The Commons: And that’s when the nuns started yelling

All eyes were on Jack Layton, after those unruly “sisters” were escorted outside

by Aaron Wherry

jacklaytonThe Scene. Dominic LeBlanc was speaking in his grand stage voice, the sound of his second question filling the chamber, when the shouting started.

In the first row of the north visitors’ gallery, three nuns, or at least three women clad in the outfits of nuns, were chanting something unsavoury about the seal hunt, each holding a banner that read “The Seal Slaughter is a Bad Habit.” Get it?

The Speaker called for a pause in proceedings and all turned to gape at the spectacle. While security officers struggled to contain the invaders, Conservative Steve Blaney stood and held aloft a binder, apparently wrapped in seal skin. MPs stood to applaud their colleague’s brave choice of office supplies. Liberal Gerry Byrne crossed the floor to happily shake Blaney’s hand.

Security eventually gained control of the situation—the nuns handcuffed and carried away, each still yelping their protests as they were shown the door—and the Speaker called on LeBlanc to continue his casting of aspersions on government efforts to ease trade between Canada and the United States.

It has only been three days and already it has been a fine first week back for our 40th Parliament.

Business resumed Monday with the primary subject of discussion being precisely when that business would end. Though rarely is anyone ever eager to see an election, everyone is ceaselessly fascinated with guessing when that election might come. Perhaps there is some sort of prize for picking the correct date. Or maybe there is some sort of pool we haven’t been made aware of. (In which case, I’d like to put $5 on June 8, 2010.)

Much of the preceding summer had been spent pining for someone, most particularly Michael Ignatieff, to say something, anything, of substance—to suggest an idea or two so that we might return to the glorious days of yore when we were a people obsessed with public policy and spent nearly as much time debating it as we did breathing. Shortly after noon on Monday, Mr. Ignatieff briefly laid out his vision for Canadian foreign policy in a speech delivered precisely one city block to the east of Parliament Hill. Few seemed to notice.

Lesson seemingly learned, the Liberals staged a photo op outside the Confederation building yesterday that involved P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter, a horse and buggy and a large banner meant to shame the Prime Minister’s recent Senate appointments.

The vast majority of the last 72 hours though has been spent speculating about the prospective intentions of the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, particularly the latter, their leader blessed of that highly entertaining moustache. Jack Layton’s chief of staff told a reporter she e-mailed the Prime Minister’s chief of staff because the Prime Minister’s officials had some questions about the NDP’s legislative goals. But, said Mr. Layton’s chief of staff, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff had failed to respond. The Prime Minister’s spokesman accused the NDP of leaking private correspondence and said his government would not be discussing anything in any “backroom cyber-hallways” anyway. Mr. Layton’s spokesman pointed out that it was the government that, last winter, taped an NDP conference call and released that to the media.

Nonetheless, the NDP had decided by this afternoon to support the government’s immediate agenda—a tax break for those of us who’ve recently renovated our kitchens, and some fiddling about with the employment insurance system. Never mind months of gleeful NDP scorn for both the government and the Liberal opposition who were reluctant to topple it.

Before Question Period today, NDP MP John Rafferty rose with his impression of a government backbencher.

“Mr. Speaker, I join my colleagues back in this place after a long summer of catching up with constituents in my riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River, and I am certain they heard the same message from their constituents that I heard from mine,” he said. “The message is: Go back to Ottawa, help fix the economy and make Parliament work.”

Conservative MPs clapped and thumped their desks with approval.

Strange then that Mr. Layton was treated so poorly when, awhile later, he rose to question the government side.

“Mr. Speaker, despite what the Prime Minister used to say about taxes, he has a finance minister who confirmed last week that he is proposing a $19 billion payroll tax increase on workers and businesses,” the NDP leader reported. “The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has come out strongly against this job-killing initiative. Let me ask the finance minister, why would he want to bring forward a huge tax increase on the backs of Canadian families and Canadian businesses at this time, or any time for that matter?”

For whatever reason, John Baird rose to take this one. “Mr. Speaker, I have been fortunate to be elected five times to the provincial legislature and here. I have served for 14 and a half years and I never thought I would see a day in my life when the leader of the NDP would stand in this place and complain about high taxes,” he cried. “Where has he been? It is this government which has been cutting taxes, this government which has cut the GST by two points. The leader of the NDP and the NDP voted against it. This government cut income taxes. The leader of the NDP and the NDP voted against it. Every time this government and the Conservative Party stands up to vote against taxes we are opposed by the NDP. Shame on him and shame on their party.”

Twice more Mr. Layton stood to hector the Conservatives, twice more Mr. Baird heaped shame on the man who would seem to now be willing to help Mr. Baird stay in office awhile longer.

Out in the foyer, the NDP leader was being pestered to explain himself, the press gallery apparently struggling to grasp this new normal. Of course, Mr. Layton’s new position is only irrational if you consider his previous position to have been rational. As it probably wasn’t, his position now likely makes perfect sense.

No matter though, news was breaking and opposition MPs were arriving at the microphones to express their shock and outrage. Seems that government aid packages sent to remote native communities in Manitoba to help those communities prepare for any H1N1 flu outbreaks included body bags. Seems some found that a tad offensive.

The good news: the business of Parliament seems sure to go on for some time yet. The bad news: well, see the good news.

The Stats. The economy and taxation, eight questions each. Employment and crime, four questions each. Trade, three questions. Forestry, medical isotopes and food, two questions each.

The Commons: And that’s when the nuns started yelling

  1. Well there's a first. The leader of the NDP (well, the federal NDP at least) quoting the Cdn Federation of Independent Business to make his case. Somewhere in Toronto David Lewis is shifting uneasily in his grave.

  2. I love seals, with a nice wine sauce.

    • Can you hear the nuns, Clarice?

  3. I apologize if this has already been posted, but I didn't see it in the comments and it may be of interest. A new Angus Reid poll completed this past Sunday:

    Conservatives 36
    Liberals 29
    NDP 17
    Bloc 10
    Greens 7

    The Conservatives holding a commanding 12 lead in vote-rich Ontario.

    • Does your meds go up and down with Tory poll fortunes?

    • Ontario should just change its name to Vote-Rich Ontario.

      Make it official.

      Good things grooooowweeyoooow
      in Vote-Rich Ontario!

  4. That should read " a commanding 12 POINT lead in vote-rich Ontario."

  5. Is anyone going to ask! Why nuns?

      • Thou shalt be pun-ished. Hand me the scourge!

    • As Correspondent Wherry scribed above.

      “The Seal Slaughter is a Bad Habit.” Get it?

    • Because their first attempt, disguised as used car salesmen, got them floor seats…

      • LOL.

  6. I am sure there is a seal and penguin joke in here somewhere, but that is more appropriatre for the other end of the world.

  7. "Conservative Steve Blaney stood and held aloft a binder, apparently wrapped in seal skin. MPs stood to applaud their colleague's brave choice of office supplies. Liberal Gerry Byrne crossed the floor to happily shake Blaney's hand."

    I love it when politicians get along and put aside their rivalry and bitter partisanship. Particularly when the join hands to heckle activists in unison…. ahh… feel the love?

  8. How did they get signs past security? (Two checkpoints!!!)

    • They are flying nuns.

      Only people of a certain age …..

      • They were young, these nuns?

          • The middle nun reminds me of Gidget.

    • Seriously! Would you frisk a nun?

      • Depends on the nun. What if I can be reasonably sure that she's packing heat?

        • If she's packing heat, she's a he.

          • There's a good 'film' title in there somewhere…..

          • Just when you thought it was safe to go back to confession…

          • Our vaunted parliamentary security system could do with a bit of a tweak. Still, i’d hazard a guess that no self-respecting member of Alqada [sp] is likely to disguise themselves as a nun now, are they.

          • kcm, they were activists not terrorists. They are very different from one from the other. You know that? Right?

          • I think he was referring to Al-Quaida (sp) and searching everybody because you can't tell who is Al-Quaida. And I think if they would get away with bringing explosives or whatever into an area if they are disguised as nuns, that is what they would do.

      • Hmm, I thought I saw that on one of the tapes… of my friend! Did you hear me? They were my FRIEND'S!

  9. No wonder Mr Ignatieff was having trouble getting anyone to notice his foreign policy speech. The speech sounded like it had been cribbed straight out of Trudeau's "Foreign Policy for Canadians" written in 1970 while Prime Minister Harper has been basking in a foreign policy love-in with President Obama circa 2009.

    Mr Ignatieff still has a lot to learn about political timing.

    • Coming from someone who's Yen is to slather praise on a John Howard plagarist…

  10. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence used to march in the early Gay Pride Parades
    in San Francisco. I think their interest in wildlife was of a different order.

    We could ask Tony Clement.

  11. Another example of how weak and senseless our politicians are: competing with each other in an effort to prove who is most supportive for smashing in the heads of gentle defenseless seals, all of their support so our country can try to sell bloody products that no one wants or needs, defending a slaughter that costs this country more than the corpse products return in revenue, men and women blinded to needless violence and cruelty to animals, proud to stand in solidarity with baby seal clubbers. Do these speciesists also look favourably on clubbing dogs and cats to death, and if not, why?

    • Dogs and cats don't taste as good, and they make for sub-par binders.

    • I cannot understand why only seals. Where is the outrage over the cod? Why do I not hear the horrors of the crab hunt? The world isn't only for the pretty, you know.

    • Yeah, I've got to say, if we're going to talk about being speciesist, what's with all the loud angst over killing a relatively small number of a species that's pretty vastly overpopulated? We kill WAY more cows then we do seals, why weren't the nuns protesting the cow slaughter?

      As for cats and dogs, sure people probably don't want to club their neighbours poodle. I think if there were millions and millions of undomesticated dogs all up and down the East coast that many people would probably look favourably on clubbing a small percentage of them to death. Though, with dogs, we'd probably just shoot 'em.

  12. I certainly agree Jamie.. This country of ours likes to have the image of compassionate Canadians and yet are government regardless of the more than 68% of who oppose this massacre is relentless in their pursue of clubbing and shooting these innocent animals. Wasting our hard earned tax dollars for what. For save of face. Even sending some of our Senators to Namibia's seal slaughter. HOW Much did that cost? They need to move on . Its over, the killing spree is over folks. Wash the blood and violence of your hands and move on. Concentrate on bring back jobs that don't cause long term physiological disorders resulting in alcoholism and other sicknesses from constant killing . Gee was it CBC radio yesterday talking about the cod industry and why there are none left. ummm.. talked about overfishing . No mention of seals depleting the stock… Hurray' for the NUNS of Parliament. They had more guts than any sitting on the bottom level acting like or worse than children showing their show and tell. Well I guess boys will be babies. Even in Parliament. Another embarrassment

    • Could you link to this 68% poll?

      I've never seen a poll that had less than a majority IN FAVOUR of the hunt, and most were about 60-40 IN FAVOUR.

      Where did you see a poll that showed 68% opposed?

  13. 68% of Canadians oppose the seal hunt? Since when. This poll has them 60-39 in favour. You call for the government to "bring back jobs" yet your position would consign thousands to unemployment (not to mention restricting traditional aboriginal hunting practices).

    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNe

    What is so special about seals anyway? We kill cows and pigs in the millions. It is legal (but regulated) to hunt deer. Only folks that believe in forcibly legislating vegan diets have a morally consistent opposition to the seal hunt. Most others just think seals are cute, and have been coopted by the environmentalist movement (the founder of Sea Shepherd himself admitted that seals are not endangered, and that the only reason they are emphasized so much is that they are a great cash cow for the other activities of environmental activists.

    • That poll is four years old….no longer relevant.

  14. General comment: Aaron Wherry has got to be the most painfully un-intersting and un-original blogger there is. He says and adds nothing to any debate. His Liberal bias is ridiculous and embarassing

    • I've enjoyed the whimsical reviews of the last few QP's that AW has done. Bias? Maybe but it's not like he's trying to hide it. Go read Jane Taber if you want Con warm and fuzzies.

    • Hope you feel better.

    • perhaps you could examine the concept of hyperbole before posting on the internet.

  15. Centristb. I think this column is one of the most interesting things macleans puts out. It is a bit insider baseball, but it really does reflect the goings on in our nations capital.

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