“Har-per! Har-per!” they chanted, the members of the Conservative caucus eager to hear the good news from their leader. There were “woohs!” as he took to the small stage at the front of the room.
Flanked by no fewer than four Canadian flags, he periodically allowed himself something of a smile.
“Today’s date is a big one,” he said, “and I want to talk to you this morning about the significance of the milestone that we passed, the first anniversary of the day that Canadians again endorsed our government and gave it a majority mandate.”
It seems so long ago. A simpler time. Back when we could still tell ourselves that the F-35 was only going to cost $16 billion.
“In doing so,” the Prime Minister continued, “they gave us a mandate to do one thing, one thing above all else.”
Consolidate the government’s computer systems? If memory serves that was the one thing standing between us and the economic and social chaos of Greece.
“They gave us a mandate to secure their prosperity,” he specified. “And this, my friends, we are doing—we are doing every day, every way and everywhere and in every way in which we can.”
The work of consolidating the government’s computer systems is never done. And the Prime Minister shan’t rest until total and complete consolidation is achieved. Especially when there is so much else that this depends upon.
“Canadians were concerned and are concerned about what a fragile global economy might mean for them. Are their homes safe? Are their jobs secure? Will they be able to look after the needs of their families?” Mr. Harper explained. “In our campaign, we addressed the dark clouds of their anxiety, not with extravagant promises or pie-in-the-sky propositions, but with proposals and principles now contained in our economic action plan.”
Let it never again be said that dark clouds can be parted by shooting pies into the sky. (The Swedes tried this in the 1980s in an ill-fated attempt to stave off some approaching thunderstorms. It mostly just resulted in there being a lot of splattered pies all over the place. This terrible waste of dessert was condemned by the United Nations.)
Mr. Harper explained that his government was focused not only upon “growth and jobs,” but also “jobs and growth.” Red tape was being cut, grain farmers were being “liberated” and those programs that Canadians “cherished” were being protected.
But this was not merely a day to celebrate the past year. It was a day to look forward. To the sea of troubles that is forever lapping at our shores.
“A majority mandate cannot change who we are and how we govern,” he vowed and/or threatened (depending on your perspective). “Our values are our values. Our commitments to Canadians must be honoured, but our majority does give us the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and to focus on the longer term.”
This was not about this afternoon’s Question Period, he quipped. This was about looking past all those questions concerning Conrad Black.
“What do we see?” he asked of no one in particular. “That the financial and debt crises of the past few years may not in many countries be a passing phenomenon, that world economic power and wealth are shifting in a way that is historic and that we, as Canadians, must decide that we will be on the right side of that history.”
For sure, the choice between being on the right side or the wrong side of history is a difficult one. Many will tell you to go with the wrong side. But not Mr. Harper.
Without using the word “transformational,” he spoke of “protecting” and “streamlining” and “building” and “creating” and “including.” He used the word “sustain” four times.
“While I congratulate today, all of you on the good work done during the past 12 months, our mandate, the big vision of Canada to which we are pledged, the big upheavals of the world to which we belong, mean there can be no resting on the laurels of victory or the satisfaction of accomplishment,” he clarified. “From our ancestors, ancestors of both political stripes, we have inherited a magnificent country, an example to the world of enterprise and ambition, of compassion and generosity, of cultural diversity with harmony and of resources beyond imagination.”
He pronounced this to be the best country in the world. The Conservative caucus stood and applauded. “Let’s get back to work to ensure that under our stewardship, it will always remain so,” he commanded. Another standing ovation and a couple more “woohs!” A voice called out for “more!”
An hour and a half later and in a room on the other side of Centre Block’s great hall, the lights were dimmed and a video began to play on a screen in the corner of the room. This was apparently to mark the first year of the new official opposition. Various clips were shown of various New Democrats being variously indignant.
The video finished, the lights came back up and Thomas Mulcair bounded into the room to receive his standing ovation. “Thom-as! Thom-as!” the New Democrats chanted.
It appeared for a moment as if Megan Leslie might have something to say by way of introduction, but it was Mr. Mulcair who assumed the lectern, smiling as much with his eyes as his mouth and launching directly into his prepared remarks. “Quelle équipe!” he surmised. “The most energized, the most united, simply the best team in Canadian politics!”
The NDP leader stuck to his script on this occasion and his scriptwriters worked in an applause line every third sentence.
“One year ago today, something extraordinary happened,” he said.
Depending on your partisan persuasion, there were at least five ways to finish this thought.
“Not just an election. Not just the launch of Canada’s first NDP official opposition,” Mr. Mulcair continued. “More than that.”
The first Conservative majority since the late 80s? The collapse of the Bloc Quebecois? An historic defeat for the Liberal party? The first election of a Green MP? The arrival of Ruth Ellen Brosseau?
“One year ago today, millions of Canadians began to rediscover their voice in our democracy,” Mr. Mulcair explained.
There was an audible “mm-hmm” from the crowd, as if suddenly we were in church. Which perhaps we more or less were.
“Twelve months ago,” the leader of the opposition recalled, “four and a half million Canadians came together to say, ‘Enough is enough. We can do better than this. And we will be heard!”
This country, he said, will never go back.
Looking back though, for a moment, he recalled the loss of Jack Layton and that remarkable week last August. “But if there’s one thing Jack knew, it’s that when you get knocked down, you’ve got get right back up,” Mr. Mulcair ventured.
On that note, a rallying cry. “Today is the end of the beginning for our new team,” Mr. Mulcair declared, “but more importantly it’s the beginning of the end for a government that thinks it can ignore the voices of millions of Canadians.”
This won a standing ovation. “N! D! P!” they chanted. (At least the anglophones did. The francophones chanted, “N! P! D!”)
He recounted the government’s ills—”the game playing, the secrecy, the equivocation,” not to mention an abortion debate, an “accounting issue” with the F-35 and “hacking away” at pensions and health care.
“Canadians are counting on us,” he said, stressing this last word, “to stand up to Stephen Harper and We! Will! Not! Let Them Down!”
Another standing ovation. More chanting of the party’s initials in both official languages.
Building to his conclusion, he invoked a wheat farmer in Melfort and a fisherman in Gaspé, they having “far more in common with each other than either one has in common with this government.”
“Mm-hmm,” the congregation murmured.
Seizing the sides of the lectern, he made his vow. “We will form a progressive, New Democratic government that puts Canadians’ interests first. We’re ready. We’ve got the team to get the job done. Now let’s get to work. On continue.”
He smiled a great grin of visible teeth.
Three hours later, Mr. Mulcair was apparently still fired up and so he launched quickly and demonstrably into the matter of Mr. Black.
“Mr. Speaker,” he lamented, “after a year, the Conservative record is to choose friends and favour before anyone else.”
While others follow the rules and wait in line, the NDP leader reported, a “British criminal” had been given a blank cheque. “We are talking about an affair of state that the Prime Minister must take seriously,” he suggested, finally wondering why “cronies” were not compelled to follow the same rules as everyone else.
Mr. Harper stood and, en francais, repeated Jason Kenney’s explanation of the day before: the decision to receive Mr. Black had been taken by officials according to the law. Switching to English, Mr. Harper went for the soundbite.
“The leader of the NDP yesterday and again today is suggesting that public servants are taking decisions in these matters that are biased, prejudiced and even racist. He is making these intemperate allegations without any evidence whatsoever. It is entirely inappropriate,” the Prime Minister sighed. “Public servants administer the law, and we respect the law.”
Another round of this—one in which Mr. Harper seemed himself to lament the situation (“It would be just as easy for us if Mr. Black were not allowed to come to Canada”)—and then Mr. Mulcair segued to the matter of ministerial transportation.
“Mr. Speaker, this issue is symptomatic of a government that is worn, tired. Their golden rule is the Big Chill. Orange juice for $16, army helicopters as taxis to go fishing, patronage appointments … finally, the waste of $600 000 for additional hours in their limousines,” the NDP leader reviewed. “When they cut in services, where they tell everyone else to tighten their belts, they are not even able to manage their limousines. When will it spell the end of recess on the other side?”
Mr. Harper ignored the question entirely. “Mr. Speaker, the reality is that this government was re-elected, because the Canadian economy is the envy of the world,” the Prime Minister explained. “This was the case last year, and now it is more than ever. This is the reality that the performance of our economy is greater thanks to the good work of these ministers that protect the interests of working families and law-abiding citizens. Our government will continue in this regard.”
Both sides likely came away from this satisfied.