The Commons: Repeat after them

John Baird does his best impression of a television ad

The Scene. Yesterday and again today, the Prime Minister apparently decided that it was in “Canadians’ interests” that he excuse himself from Question Period. If the House of Commons isn’t going to listen to him, it seems he isn’t going to listen to it. Indeed, given yesterday’s unpleasantness, it seems possible that he has decided to seal himself inside his campaign bubble a bit early.

In his place these last two days, Mr. Harper has sent John Baird, now seeming the human equivalent of a television ad. In the space of 45 minutes and 16 responses, Mr. Baird managed this day to use the word “coalition” nine times. This was followed in frequency by the words “unnecessary” and “unstable” with four appearances each. Not to be outdone were “risky” and “reckless,” which were each employed thrice.

But first, a word of support for the troops.

This much came in response to a question about post-secondary education. “Mr. Speaker, well beyond high school, advanced skills and learning are an absolute necessity for Canadian young people in a very competitive world,” Liberal deputy Ralph Goodale ventured off the top of Question Period, “but it is expensive. Two-thirds of Canadian families do not think they can afford to send their kids to university, college, technical school, or apprenticeships. Their futures are at risk.”

And then, a question. “In the Conservative regime’s twisted priorities,” Mr. Goodale wondered, “why is it spending a thousand times more on stealth fighter war planes than on students trying to get to school?”

Over then to Mr. Baird. “Mr. Speaker, we want to ensure that the young men and women who serve in our air force are protected and have the best equipment to keep us safe,” he enthused. “These men and women are putting their lives on the line to serve Canada. The best that they can hope for is that the Government of Canada will be as supportive of them as they are of this great country.”

Mr. Goodale, assuming the voice of the Liberal campaign to come, was not convinced to cease with his questions. “For low-income seniors, the Conservatives offer a paltry $1.15 a day. The junior finance minister compares it to depression relief in the dirty thirties. Well that is a dirty insult,” he said, enjoying one last opportunity to wag his right index finger before the campaign begins. “Why did this regime waste more money in one day on the gluttonous G20 binge last summer than it would provide to low-income seniors for a whole year?”

From his extended pronunciation of “gluttonous,” it was apparent that Mr. Goodale had taken great delight in scripting it.

Here Mr. Baird was apparently compelled to attempt his own math. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the Liberal Party of Canada wants to waste $400 million on an unnecessary and reckless election.”

In fairness to Mr. Baird, elections do cost money. In fairness to the principles of accurate accounting, Mr. Baird seems to overestimated here by approximately $100-million.

Undaunted, Mr. Baird next attempted to explain for the benefit of the House what was really going on here. “The real scandal here,” he said, “is that the Liberal-led coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois would not even accept the democratic will of Canadians. Worse yet, they would not be open and transparent about it. Unlike the reckless, Liberal-led coalition, this government wants to put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of the hard-working people who built this country, seniors living on modest incomes, rather than spend that money on an unnecessary election.”

As a compendium of talking points, this response was athletic in its construction.

Mr. Goodale was quick enough on his feet to ad-lib a retort. “Mr. Speaker,” he quipped, pointing a finger at the government side, “nobody would take lessons on democracy from this crowd.”

The Liberal deputy then attempted a compendium of his own—a tying together of perhaps a dozen strings to form a veritable quilt of disappointment.

“Conservative contempt for students, seniors and young parents needing child care. Conservative contempt for families looking after sick or aging loved ones at home. Contempt for Parliament and taxpayers, hiding $70 billion and falsifying documents. Conservatives hauled into court on election fraud and investigated by the RCMP for influence peddling,” he reviewed. “Applying these Conservative standards, is this how a twice bankrupt, disbarred lawyer and convicted felon gets to be the chief of staff to the Prime Minister?”

Whatever Mr. Goodale’s admonishment, Mr. Baird moved here to assert an understanding of constitutional convention that not even the Prime Minister seems entirely to support.

“Mr. Speaker, one of the most fundamental traditions in Canada, one of the most fundamental parts of our liberal democracy, is that the person with the most votes wins,” Mr. Baird declared. “The Liberal Party is showing outrageous contempt for Canadian voters by saying that it does not matter which government they elect, it will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois and make reckless decisions from an unstable government.”

It is on this note—containing within an implicit suggestion that individual MPs are elected primarily as warm bodies to fill the requisite seats necessary to make someone Prime Minister—that Parliament now nears dissolution. Perhaps while it’s away, its members and its prospective members can think over this question of what precisely it is they do for a living.

The Stats. The budget, 14 questions. Ethics, 12 questions. Energy, five questions. The F-35 purchase and taxation, two questions each. Government contracts, foreign aid and crime, one question each.

John Baird, 16 answers. Lawrence Cannon and Keith Ashfield, four answers each. Jim Flaherty, Diane Finley, Leona Aglukkaq and Rona Ambrose, two answers each. James Moore, Stockwell Day, Christian Paradis, Tony Clement and Vic Toews, one answer each.




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The Commons: Repeat after them

  1. Well, I'm not sure why Harper was not in attendance today, but just for a little perspective:
    http://howdtheyvote.ca/member-stats.php?o=aw_dd&a

    Notice who's name is at the top of the list if you organize by "absences".

    P.S. *Sigh*, rating, get ready to take another nose dive :(

  2. I thumbed you down just to get things started. Let's see if we can get you down to -40! ;-)

    Good point, though. Ignatieff sure has a lot of absences.

  3. A very interesting link; I enjoyed playing with the table. Very interesting to note that Conservative MPs appear (on average) to be the most faithful attendees of Parliament (ordering by absences), yet appear to say the least ( after ordering by number of recorded words).

    Control, control, control, I suppose.

  4. Also take a look at the words spoken by the MPs in Parliament. Notice how a large portion of Conservative MPs barely say anything, where the NDP seem to reign at the top? It's amazing how the party with the most amount of seats in the House have so many MPs saying almost nothing. Almost like there might be some censorship going on…

  5. "This government wants to put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of the hard-working people who built this country" – those in the pharamaceutical industry apparently, judging by Tony Clement's plea to Senators to kill legislation that would make generic HIV drugs more easily available to Africa

    Sometimes you have to clean house Take back Canada, riding by riding! Let's get it started!

    Re-elect Bev Oda – NOT!
    http://harpersgut.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/bev

  6. Tories have a 19-point lead in the latest Ipsos poll. I wonder if any Liberals are having second thoughts about triggering an election tomorrow.

  7. While we're all just making up conclusions out of thin air, let me submit this one:

    I count, fully 56 out of the top 100 for absences as being LPC members. So, I guess using our collective powers of deduction, we have determined that the CPC suffers from censorship, and the LPC suffers from what Wherry aptly described as a refusal to listen to the House of Commons.

    Truly it is a sad day for democracy in this fair land of ours.

  8. Yes I was remiss in not noting the elevated number of absences on the Liberal bench.

    NDP members on the other hand, seem to both attend and participate.

    Very nice data set!

  9. Also fewest dissensions.

  10. What's with people and the odd "coalitions are evil" attitude? And at what point in this lead up to the possible election has any Liberal, NDP or Bloc (and Green Party) member made any mention of a coalition that's on the table?

    If you were to do a bit of research into coalitions in other democratic countries, many coalitions are significantly more stable and productive than our current string of minority governments. Heck, in the UK the current parliament is a coalition government is a Conservative-Liberal Democrat (UK version of our NDP) coalition, and things still seem to be getting done (though not without some controversy, but controversy seems to come no matter the government these days).

    Stop listening to the lies and unnecessary attack ads and start looking at the issues facing Canadians. You'll realize that such evil things like coalitions, proportional representation, etc. are no where near as evil than you keep hearing…

  11. I really hope that reputable non-partisan organizations like leadnow.ca really make an effort to reach out to voters and get people engaged in politics again. At the rate voter apathy is growing, we're likely to see very little necessary change this time around, and we're only going to perpetuate this vicious minority-government and constant election cycle.

  12. If history is any indication, isn't this about when the Tories fall out of majority territory?

    Just sayin'.

  13. Well considering that the Trudeaumania election (1968) was his best effort and he got 45.4% of the vote running in a 3 party system… I for one would not expect a 43% to hold for Harper (or anyone else) in a 5 party system.

    I do think the Conservatives have probably got a pretty solid 36%.

    Events can change of course.

  14. Decima (March 2011): Con 34% Lib 28% Ndp 17% Grn 9%
    Decima (Election, 2008): Con 37% Lib 26% Ndp 18% Grn 7%

  15. I'm sure there are lots of people in Canada (myself included) who have no problem with coaltions in principle. But there are a lot of people in Canada who have a big problem with any coalition that includes the NDP and/or the BQ. It's not the idea of a coalition that's the problem; it's the idea of who's going to comprise the coalition.

  16. Running nearly endless attack ads will do that.

    Starting an election campaign that puts a limit on such ads may remedy that (along with increased Liberal and NDP ad buys during the writ period).

  17. Well, there are a few conflicting trends. The Conservatives usually pick up ground in the campaign, if recent elections are any indication. But, there's also a tendency for Conservative polling numbers to retreat when they approach majority territory.

    I'm guessing the Tories on these boards figure the first trend will hold sway, the opposition the second trend.

  18. Polls and vote percentages both have flaws as measurements. Since we have a first past the post system; a 34% projected showing might be down overall but if it's more focused in select ridings, it could turn into more seats than a 37% vote count.

    No, I do not support proportional representation.

  19. I guess I would be a little defensive of coalitions too if they included a separtist party out to break up Canada, but no one is saying coalitions are bad, just a coalition that includes the Bloc. People like Justin should stop posting knee-jerk reactions and manufacturing attitudes out of thin air.

  20. Why not?

  21. Baird, now seeming the human equivalent of a television ad.

    But aren't television ads usually short and clever?

    Mr. Baird managed this day to use the…words “unnecessary” and “unstable”…“risky” and “reckless”…

    But enough about the prime minister…

  22. I don't know the British system too well, but I was trying to do a little reading about the situation they found themselves in just over a year ago.

    First, what we call a minority government, they call a hung parliament. I like this. The sense that I got was that there was an expectation that a coalition would be formed, so that a government could be formed comprising of the majority of the members of parliament.

    Second, I also got the sense that the expectation was that the "winner" of the election gets to form the coalition, or at least first chance at forming the coalition. This is where things are murky. Apparently the Labour and LibDems were talking even before the election was over about coalition, but for some reason there talks ceased when the Conservatives cried foul, because they were the winners of the election. Very similar situation to our own, where the Labour and LibDems did not together even have more seats than the Tories, but different than our system because the third winningest party in terms of seats is not bent on separating their province from the country.

    My thoughts: I think that we too should expect that Government be formed by a majority of MP's. Enough of this minority government thing, let's call it a hung parliament, and expect our MP's to work something out in some way. Also, our expectations absolutely should be that the "winners" of the election (I'm talking party here) are the one's who form the government by negotiating support from another party.

  23. It's crazy enough with 4 parties in the House. Imagine 10.

  24. Realistic, you're being quite unrealistic here. Using my words out of context and trying to set up an illusion of which party I support/vote for despite not having any clue for where I live and what I believe are the important issues (and my voting history) does nothing to prove your argument.

    I completely dislike the Bloc, and generally find that they will play to partisan politics (games) more than any other party. However, they are a legitimate and legal party in Parliament, and therefore able to make the same political decisions just as any other party.

  25. If a party puts forth enough votes in a riding in the current system, then it's their's to represent. Their duly elected representative will be responsible for representing the people who elected the member to the house.
    In a proportional representation system, you could face instances where a riding would be assigned a representative based on a national vote percentage. Someone who did not face the voters of the said riding. Unless of course you devise the system so MP's don't have ridings to represent and the house is divided up purely on percentages.
    That hardly seams democratic to myself in that a party list would decide who's in and who's out.
    Think Harper, Chretien and Martin had too much say in who runs for them? Try the system where they decide it entirely.
    MP's either should get in on their own ballot or they shouldn't.

  26. "Apparently the Labour and LibDems were talking even before the election was over about coalition, but for some reason there talks ceased when the Conservatives cried foul, because they were the winners of the election. "

    I wouldn't mind seeing some proof that's what happened. That's not my understanding of what happened. I know that the LibDems and Labour were talking, but I never heard that stopped because someone 'cried foul.' I very much stand to be corrected on that one, but that's not what I recall at all.

  27. I love the Bloq. If you are scared of them breaking up the country you should really check your head.

    Regional politics might tear Canada apart but only because those in the West don't have the balls to create their own regional party to balance things a little.

  28. I meant to sound very cautious, because I never found anything definitive either. I will go search for where I read that. Oh, and it was the Tories who cried foul.

  29. "Second, I also got the sense that the expectation was that the "winner" of the election gets to form the coalition, or at least first chance at forming the coalition. This is where things are murky. "

    I thumbed you down for that. If you're not sure then maybe you should check again.

    Steve has good reason to find this as parliamentary convention in his narrative. In this sense he is an Onanite, refusing his constitutional carriage while fapping himself blind.

    It may be fun and exciting for some but it's turning us into animals.

  30. There are actually quite a few different forms of proportional representation electoral systems that can be used, so one that may currently work in a country such as Switzerland may not necessarily work in Canada.

    There are even some forms that place a significant focus on representation of the riding instead of allowing party officials to decide who gets the seat. I would love to see a move to an election where your choice and the campaigns are more focused on your individual candidate than the party.

    PR is strictly a name given to a group of different types of electoral systems. There is no black and white issue when it comes to PR vs. FPTP.

  31. I thumbed you down because I was simply trying to engage in conversation, and being honest about what I had found in my limited reading earlier today. I was actually hoping someone else might be able to clear things up for me. I certainly did not expect to be told to just go check again.

  32. If I received millions in advertising revenue I'd sing any tune you want.

  33. I did my part. -18 at 9:51 pm.

    C'mon everybody get on the bus!

  34. "our expectations absolutely should be that the "winners" of the election (I'm talking party here) are the one's who form the government by negotiating support from another party."

    I agree it's convention that the GG invites the party with the most seats to have the first opportunity to form a government. In the event that it is unable to do so, there is no convention that prevents the GG from then giving other parties the opportunity to win the confidence of the House. In fact, a variation of this dynamic happened in 1926.

    Hence, I don't believe there is an explicit "rule" that precludes a coalition government that doesn't involve the party with a plurality of seats.

    That being the case, the Cons may end up paying a price for so thoroughly poisoning their relationship with virtually all the other parties and denigrating the legitimacy of coalitions. I view them as the least likely candidate for participation in a post-electoral coalition.

  35. But aren't television ads usually short and clever?

    Baird is more the "$$$ TOP DOLLAR$$ FOR YOUR GOLD!!!!$$$" – style of commercial.

  36. The ethical lapse (self love) that is behind this denial was clearly illustrated by the piercing intellect of Spinoza, who said the following:

    "After man has persuaded himself that all things which exist are made for him, he must in everything adjudge that to be of the greatest importance which is most useful to him, and he must esteem that to be of surpassing worth by which he is most beneficially affected. In this way he is compelled to form those notions by which he explains nature; such, for instance, as good, evil, confusion, heat, cold, beauty and deformity; and because he supposes himself to be free, notions like those of praise and blame, sin and merit, have arisen."

  37. What a fool, is he a lawyer. I am beginning to get sick and tired of lawyers who pad their pockets on the backs of the public.

    I sent this letter to every single member of Parliament AND the Senate, so that the opportunity to plead ignorance is permanently deprived:

    The Rule of Law

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 4:39 PM

    From: "Bob Livingstone" <boblivingstone_99@yahoo.com>

    To: Every Senator and Member of Parliament:

    Dear House of Commons/Senate

    Most Canadians are disgusted by the current practice of the Criminal Compensation Board but they do not understand the politics behind the provincial agency's bizarre rationalization. As long as that is the case, nothing will ever change.

    This is not surprising because most Canadians know little or next to nothing about the law. If however, you have been the victim of an injury and you have been denied entitled compensation, you clearly understand the process. Thankfully, most Canadians have not been victimized in this manner.

  38. These self-serving urges are responsible for replacing the rule of law with bizarre rationalizations that deny justice, and that is essentially the issue that is being ignored.

    I hope that the Government of Canada does not continue to ignore the law because it is supposed to be driven by the values of ordinary Canadian Citizens, not the self-serving, bizarre rationalizations that have been recently exposed.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Livingstone

    Feel free to email me with your comments, let's take OUR Country Back !

  39. Might have to do with the fact there is only so much time per day, ministers normally answer questions whereas opposition parties allow different MP's to ask questions.

  40. That only seems to be a problem for tories when the coalition is with someone else. Bunch 'a hypocrites…

  41. Ah, yes. Like the commercials that come on after 2 a.m. and feature a junior cast member from The Facts of Life. Gotcha!

  42. In our current system, far too many are the "warm bodies" referred to in the article. As long as MPs are nothing more than proxies, then FPTP is a seriously flawed system. Give the MPs more autonomy to vote their (or their constituents') wishes – for starters, eliminate the "party whip". Eliminate, in addition, our tendency to focus solely on the leader and make the actual, local race count for something again. Do these things, and we might just breathe some life back into our moribund system. Personally, though, I think it needs a more radical overhaul.

  43. It really doesn't matter which approach to voting is taken. Each have their flaws and their good points. None of them will satisfy everyone and hence regardless of which one is selected there will always be voters that blame the voting process.

    The problem is in home Parliament works. If a MAJORITY while everything looks OK those that have voted in MPs really get no say….they are opposition but will rarely ever get anything passed because the MAJORITY will always win the votes!

    In a MINORITY the party with the mo9st sets all the rules as to when opposition days are and controls the agenda more so than the opposition parties even though collectively the opposition members exceed the government side number of seats, hence a MINORITY government.

    The change has got to be in how the members of the House are allowed to make policy. For example, if the NDP get voted in for 27% of the 308seats then they get that proportion of time in a year to establish policy that the others have to vote for or against! If the Conservatives get 48% of the 308 seats then they get 48% of that time in the year to establish policy that the other parties vot for or against. The same goes true fro the Liberals, Bloc, Green. Whether there is a MAJORITY or a MINORITY the same approach to the division of time in the year is apportioned. If a party gets a MAJORITY they get more time but NO PARTY gets excluded from getting a chance to move things forward.

    In this way ALL voters regardless of how many seats their party gets have at least some chance of affecting policy in Canada. The others vote for or against and as coalitions are not dirty then a party can work with other parties to help each other move things forward.

    This would mean Parliament regardless of the number of seats each party has are moving things forward in a "working together" approach vs the current arrangement of a government (Majority or Minority) facing a number of opposition seats! I am sure there are good ideas that the Liberals, NDP, Bloc, Conservatives, Green have … I mean no one party has a lock on ideas that have merit!

    Just my opinion!

  44. Fun fact: there is more than one session of Parliament!

  45. What is the expression for that, which Reform and Canadian Alliance members used to use so very often during the Jean Chrétien years?

    Sealed trains? Sane teals? Something like that. Aw, it'll come back to me.

  46. So, as long as it's a coalition of Liberals and Tories it's OK?

  47. The duly elected representative will also be responsible for representing the people who didn't elect the member to the house.

  48. I think that is well said, and I agree totally.

    Note that I was speaking within the hypothetical situation where we did not permit minority rule, but expected a majority of MP's to form parliament. I think that the reason that Harper is able to get away with all his poisonous rhetoric about evil coalitions is because we allow minority rule. If, on the other hand, it was clear from the outset that our expectation is that MP's will work together to form a majority government one way or another, then Harper's rhetoric would not be so easily permitted by the electorate.

    I agree, if Harper fails to get the majority, he will pay for having so unequivocally ruled out the possibility of working with the NDP. (Of course, would any of us put it past him to work out a deal with the NDP, and simply say that he wasn't against a coalition with them, only a coalition with the Bloc?, the only question is whether Layton could stomach that, but hey, deputy prime minister does sound pretty good!)

    (I know, I know, he'll get that title when he forms government with the Liberals….)

  49. IMO, the most obvious coalition partner with the Cons, simply in terms of compatibility of policies and agendas would be the Libs. However, it would be shocking to see that happen, given the scorched earth policy the Cons have used, and the contempt they've shown toward Iggy.

    Nor could I ever imagine any kind of workable rapprochement between the Cons and NDP. The hardcore adherents among the rank and file in both parties would savage their leaders for such apostasy.

  50. I totally one hundred percent agree that that is the way it is right now. That is the situation that our politics finds itself in today, no doubt about it.

    I'm asking us to imagine a different situation. A situation where minority government was not acceptable, and thus, when you, me, and all the other voters deliver a plurality and not a majority, the expectation is that MP's will work it out. This is a situation where we don't give sh_t about how you feel about one another, because as the voters we have not deemed anyone worthy of majority, and so we are asking them to work together in order to form a majority. You see the difference? It is not a minority government, it is a hung parliament. In this situation, our politicians, IMO, would not find it so easy to dismiss coalitions as evil (á la Harper), nor would they need to be afraid to talk about the possibility of having them (á la the rest of them). It would be the appropriate and expected result of the voters deciding on a plurality rather than a majority.

    It is in a system set up this way that I imagine the party that holds the plurality being expected to negotiate with the other parties in order to find support and form government with a majority of the elected MP's. Of course, it's hard to imagine Harper doing this, and rightly so, I don't think he can, or if he does, it will just be another point of attack for those who hate him and think he'll do anything to hold on to power. Now I'm rambling, but c'mon, imagine if we elect another Conservative plurality, and Harper manages to negotiate with the NDP and get them to support him, even giving them some cabinet positions and what not….that would be pretty amazing, would it not, I mean no one is predicting that.

  51. Alright alright everyone….I'm thumbing y'all up in order to heap burning coals on your heads (that's from the Bible!).

  52. He's not the Prime Minister.

  53. Nope

  54. Looks like the worst MP of the last session was New Brunswick's own Greg Thompson.

    With not one word spoken but 38 absences, you can't even call this guy a good seat-warmer.

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