The Commons: Fall comes early to Ottawa

The MPs report on their summer vacations and try out some new put-downs

by Aaron Wherry

commonsphoto

The Scene. A week short of its official start, fall has arrived in Ottawa. The leaves on Parliament Hill are turning yellow. The faces inside the House of Commons are red. The voices are shouty. The Prime Minister’s pointy finger is once more unfurled, steady and strong and accusatory. Summer is gone. The air will soon grow cold and punishing.

The easy comparison, sure, is to the return each September of young children to school. Indeed, there is something to that—the anxiousness, the chaos, the new haircuts. Lawrence Cannon sported a particularly close shave. Lisa Raitt is back to blonde. Jack Layton, not blessed of much hair to begin with, trimmed his down nearly to the scalp. When you’re trying to Make Parliament Work it perhaps helps to be as aerodynamic as possible.

Here, too, those returning rise to report on their summers. Only here the stories have less to do with amusement parks, video games and family trips to major American landmarks.

“Mr. Speaker, this summer I took the opportunity to travel to every area of Kootenay-Columbia, talking to my constituents and taking pictures with them hard at work on projects and programs funded through Canada’s economic action plan,” Jim Abbott reported when called upon first. “The Conservative government has been getting shovels in the ground and projects energized for the benefit of all my constituents. We have multiplied the effect of our economic initiatives by using a very wide variety of programs. From one end of the riding to the other, I heard people voicing cautious optimism. They appreciate our economic action plan and what it means to their families and our communities throughout Kootenay-Columbia. As we work our way out of this worldwide recession, my constituents give the Conservative government an A-plus.”

Oh, but not all was bliss for Mr. Abbott this summer. There were some frightful nogoodniks who wouldn’t let him run and skip and play in peace.

“However, without exception, they are angry with the useless, counterproductive, dangerous, opportunistic election talk by the opposition coalition,” Abbott moped. “My constituents give a massive F for failure to the Liberal, NDP and Bloc coalition.”

Six-year-olds across the country cackled at this well-played put-down. Take that, nogoodniks.

But enough with the elementary school analogy. If only because it demeans this place. Or our children. Or possibly both.

A series of Conservatives followed, similarly laughing and crying as told.

“Mr. Speaker, as MP for Oakville, I report back to the House of Commons today that in these challenging times the residents of Oakville are very pleased that their government is working to create jobs and build a stronger Oakville in Ontario,” Terrence Young reported with all objectivity.

“The government wants to fight the recession,” cried Mike Wallace. “The Liberal Leader of the Opposition wants to fight the recovery. This just proves that he is not in it for Canadians. He is in it for himself.”

“Mr. Speaker, like many Canadians, I was shocked to see the Liberal Party’s latest attack on the Canadian flag,” moaned Rodney Weston of some Liberal pamphlet.

Jacques Gourde rose to pronounce, en francais, that Michael Ignatieff lacks the necessary “wisdom” to govern, an interesting inversion of the usual complaint that Mr. Ignatieff is too smart to possibly understand the likes of you. Such is the tricky nature of Canadian politics and our eternal search for a leader who is neither particularly bright nor glaringly stupid.

Liberal Rodger Cuzner attempted to match such stuff with some of his own. “Mr. Speaker, Canadians have learned over the past four years that if they want to know the Prime Minister’s real agenda, they have to listen to what he says behind closed doors,” he said, the government side groaned.

Conservative Brad Trost stood next. “Mr. Speaker, Canadians do not want an election,” he announced. “They want politicians to put their differences aside and focus on economic recovery.”

Indeed. And, on that note, Trost proceeded to denigrate Mr. Ignatieff and question the Liberal leader’s motivations.

Question Period commenced then with a few brief words for the latest casualty in Afghanistan, then it was back to business.

“Mr. Speaker, I find it curious that after weeks of berating the idea of a coalition, the Prime Minister seems to be hard at work forming one himself and with people that he referred to until this morning as socialists,” Mr. Ignatieff ventured. “I am just wondering whether the Prime Minister could confirm his new-found love for socialism and does he not think it prudent to change his attack ads?”

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Harper took great offense at this public questioning of his aptitude for attack.

“Mr. Speaker, the leader of the opposition is flailing around trying to invent reasons why Canadians should have another election in less than a year, four elections in five years,” he alleged. “The fact of the matter is this. The fact of the matter is that Canadians do not want an election, Canada does not need an election, an election is not in this country’s best interest. We have important economic measures before Parliament. All the parties in Parliament should be focused on those measures and on the economy and the leader of the opposition should focus on our country’s best interests.”

So invited, Mr. Ignatieff offered his take on our current economic situation.

“Mr. Speaker, just a year ago the Prime Minister promised Canada five years of surplus and then he told us that his recession would be a great buying opportunity,” he recalled. “Then he slapped Canada with a $32-billion deficit. Whoops, that went to $50 billion and now it is $56 billion and he is going to make Canadians pay for it with higher payroll taxes.

“The question is this. How can Canadians trust a government with this record? The problem of instability, Mr. Prime Minister, is you.”

The government side was besmirched. Mr. Ignatieff had made direct reference to the Prime Minister, a clear violation of the code by which this place separates itself from some of the Three Stooges‘ better food fights. The Speaker rebuked the Liberal leader and Mr. Harper proceeded with his retort.

“Mr. Speaker, Canada has been affected by the global recession that has affected every country. At the same time, Canada’s performance has been admired by many around the world. Canada is in a very strong position,” he assured. “Our deficits, while large, are, nevertheless, some of the smallest in the developed world. They are necessary to help people, but our stimulus spending must end at the end of this recession and we must return to surplus.

“I would invite the leader of the opposition, since he has yet to table any comprehensive economic agenda at all, and I have invited, since the budget last January, if he has anything to say on the economy to bring it here so we can debate it.”

Understandably, debate turned then to the important questions of “Does Stephen Harper sufficiently love our health care system?” and “Who is scarier: Glenn Beck or Bob Rae?” Mr. Rae, apparently out of practice, was thoroughly trounced on both counts, Mr. Harper delighting his flock with a pair of well-played putdowns.

Jack Layton pleaded for sanity. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister goes around insulting people and calling them names. He will not work with other members of Parliament or other parties,” he complained. “Is the Prime Minister willing to work with other parties or is he going to continue with his attitude of his way or the highway?”

By the NDP leader’s third question, Mr. Harper had lost his patience with such stuff.

“A lot of good things are being done: infrastructure projects across the country; help for the vulnerable; improvements to employment insurance benefits,” he said, once more jabbing the air in front of him. “All parties should get behind these positive things for the Canadian economy and not waste our time with an opportunistic and needless election campaign.”

That Mr. Harper could say as much with a straight face is testament surely to the fine performer he has become in his three years in office. Indeed, if Mr. Trost grievously wounded the concept, here was the Prime Minister officially bringing an end to irony. Surely we are better off without it.

Shortly thereafter, Marlene Jennings was accusing the Conservatives of harbouring deep-seeded suspicions of minorities and Tony Clement was wiggling his fingers in the air and dismissing talk of shadowy conspiracy and Diane Finley was pleading her case and Libby Davies was pronouncing the word “vitamins” with a short “i” instead of the long vowel sound. All of which kept the hour from seeming a total loss.

Out in the foyer afterwards, Mr. Layton strode purposefully to the microphone and proceeded to make non-committal noises about conciliation, if not outright surrender, for the purpose of avoiding an imminent election.

Which would surely be a shame. That this show should be restricted to the banks of the Ottawa River, reserved to this chamber, seems a great disservice to the rest of the country; the vast majority of Canadians left with nothing to look forward to but the changing of the seasons and the yellowing of the leaves.

The Stats. Employment, nine questions. Taxation, five questions. The economy and Parliament, three questions each. Health care, crime, minorities, infrastructure, citizenship and Quebec, two questions each. Political advertising, forestry, search and rescue services, medical isotopes and fisheries, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 10 answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, seven answers. Diane Finley, five answers. Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty, three answers each. Christian Paradis and Deepak Obhrai, two answers each. Peter MacKay, Leona Aglukkaq, Gail Shea, Jim Prentice and Keith Ashfield, one answer each.

The Commons: Fall comes early to Ottawa

  1. Jack Layton, not blessed of much hair to begin with, trimmed his down nearly to the scalp. When you're trying to Make Parliament Work it perhaps helps to be as aerodynamic as possible.

    I think this takes the snark prize of the week. Aerodynamics will also be required for the kind of complicated maneuvers Layton is contemplating.

    • Well, with all of the hot air and BS coming at him from the opposite side of the chamber, maybe he thought that's what he needed to do just to be blown over.

  2. a clear violation of the code by which this place separates itself from some of the Three Stooges‘ better food fights.

    Heh. Good line.

  3. LOL. Loved the line about Layton's wind factor…as it were.

  4. Another poll out today, another big lead for the governing paryt, (Ipsos-Reid):

    Conservatives 39

    Liberals 30

    NDP 12

    Bloc 9

    Greens 8

    Tories up 46-36 in vote-rich Ontario

    Why are the Liberals pining for an election? Are they masochists?

    • Here's a wild concept. Perhaps it's the right thing to do?

      • Right for who? or is it whom…
        Parliament's boss, the people, say no.

    • One would think that Ipsos would have learned from the reaction to their last ridiculous poll (11 point lead for the Tories) but apparently not.

      What's up with that pollster?

      • Nanos, who Liberal partisans think is a demi-god, has it Conservatives leading 38-33 in his latest poll.

        What's up with Nanos you should be asking.

        Note to PJ and other Liberal partisans, face reality, these polls can't all be outliers.

      • Something has to be wrong with the Ipsos polls. Only 7% undecided, when there is no election underway? Sorry. Not buying it. There must be at least 20+% undecided when there is no election campaign.

    • "Why are the Liberals pining for an election? Are they masochists?"

      The question you should be asking is why are the Tories extending an olive branch to the NDP if this poll is to believed?

      • Because we just had an election 11 months ago and the Conservatives want to govern. Only the Liberals are obsessed with precipitating an election. At least the NDP appear to be talking to the government in good faith and with no ulterior motives.

        • Unless you don't consider not wanting to get their ass kicked in an election an ulterior motive.

        • After Parliament was prorogued, Jack had a fit of pique and said he would vote against the Conservative budget without even reading it.
          …. and suddenly they're talking in good faith
          You don't know Jack

        • After Parliament was prorogued, Jack had a fit of pique and said he would vote against the Conservative budget without even reading it.
          …. and suddenly they're talking in good faith

          You don't know Jack

          • Why are Liberals partisans so up in arms about the NDP these days? Because they have a will of their own? Dear Liberals, the universe doesn't revolve around the Liberal Party of Canada.

          • It's that love-hate relationship.
            Liberals hate that they need Dippers or they can't
            1) stay in power
            2) get back into power.

        • Over the course of those 11 months the only party that has shown any willingness to bend, to compromise and to support legislation despite their partisan interest has been the Liberal party. They are the only party how has offered to work with every other party in the House and one point or another. For ten and a half of those moths, that type of behaviour was the subject of ridicule and considered their weakness.

          • Work with? As in 'Harper gets to wear this recession' 'this party will not offer ideas for Harper to steal' 'the Harper Government is on probation' ….. yah, Liberals have been an absolute irreplaceable asset to Parliament..NOT.

            The only party to submit proposals to the government was the BLOC.
            For all of the Liberal and NDP 'Harper won;t co-operate',
            it came out today that neither party, not once, have contacted the government to disucss ANYTHING.

          • It is the job of the Prime Minister to gain the confidence of the house, not of the MPs to provide it.

      • cuz that way they can say they tried to make it work when it all goes into the crapper (as it no doubt will if the polls keep up like this (and Iggy will still have to wear the egg on his face for causing it I bet)).

    • are the Ipsos polls the ones you have to register on-line to respond to or are those Angus Reid?

  5. The hightlight of Question Period was Harper's put down of the smug Bob Rae. Rae has become increasingly arrogant and full of himself since returning to federal politics. He is one insufferable dude. Somebody should tell him it is not appropriate to be sucking on a candy? while posing questions to the Prime Minister of the country.

    • So true. I would advise intermittent use of a lemon.

    • He's actually pretty brilliant

      • But not welcome in some countries…..

  6. "Jacques Gourde rose to pronounce, en francais, that Michael Ignatieff lacks the necessary “wisdom” to govern, an interesting inversion of the usual complaint that Mr. Ignatieff is too smart to possibly understand the likes of you."

    Clearly M. Gourde is a Dungeons & Dragons player, where Wisdom is a separate stat from Intelligence. (Well, now that I've just outed myself as a nerd…)

    That all said, personally I'm more curious on the answers totals to see how many of them included a reference to "self interest", or "in it for himself", or "opportunistic", or some other variation on the theme, contrasted with how many involved a reference to "coalition".

    • Pfft.,.. most of the commentators here have played Dungeons and Dragons.

  7. “All parties should get behind these positive things for the Canadian economy and not waste our time with an opportunistic and needless election campaign.” That Mr. Harper could say as much with a straight face is testament surely to the fine performer he has become in his three years in office.

    ——————————————————————

    This is just an off chance, but this statement might make total sense from the Prime Minister's point of view. After all, before the recent flurry of pre-summer attack ads, the GritGirl youtube videos (which look professionally made) were making the rounds on blogs courtesy of Warren Kinsella. From the Conservatives' point of view, they might legitimately think that they have just been countering and defending themselves (because that's how the game is played in politics–you wouldn't fault a CFL player for making a tackle, would you?). I'm willing to talk this out, but it's just an observation.

  8. "The Canadian health-care system will not only survive the attack of right-wing commentators in the United States, but even survived one by left-wing incompetence in Ontario…"

    – Stephen Harper September 14, 2009 Question Period

    Our Prime Minister is a class act…

    • Oh, that's our Steve!

    • or was that crass act?

    • It was, as Aaron said, a great put-down to a pretty irrelevant question by Bob Rae. Who cares about the U.S. debate on health care. What is it about Canadians obsessing with what people think of them. You'd think some people have an inferiority complex or something.

      • And so why do Hedy Fry and Iffy think Canadians hang their heads in shame, when traveling abroad?
        Because PMSH won't go on CNN and brag about our healthcare system?

        • No, but he's pretty quick to shill to Fox News on his great deal from geiko…

  9. Good lord, I'd support an election just to avoid listening to that Conservative frat-boy greek chorus that passes for federal representation during QP.

    • Layton's a frat boy. Stephen Harper is not.

      You must love the taste of your own foot.

  10. Typo there — you meant fat-boy methinks.

  11. Election is coming. Layton might prop them up for a week or a month, to get some candidates in place, but I refuse to believe he'll be left holding the bag as this economy really crashes and burns. Its political suicide for his party to be seen responsible for supporting Harper in the direction we're going. China and US are entering a trade war. China isn't going to pay for its share of the multri trillion dolalr derivative market. US fiscal year ends after this month, and the books will have to be balanced within a couple weeks of that. As our number one trading partner, we'lll have to balance our books with a significant hit to their contribution to them.

  12. And more new numbers, from Nanos on the leaders numbers.
    Please note, that in 3 out of the 4 categories below, MI and Jack combined do not beat Harper….coalition that!

    The most trustworthy leader

    •Stephen Harper: 31%
    •Michael Ignatieff: 14%
    •Jack Layton: 14%

    The most competent leader

    •Stephen Harper: 36%
    •Michael Ignatieff: 20%
    •Jack Layton: 11%

    The leader with the best vision for Canada's future

    •Stephen Harper: 32%
    •Michael Ignatieff: 20%
    •Jack Layton: 15%

    Leadership Index Score

    •Stephen Harper: 99
    •Michael Ignatieff: 54
    •Jack Layton: 40

    http://www.nikonthenumbers.com/topics/show/138

  13. Question Period oh what a great pissing contest : )

  14. OMG – that's one devasting poll.

    • It is, isn't it? Liberals must be pissed!

      • At the very least, they should now realize they have been living in the Enchanted Forest oblivious with what is happening in the real world. Like some of the media.

  15. If you really cared for Harper, you'd be all for election now, if those numbers are real… which I highly doubt(unemployed people don't have phones or time for polite phone conversations). The #$*! is just about to hit the fan, and those numbers can only go down. The status quo loses its sway with 15% and 20% unemployment that is coming.

    • But Aaron, we want Jack to survive.

      Infact it is the Liberals that mess things up, trying to be brokers for Dipper and Cons ideas.

      Liberals sitting in opposition without any ideas for much longer, and those Dipper numbers could improve greatly.
      We Conservatives have alot of respect for Dippers, just don't want them sitting in cabinet with their hands on the cheque book.

      • As evidenced by the spittle on Harper's lips when he mentions socialists.

        • Eh, if you don't want the Dipper's to be called socialists, have them clear out their gray-haired deadwood that currently makes up their entire caucus and party workers. Young lefties are more about lifestyle rights than about control of the means of production.

          • Oh heck, I think they should be called socialists. Further, I think they should be proud of it. What disturbs me isn't the word, which is perfectly representative, it's the tone and tenor it takes on when "We Conservatives" mention it.. it somehow belies the idea that they have "a lot of respect for Dippers".. or indeed, any respect at all.

  16. PMSHs got his mojo back!

  17. Yup, to Liberal partisans all the polls are wrong. Even now apparently Nic Nanos, who is treated by Liberals and their cronies like a deity, is full of it according to Liberals. You guys really need to look at reality in the face and deal with it.

    "…if those numbers are real…"

    Nic, they're starting to turn on you.

  18. Nic is the polling guru… right Jarrid? Anyways… good numbers for Harper, now watch him chip away at them, Parliament is back.

      • Those Liberals are confused wilson, granted, Harper has been governing like a Liberal this past year.

        • Governing like what a Liberal used to be.
          After Dippers 'loaned votes to Liberals to stop Harper', they have skated on Dipper ice ever since.
          MI, Rae, Dion, Kennedy…..3 out of 4 Lib leader candidates are left leaning, one IS a Dipper.

          • You mean a Liberal who ran up reckless deficits and did the opposite of what he said after an election? Trudeau would be spinning in his grave if he knew that Harper was emulating him.

  19. Feels nice to see The Commons is back on Macleans.ca.

  20. Can we please agree to a full publication ban on the juvenile nicknames that fly around these message boards?

    PMSH? (What? Is that supposed to make him/you sound cool? 'Cause it doesn't. It sounds like the acronym for a hospital)
    Harpercrite? (That's about as witty as "Nobama"…which is to say, it isn't witty at all)
    Iggy? Count Iggy? Iffy?? (All of these are just dumb beyond belief)

    The penchant for nicknaming is easily the most annoying thing on American political blogs (ex Dumbocrats and Repuglicans), let's try and avoid the same stupidity here…unless of course you are hellbent on proving to the world that you are a stunted adolescent, then by all means carry on.)

    *end rant*

    • Do you really have a problem with "Iggy"? It's a fairly neutral nickname that is widely used by journalists, bloggers and commenters of all political stripes.

      It's just a shortened version of his actual last name. While you may think it sounds too familiar or disrespectful, I suspect it's often used simply because it's easier to type and harder to misspell.

      • I seem to recall reading that he hates it, which makes it more fun to use. But I've always thought it was neutral too(i.e., not a slur). Certainly not as bad as 'crouton'!

        • And I remember reading that in their UCC days it was actually his brother, Andrew, that was known as Iggy.

          • It's Repiglicans.

  21. Sorry, I should have mentioned as a matter of fact, that could have come off sounding like a political swipe:

    Jack is a Sigma Chi.

    Stephen Harper actually is not part of a fraternity

  22. I'm torn. I want them to MPW so that Mr. Wherry can have good material, but I'm still shocked by the cynicism of our leaders' rhetoric. These QP pieces absolutely have to be collected into a book. I am putting my foot down on that score.

  23. Repuglicans! – now that is fuuny … well done! Thank you … I am going to be using that one fore sure.

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