The Commons: Opening salvos, politely spoken

Let the records show that some civility was seen here today

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. Buttoning his jacket preemptively, Jack Layton did not bother to contain his grin as he looked up at the Speaker in anticipation of an invitation to stand.

Indeed, here the Speaker announced that the House had arrived at the time set aside for oral questions and called on the leader of the opposition to begin. And here Mr. Layton, having earned this hallowed and cursed title, thus stood to bask in the applause of his bountiful caucus.

When the ovation had subsided, he congratulated the Prime Minister and the members opposite on their recent election results. And yet, he noted, something like 60% of Canadians had not voted for a Conservative government.

“Ahh,” groaned various government members at Mr. Layton’s insistence on math.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Layton continued, had promised to work with all members of the House. But, in Mr. Layton’s estimation, the Speech from the Throne had failed to reflect this turn toward sweetness and light. “Where,” Mr. Layton wondered aloud, “is the government’s willingness to work with others?”

As if to demonstrate his own commitment to a new, more civil, House of Commons, the Prime Minister had excused himself from this day of normal business so that he might view the flooding in Quebec. In his place stood Peter Van Loan, that universally revered champion of noble discourse.

Mr. Van Loan congratulated Mr. Layton on his election and explained that the Speech from the Throne had set out all of the campaign promises the Conservative government was committed to honouring in its newfound stability.

Mr. Layton was typically undaunted. ”Mr. Speaker,” he said, “in the election Canadians clearly voted for change.”

There were chuckles from the Conservative side.

“New Democrats have committed to work respectfully,” he continued, “to end heckling and to give this place the decorum that it deserves.”

There were chuckles from the Liberal corner.

“Will the government commit today to do the same?” Mr. Layton asked.

Here then came Mr. Van Loan to make a good show of seeming very interested in a full and mature discussion of public policy. “Mr. Speaker, we are, of course, looking forward to a mandate in which we can move forward constructively on the issues that we talked about with Canadians and to have in this House a debate which is meaningful, thoughtful and focused on policies and the values of Canadians,” he assured the House.

Thankfully here, before this tedious reasonableness could fully take hold, Mr. Van Loan managed a slip. “I know that with our clear mandate, having laid out exactly what we would do to Canadians—for Canadians, we certainly intend to carry through on those commitments and do exactly what we said we would do.”

Grinning once more, Mr. Layton stood to express his hope that the official record would reflect “the sentiment that was just expressed.”

There ended the day’s entertainment, unless one takes perverse pleasure in watching Peter Kent stand in his place and claim his government has a “plan” to deal with climate change.

Everyone was full of congratulations for everyone else and humble thanks for the Canadian voter. Moments of invective were few. Shouted outbursts were rarer still. Government ministers were keen to state publicly how eager they are to work with their opposition counterparts. (It took Bob Rae to offer the day’s first raised voice—and that may have simply been a matter of necessity given how far away the Liberal leader is now seated.) The official opposition was, as promised, studiously quiet. Their questions were entirely related to matters of substance and governance.

The challenge though for this new official opposition is the same challenge that so befuddled its more readily shouty predecessor: the existential crisis brought on by having to daily face a government that maintains an only blasé relationship between what it says and what it will say, what it thinks, what it has done and what it will eventually do.

It was Jack Harris, the wonderfully grumpy-sounding NDP defence critic, who best engaged the conundrum on this first day.

“Mr. Speaker, throughout 2009 and most of 2010 the Prime Minister repeatedly told Canadians that our military forces were leaving Afghanistan in 2011 according to the resolution of the House,” he recalled. “When the Minister of National Defence mused about extending the mission, he was quickly corrected by the Prime Minister’s Office. But in reality, as early as March 2009 the government had put all options back on the table despite what the Prime Minister was telling Parliament at the same time. Why did the Prime Minister not tell Canadians the truth about his plans for Afghanistan?”

John Baird, rising in his new role as Foreign Affairs Minister, answered with Jedi reassurance.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I am pleased to tell the House that the Prime Minister has always told the truth on this issue.”

Mr. Harris tried again.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians are right to question the government’s promises on Afghanistan,” he posited. “For over a year the Conservatives repeatedly denied being pressured to extend our military mission by the United States, and yet we now know the Americans made a formal request for Canada to extend the mission in 2009. Instead of saying ‘No,’ the government just asked them to have patience. How can we trust a Prime Minister who says one thing to Canadians and another to the American government?”

Now it was Peter MacKay’s turn to assure Mr. Harris that these were not the droids Mr. Harris was looking for.

“Mr. Speaker,” said Mr. MacKay, “as the member for St. John’s East knows full well, we have been open and transparent about Canada’s involvement in the mission in Afghanistan.”

As a result of their recent electoral success, the NDP can expect to be afforded something like two dozen questions each day now. We shall see how many of these answers they can hear in response before the urge to sneer and spit across the aisle becomes unbearable.

The Stats. Quebec flooding and the environment, four questions each. Libya, three questions. The new Parliament, the Middle East, Canada Post, health care, Afghanistan, ship building, the public service and affordable housing, two questions each. Poverty, aboriginal affairs, the Champlain Bridge, infrastructure, the military, taxation, trade, veterans, labour, small business and industry, one question each.

John Baird, six answers. Peter MacKay, Diane Finley and Peter Kent, four answers each. Peter Van Loan and Rona Ambrose, three answers each. Pierre Poilievre, Steven Fletcher, Leona Aglukkaq and Tony Clement, two answers each. John Duncan, Ted Menzies, Ed Fast, Steven Blaney, Lisa Raitt, Maxime Bernier and Gary Goodyear, one answer each.

The Commons: Opening salvos, politely spoken

  1. Listen, I’m no Supposed-Tory hack, but it strikes me these questions are pretty useless and essentially designed to trap to responder as opposed to shed light on a particular situation. I personally am tired of “Mr Speaker, when will the Prime Minister admit to having shot his dog, divorced his wife, and sold crack to our school kids?”

    Why the frack can’t the opposition ask reasonable questions? THAT is what I want the Opposition to commit to! If the Government refuses to answer clear, concise questions, THEN we can jump all over them!

    • Rules of the House….things have to be done in a ritual way

    • “Mr. Speaker, when will the Prime Minister stop beating his wife?”

    • I agree. It seems every question is intent on tripping up the answerer, not actually obtain facts. This is probably the biggest reason the house is a joke.

      • Why are Canadians ignorant about parliamentary procedure?

        • Question Period, known officially as Oral Questions (French: questions orales, or période des questions) occurs each sitting day in the Canadian House of Commons. According to the House of Commons
          Compendium, “The primary purpose of Question Period is to seek
          information from the Government and to call it to account for its
          actions.”

          They only seem to want to do half of it’s purpose. That is what causes the House to be uncivil. Not ignorant – tripping up the answerer is not the same as obtaining facts, and not always necessary in calling the Gov’t to account. They fail at more than half their job, trying to score political ‘points’. They can do both, and be civil, if they so desired.

          • That is the purpose of QP, that is not the procedure…procecure requires ritual and no variations are allowed. You cannot even call someone by their name.

            And the purpose of the opposition is to oppose, and provide an alternative

            So yes, they can be civil, yet oppose…in the British parliament this has always meant a rapier wit

            Unfortunately our parliament only has broadswords.

    • Exactly.  Mr. Harris could have asked “Could the PM explain the discrepancy between the 2011 withdrawal date, as cited in the Hansard on [insert date], and the information provided to American diplomats, as contained in these leaked diplomatic cables?”.  At least that way two pieces of contrary evidence are being introduced, changing the question from a simple “when did you stop beating your wife?” to an actual request for clarity on two contradictory pieces of evidence.  It may even lead to a simple answer explaining the timeline of the leaked diplomatic cable and the public record.  Or the government could simply state that the diplomat who wrote the cable misunderstood what the government was telling him during the meeting.

  2. It was boring today!

    • Good!  Now maybe they can get some work done. We don’t pay these people in excess of 100k and give them gold-plated pensions so they can entertain us.

    • If you mean real life, how can it be boring with 3 kids. lol

      The House might be boring, but that might be a good thing (if nothing else, for our MP’s blood pressure. :) )

  3. “”The report reconfirms that the Harper government doesn’t actually have a climate-change plan,” said said the NDP’s new environment critic, MP Megan Leslie.

    She said the numbers show that not only is Ottawa falling far short of meeting its old Kyoto obligations, it is not on a solid track to meet new obligations agreed to last year in Copenhagen.

    “It’s hard not to think that this report was buried on purpose,” she commented.

    Environment Minister Peter Kent has said the big federal moves on greenhouse gases are still to come, with regulations for coal-fired electricity plants and the oilsands expected over the next couple of years.

    He insists that the government has a climate-change plan that involves a slow ramping-up of federal regulations in those areas and others, until emissions are well under control by 2020.”We do have a plan and that plan . . . is working,” he said in the Commons on Monday.”
    ———–

    Kent is right, plan is working. Global warming is not happening. Awesome plan Conservatives, well done. 

    What do you mean no plan, Ms Leslie?

    ———

    Phil Jones, BBC interview, Phil Jones is director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia 

    Q: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

    A: Yes, but only just.

    • So there is an excellent climate change plan even though there is no climate change? Make up your mind which lie you are going to stick with TonyAdams.

      • Con plan has solved global warming apparently because scientists said earth was warming and now they say it isn’t. Other than Con amazing plan, I have no explanation because scientists are experts and always correct. 

        Now we talk about climate change, like it is a problem, but climate changes all the time. What is baseline? What is normal? If climate is changing and we want to stop it, where do we hope to return to? Or is now perfect and we don’t want change?

        Environmentalists talk about climate change, because the earth isn’t getting warmer and Global Warming sounds colossally stupid, but they still have agenda to fight global warming.

        Why?

  4. Is there an office pool?

  5. Imagine that.  The opposition decides to stop heckling and we get an actual media report containing an actual substantive description of an actual substantive discussion about matters of policy.  Keep it up, Jack.

  6. I wonder if it bothers Layton that while 60% of Canadians did not vote for the Conservatives, 70% of Canadians did not vote for the NDP. 

    • Why would apples and oranges bother him?

      • Yes Max, you see, votes for the NDP are good and virtuous votes; whereas votes for the Conservatives are Evil votes.  So it’s different.

        • Do stop with the student mentality Bean, you just sound silly.

          • This facebook thing is irritating, How do you turn it off? I don’t like being treated like a student and I want my old username back! In any case, Layton can’t call Harper on the voting statistics and then walk around pretending he somehow commands more of the vote then the Conservatives do. Hypocrisy is the way of politics I suppose.

    • It wouldn’t bother Layton. The point being that neither party had a support of a majority of Canadians. Jack Layton does not expect to get to decide Canadian policy ignoring the wishes of the 70% of Canadians who did not vote NDP.
      It is yet to be seen if Harper will rule how 40% of Canadians want or if he seeks compromise on issues to ensure a broader support of Canadians.

      • Because Harper gets Layton to agree on something doesn’t necessarily translate into a greater percentage than 40% supports whatever they have agreed on. People vote for different parties for different reasons. They are not monolithic in what they want from the government.

        The fact remains Harper is not going to turn left and if this is what the Dippers want they are in for a huge disappointment and a lot of frustration.

    • Don’t let the facts get in the way of Layton’s talking points. He is an idiot and before long he is going to look more like the fool he has always been. Jack pretends to want to be civil. I have no intention of giving him a free pass. He is turning into the Bloc lite and if the PQ wins in the next provincial election the pressure on Latyon will be enormous.

      • pretty successful for an “idiot”, what a country we must live in, where idiots succeed and greatness like yours is left to troll on in obscurity.

        • I agree. Calling him an idiot would be a stretch considering how far he has taken the party. I’d rate him as “your average politician”. Just as, if not more hypocritical as the others. On a side note, since when did macleans link to facebook? I dislike having my face and name on every comment.

  7. So all it took to bring decorum to the house was to obliterate the LPC. Should have done it years ago. :)

    • Reform/CA/Cons haven’t been big on decorum since day 1

      • You did see the smiley face, didn’t you.

        • LOL yes, but around here that could mean anything

    • I think you could have predicted more civility under this scenario, I certainly did.  The CPC and the Dippers are as happy as could be:  the CPC, because they have a majority, and the Dippers, because for the first time in their existence, they’re the official oppo.  Even Lizzie May is happy because she’s finally won a seat.  The only people that are unhappy are the LPC, and they’re so busy trying to pick up the pieces they’re not really going to be front and centre giving Harper trouble.  Plus they’re no threat to him at all now, so he barely cares about them.  Same goes for the BQ.  It’s a recipe for civility, at least in the early days.

      • Any majority govt is more civil than a minority one

        However, Cons still intend to play the underdog

      • It will get messy. It is the setup, and it needs to change.

      • I dont’t know Bean, out here in B.C. we have the far right up against the far left, and it certainly  hasn”t brought civility to the Leg.  I think you’re a little premature on this.

  8. I was struck by government ministers’ (particularly veterans) inability to conjure up a few relevant facts to answer the questions. If everything is under good stable management, it seems strange that most answers began with lengthy congratulations and thanks … and ended with ” … for all Canadians”.

    Surely competent Canadian government ministers can (with help, of course) still muster and present facts and cogent arguments regarding their portfolios after half a decade in power.

    • ROTFLMAO

      You funny guy you.

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