The Commons: Bring it on

Men and women of principle can only be pushed so far

by Aaron Wherry

The Commons: Bring it onThe Scene. Worried perhaps that his point had been lost amid yesterday’s unpleasantness, David McGuinty stood at the start of Question Period this afternoon and picked up approximately where he had left off the day before.

“Remember the facts,” he said. “One hundred million dollars of partisan propaganda without accountability, infrastructure funds distributed as if they were reward points and more than 60 investigations by the office of the Ethics Commissioner, a minister under investigation for his ties to lobbyists and federal agencies, a Conservative senator linked to key players in a scandal.”

Then, a simple-enough question. “When,” Mr. McGuinty wondered, “are the Conservatives going to clean up this ethical mess?”

The Prime Minister stood, buttoned his jacket, adjusted his left cuff and addressed the Speaker on another matter entirely.

“Mr. Speaker, this is a time of global economic recession,” he said, “but Canada’s performance exceeds that of many other countries and the measures of government are well-supported by Canadians and even the vast majority of provincial governments.”

This much had been said in French, the language employed for Mr. McGuinty’s first question. But, before sitting, the Prime Minister switched momentarily to his first language. “This question,” he said, “reminds me of the old saying: ‘When you throw mud, you lose ground.’”

So there. The Prime Minister returned to his seat then, entirely done dealing with the Liberals for the day.

Back to Mr. McGuinty, a man quite capable of standing tall and projecting displeasure.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have spent 12 times more on meaningless sloganeering than on real information on H1N1. At 12 times more, that is $100 million,” he reviewed. “The Prime Minister may think that it is his money, but it is not. Taxpayers should know that $100 million buys a year’s salary for 1,700 public health nurses. It buys 10,000 ventilators, or it buys 35,000 days of ICU beds. Why does the Prime Minister insist on wasting borrowed money on partisan advertising while Canadians struggle to deal with this pandemic?”

As noted, the Prime Minister was entirely done with this, so up came John Baird, a man who seems to exist primarily for these moments.

“Mr. Speaker, I say to the member for Ottawa South that this government has an important responsibility to communicate our actions through Canada’s economic action plan,” the Transport Minister instructed. “We are focused on jobs. We are focused on fighting H1N1. We are focused on building industry and we are focused on supporting the unemployed. All we have is the sloganeering from the Liberal member opposite and that is too bad.”

Indeed, it is to their eternal detriment that politicians insist persistently in behaving like politicians. And good on Mr. Baird for calling to a higher purpose.

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Mr. McGuinty with his next opportunity, “the Prime Minister’s horse called accountability, the one he rode to Ottawa on, has apparently died.”

The Conservative side did not find this particularly funny. “So did that joke!” chirped one government member.

“Infrastructure money is dispersed like points in a Conservative rewards program,” Mr. McGuinty continued. “There are over 60 investigations before the ethics commissioner. There is a minister under investigation for improper ties with lobbyists and federal agencies. There is a Conservative senator linked to key players in an emerging scandal. Is this what Joe Clark meant when he said that these Conservatives were ‘a private-interest party in a public-interest country?’”

“Joe! Joe! Joe!” the Liberals chanted, obvious in their admiration for the fleeting former prime minister.

In his seat, the Prime Minister shook his head with obvious disdain.

“Mr. Speaker, in September, all the Liberal Party had to offer Canadians was an unnecessary and opportunistic election,” Mr. Baird sighed. “In October, while this government focuses on jobs, the economy, the health of Canadians with H1N1 and the needs of the unemployed, all the Liberal Party can do is muckrake.”

Up next it was Marlene Jennings, speaking ominously about something or other to do with a Conservative senator. Mr. Baird seemed entirely scandalized by her tone. “Mr. Speaker, the outrageous comments made by the member opposite do not serve her or her constituents well,” he gasped. “They do not serve the Liberal Party well.”

Ms. Jennings stood and once more raised any number of questions. Alas, Mr. Baird could take it no more. Indeed, you can only push a man of principle so far. Each of us has our limit. None of us are without weakness. If you prick us, we do bleed. If you tickle us, we do laugh. And if a tree falls and blocks the high road, we must find a detour, sometimes taking us through a particularly seedy part of town.

And so it was that the Transport Minister did stand and cast aspersions on the associate of an obscure Liberal party official.

“Ohhh!” howled his mates on the Conservative side, delighted with this turnabout.

But Ms. Jennings seemed only too pleased.

“Bring it on!” she yelped, motioning for any of her hecklers to cross the aisle and have a go. “We’re not afraid!”

The Stats. Ethics, 11 questions. Afghanistan and H1N1, four questions each. Government advertising, three questions. The military, the environment, taxation, fisheries, crime and employment, two questions each. Arts funding and Iran, one question each.

John Baird, 10 answers. Stephen Harper and Leona Aglukkaq, four answers each. Lawrence Cannon, three answers. Christian Paradis, Jim Prentice, Ted Menzies, James Moore, Rob Nicholson, Gail Shea and Diane Finley, two answers each. Peter MacKay, one answer.

The Commons: Bring it on

  1. Those are some of the dumbest questions I have ever heard. They're all rhetorical and not really questions, they don't have any specifics, and they are filled with insults. Of course the answers are not much better, but what else can you do with questions like that?

    • You're right, of course, but they are standard fare for Question Period.

    • Yes… perhaps then there should be a 'two-tier' method of keeping the stats. I'm sure it wouldn't be as easy as this but call a dumb question, well, a dumb question, and give it 1 point. Relevant questions get 2 points. Conversely give a dumb response 1 point, (or as in the Prime Ministers answer no points at all…. shouldn't get any points for not answering the question). Give a well thought out response 2 points. I don't see any point(s) in today's Question Period. What, exactly, is the purpose of all this anyways? To see who can come up with the whitier repartee?

    • If real questions got real answers, I suspect we'd hear more of them.

    • There are all sorts of reasons for the Government to provide the answers that they do.

      OTOH, there really aren't any reasons that specifically prevent the Government from providing genuine answers.

      • You are quite correct of course. It begs the question though, and I assume this is what you infer: why do we not get genuine answers? I fully appreciate there are deep rooted fundamental philosophical difference in the politics of man. But ultimately, is it not the ideal of the majority to determine what is best for the majority, with the utopian notion that perhaps we can find an ideal situation for all mankind? Is the vehicle towards this utopia to be found in the childish antics we see in question period?

        • Exactly – why doesn't the government provide genuine answers, it is completely within their control to do so.

          Of course, the corollary is also true: why doesn't the opposition ask genuine questions, they are completely free to do that.

          • As it would be effective on both sides, I can only think that it's a lack of time on effort on both sides.

          • Perhaps…although I'm not totally convinced it is simply a lack of time or effort.

            I suspect (in answer to my own question) that neither side perceives that any net benefit will occur if they change their ways, regardless of whether it would actually require a lot or any extra time and/or effort. I would be a lot happier – at least as it relates to public policy and politics – and you might also approve, but some citizens might actually prefer the current style, and many others probably could hardly care less. Still, every day I hold out hope for improvement.

            I was basically suggesting that there is no one "holding a gun to the government's collective head", forcing them to behave the way they do, and the same is true of the opposition.

          • neither side perceives that any net benefit will occur if they change their ways

            You may be right, but I'm not so sure. It would take time, but if a party deliberately set out to be civil I think it would eventually register with the public. Also — more to the point — real questions are both more quotable and more hard-hitting, i.e. questions without a partisan preamble. As they say in screenwriting, it's all about what you don't show: you leave the radio or television audience to guess that there's a real issue there; it's been a while since I watched TV or listened to the radio, but IIRC the clips they use rarely include the bluster. They should try something like this (everything made up, just imaginary examples):

            Questioner: "Why is there a 20% shortfall in the number of vaccines available?" (implication: there is such a shortfall and it's a problem)
            Baird: "What we are seeing here is more smearing from the Liberal party." (takeaway: Baird doesn't care about aforesaid implications)
            Questioner: "What is our strategy in Afghanistan?" (implication: we don't have one but should have one)
            Baird: "Why does the Opposition not support our troops?" (takeaway: there is no policy and that's a problem)

            That kind of thing. As it is, those questions would include long rambling rhetorical prologues and the question at the end would essentially be, "What do you say to that, bucko?" Neither serious nor very quotable, and in the listener / viewer's mind there's really no call to answer a question that you can't understand and that you wasn't apparently asked in good faith. Effect: zero.

          • Hmmm, interesting…I particularly liked "What do you say to that, bucko?"

            I'm going to take up your "challenge" by personally encouraging my own MP and one "adopted" MP to improve their ways. My own message of hope, so to speak.

            When the Reform Party existed, didn't they try that approach for a short while, or was that a dream that I had? Too bad they stopped, if memory serves me.

            Btw, Google informs me that IIRC can also be if I really cared

          • Good idea about speaking to your MP, but I fear it would take a party leader to really change things. Or maybe your MP is a future party leader! Or maybe a few MP's could show the way, and if they got results (i.e. airtime) it would start a trend.

            I don't remember the Reform initiative, though it sounds like the kind of thing they might have tried in the early days.

            I didn't know that about "IIRC"! Guess I should stop using it!

  2. Donolo would be a real step up for Mr Ignatieff. Good for him. Throwing mud is a Kinsella-style tactic. I wonder if the newbies in the OLO will kick Warren out of the play group?

    • Rumors of Donolo denied, now…..

      • Igantieff issued a statement tonight annoucing that Peter Donolo will replace Davey as Chief of Staff. Sounds like Dan Brock also on the way out. Donolo will put a stop to some of the kids games.

  3. Warren the wornout must be trying to startup a printing shop and isn´t getting any gov´t side jobs. Must be why he´s only able to muster colossal fantasy conservative faults like phantom olympic style logos, logos on novelty cheques, to pantine blue colour codes on brochures. Of course the Liberal Party never ever co-opted Pantine Red code 335 from our flag colours to…the Liberal party colours. No never.

    • That's "Pantone."

    • Liberal party colours predated the flag.

      • Actually I think the Liberals invented the colour red.

        • Sure they did William, just like conservatives inented blue. Your point being?

  4. Is it just me, or is Baird larding out again?

    • PMs putting back on some of the poundage he lost a couple of years ago too. Must be all that pork they're eating…

      • Actually (maybe it's my new TV), but quite a few of the Con caucus are appearing larger. Do we pay for their meals?

  5. Warren and Donolo go back …they are friends from cCetchien era.

  6. me thinks it’s time we close down question period forever.

  7. Pathetic, John Baird, Pathetic

  8. When are we going to find out what the tab will be for all this advertising. Minus the 10% of course?

  9. Oops…ten percenters…er not my cut.

    • I believe it's english, but as many Ottawans, and actually quite a few canadians, mostly francophones outside Québec and some anglophonne québecers – he is perfectly billingual.

      • I was just thinking today what a remarkable requirement it is for our statesmen to yell at eachother pretty well interchangeably in both languages. We can always be proud of that!

        I can't appreciate Wherry's cheerful willingness to dig at the French/English divide with regard only to it's political advantage.

    • I think his first language is "mud-slinging".

      • Seems to be a job requirement for many MPs.

  10. They call Question Period "The Show". It's supposed to be theatrical, but it's meaningless. The conduct of ALL politicians in this theatre has been abysmal for a long, long, time.

    If the parties REALLY wanted people to see how governments really worked, they would insist on televising Committee meetings in full. On the other hand, as the saying goes, those who like sausages and laws should never see them being made.

  11. For an ever so brief period, Ignatieff asked real questions pertaining to real issues that were of relevance to federal government activity. And the Tories just replied with stupid insults.

    How sorry I am for the country that the stupid insults now fly from both sides.

    Aaron, you sold us junkies short today. Were there no useful questions from ANY of the opposition parties today? Surely there was more than just pathetic vapidity from the Liberals?

    • :Were there no useful questions from ANY of the opposition parties today? "

      What exactly would you consider a useful question? One the Conservatives can safely answer?

      • Any question that didn't just, for the cameras, ask the Conservatives when they will own up to the fact that they are some cross between evil and incompetence.

        When Ignatieff asked real questions, the Tories looked like absolute fools slinging mud. Now that the Liberals are slinging first, there's no hope.

        Liberal question: [insult]
        Conservative reply: well, there's nothing to answer except [insult right back]

  12. Wonderful . Now we have Kinsella and Donolo in Ignatieff's office – both were principals in the Chretien era and the sponsorship fraud that was perpetuated on the Canadian taxpayer. Maybe we have the players that can answer where the missing 40 million dollars are, that Gomery enquiry couldn't find. I just wonder if their advice to Ignatieff would be, to do what was so successful for Chretien, in achieving votes and popularity – envelopes stuffed with cash. I suspect both Donolo and Kinsella would know some of the inner operations of that era, and Ignatieff could rely on their knowledge. I suspect the pollsters will have to wait and see, if Canadians are enthused to return to the old sponsorship days, where taxpayer money was distributed by cash in stuffed envelopes which could not be traced, in comparison to the stimulus money which distribution is highlighted by giant carnival cardboard cheques , as to exactly where the monies are going with some fanfare and publicity, but apparently highly appreciated by the recipients, whether they are the provincial government, municipal officials or deserving organizations. Any bets what Canadians will respond, if they are asked if they want to go back to the good old sponsorship days of distributing taxpayer monies as we can expect with Donolo and Kinsella in charge of Ignatieff's office, given their track record. Wasn't Kinsella also a close advisor of David Dingwall of "I am entitled to my entitlements" infamy, and wasn't it KInsella's advice to Dingwall that he should charge his chewing gum to the Canadian taxpayer?

    • The OLO now says no Donolo…?

      • Where do you see this? Donolo issued a statement confirming it…

  13. I love how Conservatives libel so gleefully. No wonder they're not having any problems with the Harper government's misallocation of 100 million dollars.

    • Libel is printed; if it's spoken it's slander.

  14. I love how Liberals treat taxpayer's money as if it is their own and even distribute it amongst themselves in cash stuffed brown envelopes. I love the way they don't even hang their head in shame as if they are entitled to taxpayer's money to disburse as they see fit even after they are caught and some are sent to jail. I love the way they feel they are entitled to charge their chewing gum to the Canadian taxpayer.

    • You love something fiction as the Liberals are not in control of this budget.

    • I love how people feel it's safe to libel a political party.

  15. misallocation of 100 million dollars?
    I'm sure CTV, CBC etc don't think the ad money has been misallocated, as it is stimulus bucks for them.

    Peter has a point. Everytime libs try to smear the Cons, Adscam does springs to mind.
    Envelopes stuffed with cash and given to Lib candidates,
    kickback scheme to fill Lib party coffers,
    …giant fake cheques pale in comparison.

    • Well we have had the Gomery inquiry and more importantly the Canadian public has spoken. Unless new evidence is brought forward – it's done. They have yet to pass judgement on the stimulus spending. However, they are not as obssesed with scandals that they have already judged as you appear to be. The electorate is looking forward, why don't you try it? Silly question really!

      • It should be asked in QP.

    • Saturday Night used to do a bit called "Lowered Expectations".

      That just has to be the rationale behind Conservative supporters accepting of this dreadful waste of our money. So many are willing to justify this stupidity on the sole basis that, "Gee, those other guys were so much worse".

      Sorry, I don't accept that as valid.

      • That's a good indication of how much this country is liberal, and how much the liberals have dropped the ball.

  16. "Alas, Mr. Baird could take it no more. Indeed, you can only push a man of principle so far."
    Excuse me?!?

    I apologize if I've missed the sarcasm (as I truly hope I have) but if not -are we all talking about the John Baird who yells so loudly and gets so red in the face, one might mistake him for being in labour?

    Mr. Baird, a pensive man of principle? Ha!

    • He didn't say what principle.

  17. The questions seemed perfectly legitimate to me I don't see what all the complaining is about… you conservatives need to relax.

    • Relax?? We're doing the stimulus right now to rescue the economy, aka the opposition broke eggs on Harper's head so he's making an omellete. Relaxation is not patriotic! I shouldn't wonder you liberals want everything to relax thus ruining the economy so you can have power back regardless of the cost :0

      anyhow… you can't expect people on the recieving end of Wherry's curveballs to take it on the chin with equanimity.

    • "Is this what Joe Clark meant when he said that these Conservatives were ‘a private-interest party in a public-interest country?"

      That's a legitimate question?

  18. The Cons, when in opposition, obsessed over pizza lunches. Therefore, I think the questioning is in line. It's OUR money afterall.

    Adscam…….dealt with. Actually, most of the Libs now in caucus weren't even in caucus at the time.

  19. "ACOUNTABILTY & TRANSPANCEY" yes indeed out the window, but fear not soon Canada will be out the window. Let's have an election and give Harper 300 plus seats and 100% control of the Senate. It's going to happen sooner or later. Well over 50% of people will stay home and I have now joined them. The ode line, you never miss something until it is gone or taken away …. like Democracy eh.

    • It's funny how democracies end when conservatives are elected and then revive again when they leave office. Conservative government – a temporary dictatorship that won the vote.

    • harper is bad, but the libs are worse. we need something new in canada.

  20. I can't remember the last time I watched a segment from parliament's Question Period. Anytime a news program airs a clip, I grab for my remote.

  21. Is it true that the Conservatives think H1N1 questions raised during QP are something to be heckled and derided? It appears to be the case. According to the news MP Carolyn Bennett was shouted down when attempting to ask legitimate questions relating to pregnant women and their reaction to the vaccine with or without "adjuvant". Only the scummiest CON politicians would stoop this low.

    • I don't know. I heard there's a 100 million order for vaccine without whatsitcalled from Australia now. Did they forget and now they're scrambling or were they heckling because the order was already out there?

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