The Commons: Darkness in the mid-afternoon

Is it just us or is it getting dim in here?

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. The obscenity on the Hill carries on undaunted.

Maybe it is just the season—as soon as the clocks are turned back each fall, Ottawa is suddenly made even darker and colder than usual—but the daily insulting of the public’s intelligence seems particularly dreary of late. For sure, it has been worse. And it may yet get worse. But has it ever seemed so witless? Has it ever felt so leaden? Is it just us or is it getting dim in here?

There is much to be said—with expletives and otherwise—about the government’s recent penchant for shutting down debate. But it is surely more than that.

It is, no doubt, certain practicalities: the temporary status of the two opposition leaders, the prolonged nature of certain disagreements or the lack of some tangible new gazebo-based outrage to focus on, for instance. But it is also the collective and universal decision that sound economics, study and evidence are not particularly necessary when formulating public policy. It is the rote demagoguery. It is general neglect. It is smug disregard. It is the willingness of grown men and women in business attire to stand and allow themselves to be used to read scripted banalities and invective into the official record.

It is not all bad, of course.

Today there was very nearly an interesting exchange about the merits of market-based versus government-managed pension funds. Afforded the day to move a motion of their choosing, the Liberals spent their time pursuing a discussion about the accessibility of safe drinking water in Aboriginal communities. And all parties seemed mostly agreed on the general sentiment, even if they apparently couldn’t help but blame each other for the trouble.

The House went quiet when Linda Duncan stood to question the government about reports that is has been spying on an advocate for Native children. And members on all sides took note when Bob Rae called attention to the deaths of Tom Kent and Dr. Fraser Mustard, two accomplished contributors to their country. “Let us all resolve,” Mr. Rae beckoned, “to take up the torch of these two great men and resolve to strive to make Canada an even more equitable, more just, and more progressive nation.”

Everyone stood and clapped and then quickly moved on. The next person up, a Conservative MP, duly attacked a New Democrat MP. And then the NDP’s Eve Peclet stood to rail with great fury and fire against the Conservatives. And then Rob Clarke, the Conservative MP, stood to feign indignation at the official opposition.

Only then did Question Period start. This day’s theatrics were largely in keeping with yesterday’s allegation of treachery, only this afternoon’s show was somehow even more tawdry than that, complete with actual cries of “shame” and much talk of “killing” jobs.

“Out of compassion for my fellow parliamentarians,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver grumbled at the New Democrats, “I recommend the book called ‘Economics for Dummies.’ ”

This soon became a thing.

“Mr. Speaker, since we are trading literary recommendations today, I hear there is a new publication called ‘Buying Jets for Dummies,’ ” the NDP Matthew Kellaway smirked on the subject of the F-35 purchase. “Let me recommend that to the Associate Minister of National Defence.”

“Mr. Speaker, maybe the honourable member could lend me his book,” Julian Fantino shot back.

Then to the NDP’s Francoise Boivin, who had one for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “Mr. Speaker, since we are talking about books, I also have a book to recommend,” she said. “It is called ‘Democracy for Dummies.’ ”

Then finally to the Liberal side’s John McCallum, who was concerned about the use of government jets. “Does he want to borrow a book that I just acquired called ‘Flying Challenger Jets for Dummies?’ ” he asked of government House leader Peter Van Loan.

The House turned shortly thereafter to the matter of Dean Del Mastro. Where the NDP—buoyed by an opinion of the Commons law clerk—sees the Conservative MP’s attempt to compel certain documents from the CBC as both unconstitutional and unlawful, the government views Mr. Del Mastro’s actions as, to quote Heritage Minister James Moore, “standing up for taxpayers.”

After some toing and froing between Mr. Moore and the NDP’s Charlie Angus, Alexandre Boulerice attempted to bridge this yawning chasm. Noting the government’s interest in documentation and accountability in regards to the CBC, Mr. Boulerice wondered if Tony Clement would be turning over, as apparently promised, various forms related to the G8 Legacy Fund.

Up came Mr. Moore, seeming to think he had the official opposition caught in a contradiction. “Mr. Speaker, what an astonishing double standard by the NDP,” he gasped. “The President of the Treasury Board and the former minister of infrastructure appeared before a parliamentary committee and testified with regard to this matter. All the member for Peterborough is doing is saying that the CBC should be accountable before committee.”

Had he stopped himself there he might’ve been able to claim a kind of victory, but then came his next sentence.

“All we are saying,” he said, “is that the CBC should be elevated to the same level of accountability and responsibility as the President of the Treasury Board has already demonstrated.”

Just like that, Mr. Moore’s double standard had become quite possibly the lowest standard imaginable.

There was some degree of laughter at this. And it is good, especially on days like this, especially when it is cold and dark and all hope seems lost, to laugh. Even if the giggles come at the expense of the very notion of parliamentary accountability for which we are all presumably drawn here.

The Stats. Aboriginal affairs, seven questions. Pensions, five questions. Military procurement, four questions. Energy, the Canadian Wheat Board and firearms, three questions each. Small business, ethics, the G8 Legacy Fund and taxation, two questions each. The economy, government spending, the CBC, science and transportation, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six answers. James Moore, five answers. Julian Fantino, Shelly Glover, Maxime Bernier, John Duncan and Gerry Ritz, four answers each. Joe Oliver, three answers. Vic Toews, Peter Van Loan, Gary Goodyear and Denis Lebel, one answer each.

The Commons: Darkness in the mid-afternoon

  1. This is govt BY dummies….the Ninny State.

  2. “All we are saying,” he said, “is that the CBC should be elevated to the same level of accountability and responsibility as the President of the Treasury Board has already demonstrated.”

    Funny i always thought elevated meant raised or even just improved in this context…did Tony blush?

    • You have to think he was trying to be funny.

      • He succeeded then.

    • That’s an awfully low threshold, which I suspect the CBC already exceeds.

    • Just in from the CBC – ‘Everything we spent was on time and on budget – that is all you need to know.’

    • LOL

      If the Liberals suggested that we hold the CBC to such a low standard the Tories would be apoplectic!  Cabinet Ministers would be falling over each other rushing to mics to denounce them for it.

      And a few of them might have aneurysms.

  3. I truly hope you are getting danger pay for this, Mr. Wherry. Prolonged exposure to
    QP as it stands can lead to a long relationship with serious medication. Protect
    yourself at all times.
    The only saving grace of the place is the occasional outbreak of rationality during
    actual debate on bills… but, as they say, fuck that.
    Usta be that committee work was useful at times but the Boyz have taken care of
    that too.

    • You can see where journaists used to be drinkers - i know i feel like a shot or two after reading this stuff.

    • Seriously, reading the first few paragraphs of this report had me worried about your long-term mental health.  MPs can handle this every day because they are empty vessels.  You, on the other hand, can think and string ideas together.  That is not a healthy environment for someone who can think logically and make connections between various points.

  4. It seems futile and pointless to feel embarrassment on behalf of all of them. The banality of the proceedings is simply pathetic. When the Cons’ tenure is finally over, I wonder if they will feel any pride at how far parliamentary practice, decorum and relevance has fallen during their government’s stewardship.

    • All of this is play acting by the parties. The fact is the Conservatives will eventually pass their legislation and guess what four years from now Canadians will decide in a democratic election if they are satisfied with the performance of the government. The rest of this huff and puff will long be forgotten.

      Of course given it is a majority government the opposition parties and their supporters need to find something to rail against. Wherry’s blog gives voice to the disaffected.

      • So you’re happy with puerile banter and insults in lieu of parliamentary debate. Good for you and other Con cheerleaders like yourself. Perhaps the level of intelligence appeals to you.

      • Right. Because the definition of democracy is periodic elections.

        Responsive government? Transparency? A healthy opposition, empowered to oppose? That’s a pipe dream. Just shut up and vote every four years, and don’t complain in between.

        • This crew is known for attacking the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Budget Officer.  I think you are hitting the right points.  Some people drink too much kool-aid to see the problem, though.

        • Transparency?  LOL  You might as well ask for “Accountability”.

          Please.

          The Tories stopped worrying about transparency and accountability BEFORE they got a majority.  They don’t even use the terms as meaningless talking points any more (how could they, now that they’re the one’s who are supposed to be held to the standards of transparency and accountability?).  That, at least, is a blessing.  The one good thing about the Tories current attitude is that after years and years of promising to bring respect for Parliament and transparency and accountability back to government, now that they’re in government at least they’re not bothering to pretend that they’re actually doing so.  ’Cause THAT would drive me bonkers!

          I actually much prefer their “Yeah, that’s right, we’re acting just like the Chretien government used to.  Maybe worse even.  We’re in charge now, so suck it!” stance to the alternative of a mealy mouthed and disingenuous veneer of actually being different.  Sure, the Tories have arguably become everything they always despised.  Sure, pre-2006 Stephen Harper would probably spit on post-2006 Stephen Harper.  But at least they’re OWNING IT.

    • You’ve got to figure the Tories will end up feeling some pride.  Just look at their use of closure to end debates alone.  They’ve shut down debate eight times in fewer than 80 sittings days, including for a debate on the national budget.  That absolutely DEMOLISHES Jean Chretien’s record of 6 times over more than 200 sitting days, and Chretien didn’t start acting that way until he’d had a majority for almost a decade.  These guys are going to end up setting a record that will last for CENTURIES.  It’s Gretzky-like.

      How could they not be proud of that???

      • As I mentioned to CR before, at this rate, they may catch up to the 2011 Liberals by 2015.. 

        I certainly hope so.

    • But for goodness sake – was it any different under Liberal majority? Almost everybody here seems to have a memory problem.

      • I don’t believe the tone of discourse in the House has ever been so demonstrably immature and idiotic…I mean, come on, repeatedly calling each other “dummies”?

        In any case, even if behaviour during Liberal hegemony was less than exemplary, the past is no excuse for the present, and it certainly shouldn’t serve as a template for the conduct of debate in the House.

        It’s time for these toddlers to grow up.

      • But for goodness sake – was it any different under Liberal majority? Almost everybody here seems to have a memory problem.

        Yes.  How could we have all forgotten so quickly the way that Stephen Harper ran in election after election loudly proclaiming “I’m going to do things just like the Liberals always have!  My greatest ambition in life is to become JUST LIKE JEAN CHRETIEN!!!”.

        • It does strike me as a lost opportunity.

          The slogan of “Demand Better” had a lot of appeal, and rightly so.

          OTOH, the slogan of “Demand The Same, Just With A Different Logo” IS much less catchy. ;-)

  5. Just majority eh…that’s funny. I could have sworn they behaved exactly the same way in minority. Andrew Potter promised us this would stop in a majority govt…Andrew Potter lied. 

    • I never believed Andrew Potter in the first place.  It was pretty obvious as to what was going to happen if the Cons got their coverted majority if one only paid a little inkling of attention.

  6. …on a bright note……rob anders bobbling his head to full unconsciousness starting at 40:57

     http://www.cpac.ca/forms/index.asp?dsp=template&act=view3&pagetype=vod&hl=e&clipID=6242

    • Must be the high carb lunches.  Haven’t they noticed they are collectively getting bigger, and bigger and bigger.  Time for a little PARTICIPACTION.

    • That is hilarious yogie320.  Thank you for that.

      I do hope someone does a cut and paste to Youtube of that 30 second ride into never-never land, or better yet, a 48 frame animated gif of Rob Anders falling asleep on the job.  There are many websites out there that would make good use of it.

    • I only fall asleep in classroom settings when the material is super easy to understand and fails to interest me because I already know it.  I submit that Anders falling asleep is a sign of his intellect being superior to all others in the House.

      /nightmare

    • Now if he’d only stay that way, folks in Calgary West would have better representation.

  7. QP has to be the most misused time allocation for government. Questions are made up and written out for MPs to read and must be forwarded to the Gov’t who prepare answers for cabinet ministers to read in reply, who then add insults with their answers. It has become a game of “gotcha” which may be a new terminology for this daily session.
      It is time for the Gov’t and opposition to grow up and get back to the serious business of using QP for what it was intended and that is to make public the status of various ongoing in the governing of the country.

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