The Commons: Just laugh it off

The sooner we begin quietly accepting the government’s decisions, the easier it will be for everyone

The Scene. Last week, the Foreign Affairs Minister called the Liberal foreign affairs critic to discuss the future of this country’s mission in Afghanistan. Yesterday, after an extension to that mission had been announced, the Prime Minister noted that “the decisions we have taken are very close to what the Liberal Party in fact recommended, so I am glad that we actually agree on this particular matter.”

And so it was today that the Prime Minister stood and identified the Liberals as enemies of the state. “The opposition is simply playing politics with the lives of Air Force members,” Mr. Harper cried this afternoon when Michael Ignatieff dared persist in asking him to justify the multi-billion-dollar purchase of new warplanes.

That the Prime Minister would, even indirectly, cooperate with anyone so treasonous as to show callous disregard for the lives of Canadian servicemen and women seems preposterous. Even that he would be comfortable finding himself in agreement with such scoundrels on something as important as the deployment of Canadian troops into a war zone seems beyond the realm of belief. So perhaps the Prime Minister is simply better than most of us at maintaining contradictory feelings for others. Perhaps he, possessing a generous understanding of others, believes that the Liberal side is capable of both making a responsible decision about the deployment of our military and being flippant about the lives of our soldiers. Perhaps there is no contradiction or disconnect between what this government did in one case and what Mr. Harper has said here.

Or perhaps the lesson here—the moral of this story, the message of this week, the theme of these last five years—is that it is counterproductive to place much more than passing importance on the words that come from the mouths of this government.

Perhaps the sooner we might accept this, the easier this time in Ottawa would be. For sure, the quicker we might get past any lingering reflex to note the pronouncements and promises of this Prime Minister, the sooner we can begin accepting his decisions as singular and unique moments, unrelated to anything past, present or future, to be quietly accepted and not questioned and only to be recalled at reelection time, and then only favourably. And the sooner we understand this, the quicker we might make peace with it all. Just look, for instance, at how satisfied and self-assured this government’s backbenchers seem most days, lounging about the House without a worldly worry. They must be doing something right.

And otherwise is perhaps to end up like Jack Layton, stammering and fidgeting and clinging to our naive ideas of how things should be.

It was the NDP leader who stood this afternoon and read aloud from the Conservative election platform of 2006, specifically the bit about how a Conservative government would make Parliament responsible for overseeing the deployment of the Canadian Forces abroad. Judging from the Prime Minister’s response, it would seem Mr. Harper has forgotten about ever committing as much.

Mr. Layton grew only angrier. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister did what he promised he would never do, which is to use unelected senators to block the will of the House of Commons. He said he would never do that,” he cried.

Whether or not the Prime Minister had actually promised this exactly, he has certainly both lamented the unelected nature of senators and the periodic refusal of those unelected senators to do the House’s bidding. Either way, the NDP leader seemed to detect here a contradiction.

“Canadians are asking for action on climate change and we adopted a climate change accountability act right here last spring,” Mr. Layton continued. “‘Every prime minister has a moral obligation to respect the will of the House.’ That is what he said. So why did he order his senators in the other place to kill the climate change bill that was adopted by the majority of MPs in this House?”

Without an answer to this philosophical riddle, the Prime Minister merely yelled. “Mr. Speaker, Conservatives have been very consistent and very clear in their opposition to Bill C-311, a completely irresponsible bill,” he declared.

Now Mr. Layton was incensed, his mouth barely able to keep up with his fury. “Mr. Speaker, he has no right to use his unelected senator friends to kill the will of this House,” he yelled back. “He has lost his moral centre. He is fundamentally undemocratic.”

“Woahhh!” mocked the government side.

“Let us be clear about it. That is the truth,” Mr. Layton continued. “He broke his promise to bring our troops home which the House asked for. He broke his promise to have votes on the use of our troops in foreign wars. He broke his promise never to appoint unelected senators. And now he is using them to subvert the will of the House. It has never happened before. It should not be permitted. Where is his democratic impulse? Has it gone? Has he lost any sense of his responsibilities—”

His displeasure now all encompassing it had exceeded the Speaker’s time limit.

Here the Prime Minister moved to finish with a flurry, mouthing perhaps the quintessential sentence of his premiership. ”When we talk about democracy and the Leader of the NDP,” he said, “this is a man who after the election set out to form a coalition to overturn the results of that election so he could appoint members to the Senate.”

Across the way, seated in the fourth row at the far corner of the room, the NDP’s Paul Dewar stared over at the government side and, for a good ten seconds, simply shook his head—mystified, bewildered, defeated, depressed or grudgingly impressed.

Sometime later, Cheryl Gallant, a government backbencher, was sent up with a friendly question for her own side.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said, “Canadians have clearly shown a desire for reform of the Senate.”

The opposition members burst into laughter. They should remember that feeling of levity and learn from it.

The Stats. Afghanistan, seven questions. The environment, six questions. Government spending, four questions. The senate, the military and crime, three questions each. The G20, securities regulation, ethics, infrastructure, foreign investment and agriculture, two questions each. Edmonton, one question.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Mark Warawa, six answers. Stockwell Day and Bev Oda, three answers each. Diane Finley, Chuck Strahl, Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty and Gerry Ritz, two answers each. Vic Toews, Denis Lebel, Peter MacKay, Rob Nicholson, Rona Ambrose, James Moore, Steven Fletcher and John McKay, one answer each.

The Commons: Just laugh it off

  1. Or perhaps the lesson here—the moral of this story, the message of this week, the theme of these last five years—is that it is counterproductive to place much more than passing importance on the words that come from the mouths of this government.

    Bingo! There you go, Wherry, you finally get it. All those posts pointing out the risible logic or the blatant inconsistencies have been in vain. This PM is a day-by-day guy. Whatever pops into his head on any given day is the truth, the absolute truth and nothing but the truth. But, it's gone that day to be replaced by another thought the next day.

    Harper is, in the truest sense of the word, the Twitter Prime Minister. One 140-word thought at a time, and a new one every day.

  2. How on earth did you manage to beat Emily for first post?

  3. "it is counterproductive to place much more than passing importance on the words that come from the mouths of this government."

    It could have easily been written as, it is counterproductive to place much more than passing importance on the words that come from the mouths of government.

  4. Naive question:

    Do the opposition parties have to ask questions of the government during QP? What would happen if, say, Rae asked a question of Ignatieff instead?

  5. LOL wouldn't be hard to do. Threads sometimes sit here for an hour or more with no comments. The minute I comment, posters come out of the woodwork.

    I think people just don't like being first, whereas I don't care.

  6. Occasionally one may beat Emily to first post, but she'll never let you get the last word!

  7. Mr Harper has a 'disconnect' between his ears.

  8. hah, i actually think that would be a funny way of protesting the fact that questions are never answered, and it would mean they could speak more. In fact, What if they just questioned the other opposition parties, and just had a discussion amongst themselves. It's not as if it would be any different from what happens now, with respect to getting something done.

  9. Harper is, in the truest sense of the word, the Twitter Prime Minister.

    I wish it were so. I actually could tolerate twitter-sized doses of honest politics. Sadly, I think it's actually worse. This is probably the most consistently dishonest PM of the past 50 years… and he's working hard make that "of all time".

    The man is simply dishonest.

  10. Nope….LOL

    [oh c'mon you asked for that one!]

  11. The opposition members burst into laughter. They should remember that feeling of levity and learn from it.

    There doesn't seem to be too much laughter or levity within the Liberal party right now, given the angry infighting and the caucus rift over the Afghanistan extension.

    Ignatieff made the right call this summer when he called for a "training mission" extension. The dissenting Liberals should relax and give Ignatieff a chance to lead, instead of constantly undermining him and sniping at him.

  12. Yes, what we need is even more MP's blindly accepting what their leader says is the right thing to do.

  13. Don't you think the leaking from the Liberal caucus is getting a little out of hand? It seems like Ignatieff is being hamstrung by enemies within his own party. For example, who were the MPs who leaked this to Jane Taber today?
    .
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/otta

    With friends like these, who needs enemies? Ignatieff made a principled decision on Afghanistan, and now members of his own party are pulling the rug out from under him.

  14. Well see first…you check with caucus and gain concensus…THEN you speak publically

    He didnt make any 'prinicipled' decision…he just agreed with Cons.

    If he's going to do that, he might as well join them

  15. That Christmas Break can`t come soon enough, right Wherry. We can see you`re weary Wherry.
    When you start believing holier-that-thou Layton is really angry because his economy-killing, vote-grabbing, naive, shut-down-the oil-sands Bill gets stopped in the Senate and not see that this is just another act from Sanctimonious Jack, then it may be time for a rest.

  16. Face it, you have no idea what was in the bill.

  17. Classic Layton theatre, he should get a Gemini.

  18. Maybe you could pray about it.

  19. I think I can relate to Wherry`s weariness—that " oh, not again " feeling he gets from his perch above the H of C every day must be similar to that which I feel when I invariably open a page and see yet another series of empty Emisters.

  20. Well then simple solution: don't open the page.

  21. I think your question is worth an answer and I suggest posing it to Kady O'malley for an answer on the That's A Good Question feature for CBC's The House.

  22. A principled decision would include testing your opinions democratically and hearing all points of view.

  23. The Liberal platform has been pretty consistent on Afghanistan. Despite the guttersniping by the CONs (cutting and running etc) and the lefty ninny-statist NdP (won't somebody think of the unionized tradespeople!?) the Liberals have stated that the mission they initiated should be focused on helping the Afghanis to rebuild and progress from the cold swords of the taliban…

  24. Jack Laytons quivering moustache was outraged, and nobody cared.

  25. Technically, questions in the House are put to the Speaker: 'Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member from Calgary SW … "

  26. While Wherry continues to cry "Harper the liar!",

    right minded Canadians everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that Harper, the adult, is in charge of our affairs and not the far left teenagers in opposition chasing fantasies that they can save the world from a firey inferno concocted by those who's stock in trade is sanctimony, and who would willingly lead us down a road to economic hell paved with their self described good intentions.

  27. Am I the only one in this country who doesn't see the Afghan decision as some big flip-flop? The first time Harper laid out this position was in the 2008 election. Here's CBC's coverage of that: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canadavotes/story/2008/09/

    Basically, at the time he stated "the mission in Kandahar will end" and suggested we'd remain in some technical capacity. The subsequent parliamentary resolution stated again, that the combat mission in Kandahar will end. It didn't state that all troops will be out of Afghanistan… and the new mission seems to be consistent with the above.

    Maybe I've missed an other parliamentary resolution or policy statement from the government on this, but it sounds pretty straightforward to me. Does the media just not remember this stuff or are they lazy or dumb or just looking for a narrative to tell? Sigh…

  28. A new awards category: the most consistently dishonest PM of the past 50 years

    I think the addition of the word "consistently" here is brilliant because it moves beyond the "most dishonest PM ever: yes or no" question, and the "greatest lies told by PMs in history" contest.

    Now we have the notion of consistency to consider, where, for example, a single outbreak of truthfulness could ruin a PMs chances. Well done.

    My candidate for this honour would be, ahh, I'll have to think about it.

  29. I have to agree with you – the Liberal party is a mess. It does make me wonder – It's not so much Harper that is masterminding or defeating them – It more seems like they are really defeating themselves. As someone who was once a card carrying member (well before my oath of political agnosticism), it's just painful to watch this self implosion. Looking at the deeper picture, it does make me wonder if ever again they will find enough common ground to stand in unison. Once again, you hear the questioning of the effectiveness of leadership, whereas I believe all signs point towards it being a problem of commonality amongst the membership. It's sad because this internal hissy fit is pretty much allowing Harper to get away with anything and everything.

  30. What if they just questioned the other opposition parties, and just had a discussion amongst themselves. It's not as if it would be any different from what happens now, with respect to getting something done.

    I like the idea, but there's an obvious counter-riposte: the Conservatives could just accuse the opposition of working together to build the "Evil Ignatieff-Bloc-NDP Coalition". Or of making a mockery of Parliament (even though the Conservatives are already doing this).

  31. I'm sorry – but this is a very immature response. In order to function both properly and effectively, you need some form of consensus. If the Liberals can't stand together while in Opposition, how do you honestly expect Canadians to elect them as government? There is a difference between blind loyalty and pragmatism…

  32. I hate to point this out, but do you really believe that previous successful Liberal leaders always made their decisions via the democratic will of caucus? It sounds good, but it just didn't work like that.

  33. Thank you.

    I'd also like to thank my first year sociology prof. Her name I cannot remember and her course content is forever lost to my few remaining neurons but I'm absolutely certain that nothing of the subject was true. Also, honourable mention to the lead hand and union rep at the boat factory who taught me everything else I know about lies.

  34. It's a very valid point. To have a differing opinion is one thing, but to air your laundry in front of everyone is quite another thing. Does anyone honestly believe that the previous Liberal leaders had 100% uniformity within caucus? This was never the case. The difference is that they were smart and pragmatic enough to keep these problems internal.

  35. Sure he agreed with the Conservatives, but he agreed with the Conservatives after the Conservatives ADOPTED LIBERAL POLICY.

  36. Are you saying that the 30% that are Harper "followers" are the only "right-minded" Canadians??….That was a lot of pretty words to insult 70% of Canadians.

  37. let's have an election, then. oh wait, the result would be another Conservative government.

  38. Really? What planet do you live on?

  39. They have been a mess for a while, I think they are looking for an excuse to get rid of Ignatieff, but it will take more than getting rid of him to get it going again!!

  40. Yea, really funny . Democracy died yesterday at the hands of the unelected Senate.
    Despicable behaviour from these Kon Klown idiots .
    Trust me Bozo. We will remember all of your scandals come election time .
    93' redux .

  41. Was that pun indended? "Right-minded"?
    Ahh, partisan humor. Truly hilarious.

  42. Alright, I know this is a dangerous thing, but I'm going to attempt to be reasonable. Please bear with me.

    Point 1: Wherry obviously is bias against this government and this PM. I think this point hardly needs arguing.

    Point 2: Wherry (the bias guy from Point 1) claims there is an inherent contradiction in agreeing with the Liberals on the matter of troop deployment in Afghanistan and disagreeing with the LIberals on the matter of purchasing new planes for the army.

    Wherry seems to think that troop deployment = buying planes. Am I seeing this wrong? If this is the case, I simply want to point out that troop deployment [does not equal] buying planes. Therefore Wherry is wrong about the inherent contradiction.

    Oh and by the way, let's assume that Wherry's weird logic is in fact true (that is, that troop deployment DOES EQUAL buying planes), then the inverse of his accusation that the PM is inherently contradictory is true also. What is the inverse you ask. Well, it's the opposition of course. That is, Ignatieff agrees with Harper about troop deployment, but not buying planes, but of course as Wherry has so convincingly (not really, that's sarcasm) demonstrated, troop deployment = buying planes, so it seems that we can draw the same conclusion about Ignatieff.

    Make sense?

  43. I am 64 years old and it has been this way with absolutely every government, at every level since I started voting. I now no longer vote in hopes the worst government will get in and the inevitable collapse will happen sooner rather than later so we don't leave a bigger mess for our grandchldren. This country has gone striiiaght downhill since the 60's and government is as bad here as it was in Russia during its darkest days. That includes provincial and municipal.

  44. "…Harper is, in the truest sense of the word, the Twitter Prime Minister…"

    Agreed. A twit in the truest sense of the word.

    But of course no sensible person enters politics the way it is played today.

  45. Harper can only fool some of the people all of the time…

    The rest of us see right through this crap.

  46. I'm impressed. All those big words and no pictures!

    But you deliberately miss the point.

  47. As I said elsewhere, "You can only fool some of the people all of the time…"
    And the rest of us see right through this crap.

  48. Right from Harper's PMO Misdirection Tactic #4 – Attack an opposition leader with glib nonsense.

  49. Classic Harper PMO Misdirection Tactic #7 – Use the same religious condemnation words on the opposition that anti-conservatives use to describe Harper.

  50. Yes. A confident leader would not be afraid of scrutiny and debate. He would use subversive "tactics" to sneak his way through.

  51. I am more than willing to admit that I missed the point. I believe I even asked in my original post, "Am I seeing this wrong?" I assure you though that it is not deliberate, rather it is apparently some failing in myself to understand Wherry. So if my explanation is wrong, then I still do not know what "the point" is? Please help.

    BTW, in the absence of any help, I still think that Wherry is the one who is deliberately missing the point, namely that deployment of troops in Afghanistan and buying new planes are NOT the same issue, and that it is well within the realm of possibility that reasonable people might agree on one of the issue and disagree on the other.

  52. I would say the same about Wherry…

  53. I agree with kerry, and I live on planet Earth…oh wait, were you trying to make some clever point? Sorry, I missed that.

  54. JonnyBoy, you write well and are perhaps not that confused. Upon second reading, I think it's safe to say that it's easier to poke fun at partisans than to find any logic to parliamentary debate.

    I'll admit that sometimes my own quick responses could be considered confused at times. While I was referring to the issue of this debate, I see you were trying to unravel the writer's logic. My apologies.

  55. Oops. I meant to say "He would NOT use subversive tactics to sneak his way through.".
    Now it makes sense.

  56. I really am not a fan of Mr Harper but I have to support his choice, at this time, to squash the bill introduced by the NDP regarding climate change. See if you can understand this, it's pretty simple. If we were to accept the climate change bill at this time, force all of the various mining and manufacturing companies to go really green, we would shut down Canada as a place to invest. Canadian investors and those outside of Canada want the best return on their dollar. If it's going to cost more money to produce products and materials here than elsewhere they are going to go elsewhere. So, jobs in those areas evaporate, support structure (corner stores, and other businesses) evaporate, tax base evaporates, schools forced to close, hospitals forced to reduce bed counts and procedures, pension funds cut back, infrastructure spending for roads, bridges, etc, cut back. I'm sure you can see where this is going. If we were to follow the NDP line of thinking we'd be sunk and it would take some time to recover. Harper did the right thing for now.

  57. Donn, perhaps then we should just shutter the House of Commons and send all of those MPs home. Why bother electing them and paying them if their opinions and votes really don't matter all that much? If it's okay for the PM to subvert the will of the House, there's really little sense in maintaining the facade any longer, is there?

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