsensical" or some other qualifier rather than "exaggerated", so we're just debating on degree.

  21. IMO, the book on disrupting government proceedings is a big one right there.
    Refusing to provide parliament information it needs to properly govern is a HUGE one.

    The others are scandals, and shouldn't happen, and everybody knows they shouldn't happen.

    What Harper etc. have done is attack the governance of Canada itself.

  22. A contempt that would only occur in a minority parliament?

    A majority would stack the committees and not allow it to proceed?

  23. Were you out of the country when Ignatieff called the coalition a three-legged stool?

    It is hard to quarrel with Michael Ignatieff's analysis. Indeed, it's unassailable. Had the opposition parties succeeded last fall in their plan to oust the Conservatives and form a coalition government in their place, the Liberal leader argues, it would have caused irreparable harm to Canadian unity. The coalition, he told a gathering in Montreal last weekend, would have “profoundly and durably divided the country.”

    “There was also a question concerning the legitimacy of the coalition that troubled me,” he confided. While perfectly legal, it would nonetheless have struck many Canadians, coming so soon after an election in which the Liberals had suffered their worst defeat since Confederation, as if they and their coalition partners had “in some sense or another stolen power.”
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/05/21/ignatieff-from

  24. In Sept 2009 the Liberals were on the record to force an election to improve their standing with Canadians. The NDP did not allow it to happen. They invoked making parliament work.

    But it is the contention of Liberal strategists that the current poll deadlock between their party and the Conservatives will not be decisively broken, or at least not in Ignatieff's favour, until the public has a chance to see the Liberal leader in campaign action.

    They argue the supportive role of the minority government that the parliamentary situation has forced upon him hampers Ignatieff from showing Canadians what he and his policies are really made of.

    The Liberals are also convinced the longer they keep the government going, the more they are enabling Harper to mature in power.
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/689721

    This return to the polls in 4x in 7 years is Liberal arrogance and the ballot results will confirm why the NDP and Bloc allowed the Liberals to leap off the cliff.

  25. Earthquakes weren't enough to get me to leave Japan, but this election is. I'm coming back to Canada to camapign and vote.I wouldn't mss this one.

  26. Its the same old crap the Libs have been spouting for twenty years. Nobody believes them at all.

  27. How does a bell "single" the time?

  28. That's why I said the item needed editing….but last I heard Wherry was on a bus to Montreal for a rally, so we go with the flow.

  29. Nah. It speaks to a tactic the opposition can employ IN A MINORITY PARLIAMENT if the governing party is dumb enough to feed them the ammunition. That's all.

    These latest twists and turns go nowhere with a majority government. One more reason to thank the Bloc, if it floats your boat.

  30. An objective person will be able to see that the reason the Liberals were able to convince the other 2 opp. parties to go along with their tumped up charges of contempt or corruption or whatever is the same reason they have been doing it for the past 5 years—trying to get back in power—not gonna work.

  31. Good to see you are safe—welcome back TY

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