The Commons: Stephen Harper begs for clarity -

The Commons: Stephen Harper begs for clarity

The Prime Minister breaks out the soothing tones in his call for reason and understanding


The Scene. “Our government’s commitment is clear,” the Prime Minister said one afternoon two weeks ago.

“Mr. Speaker, once again, the government has been repeatedly clear,” he said the day after that.

“Mr. Speaker, I was very clear,” he said the next day.

“We have been very clear,” he clarified the day after that.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Harper departed for China. He returned to the House this afternoon to pick up approximately where’d he left off. “Mr. Speaker,” he said,  “I think the government is very clear in this regard.”

The Prime Minister’s preference for rhetorical clarity thus established, it is likely worth reflecting on all we’ve heard these last few weeks.

That, for instance, those convicted of murder should be provided with rope and offered the opportunity to commit suicide. That if you should see someone attempting to make off with your ATV, it would be reasonable to fire a few bullets over the perpetrator’s head. That the registration of firearms in this country has something in common with the policies of Hitler. That a refusal to use information obtained through torture might result in “mass death” or otherwise imperil the constituents of St. John’s East. That those who oppose the government’s online surveillance legislation choose to stand with child pornographers. And that the government’s policies on military procurement are derived from the word of God.

It was on much of this that the NDP leader attempted to engage Mr. Harper this day. And it was on the Prime Minister’s absence for much of these declarations that Nycole Turmel attempted to venture some kind of lesson about the philosophical underpinnings of the Harper government.

“Mr. Speaker,” she said, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.”

However much this is an accurate reflection of rodent behaviour, it is almost certainly not a fair portrait of Conservative dynamics.

The Prime Minister assumed office precisely six years and eight days ago. And even if there were a statistical case to be made that members of his caucus are more likely to say silly things when he is out of the country—enterprising political scientists are welcome to cross-reference the data—it cannot be said that anything uttered these last few weeks is particularly beyond the parameters established by the tone and tenor of these last half dozen revolutions around the sun.

“While the Prime Minister was away, a Conservative minister told Canadians to fire warning shots if someone is trying to steal their ATVs,” Ms. Turmel recounted this afternoon. “Does the Prime Minister agree with the justice minister? Does he believe that Canadians should start firing warning shots?”

If the Prime Minister understood the question, he did not let on. “Mr. Speaker, there is legislation before the House,” he noted. “I do not know if this is what the member is referring to.”

This day, he was his usual mix of shrugs, up-turned palms, nods and dismissive sighs. Whatever the question, he talked past it. Whatever the allegation, he sidestepped it.

Whatever else the Prime Minister is ultimately remembered for, he will be recorded in history for two things: being the first Prime Minister to ever sue the official opposition and leading the first government to be found in contempt of Parliament. He once ventured that Stephane Dion sympathized with the Taliban. He once declared that Mr. Dion’s carbon tax would precipitate a national unity crisis. But he will also stand and beg in soothing tones for reason and clarity and understanding. He will pretend that everything else is all so much noise.

“Now that the Prime Minister is here, I would like to ask him how he would respond to the comments of a Superior Court judge in Ontario who stated that the use of a mandatory minimum sentence of three years with respect to the Smickle case would be ‘fundamentally unfair, outrageous, abhorrent and intolerable,’ ” Bob Rae begged. “What is his response to that?”

The Prime Minister’s response was easily offered. “Mr. Speaker, what I would do, first of all, is note that those particular changes passed by this government were in fact supported by the Liberal party and the New Democratic party. I think Canadians believe that the courts have not been tough enough in dealing with gun crime and this government is determined to make sure that we have laws that can deal with serious gun crime.”

Mr. Rae flustered about civility and comparisons to Hitler and child pornographers. The Prime Minister’s eighth and final answer was exquisitely crafted and simply delivered.

“Mr. Speaker, the changes in the lawful access legislation have not only been sought by police to protect our young people from pedophiles, but they have in fact been supported by every single provincial government, every single attorney general, including those who are Liberal,” he reported. “It might be relevant to the honourable member, that includes those who are NDP as well, depending on which side he is on these days.”

Various Conservatives guffawed.

“It is important that among the provinces there really is an all-party consensus on this,” he continued. “I hope Parliament will study this bill carefully and make sure we do what is best for our children and our law enforcement agencies.”

Of everything that has been said this last while, this bit—this Prime Minister, with his history, daring to stand in public and declare a hope that Parliament will study a government bill carefully—is by far the most ridiculous, but the moment passed and Mr. Harper’s day was done.

Sitting back in his seat he shared a laugh with Peter Van Loan.

The Stats. Crime, 15 questions. The oil industry, four questions. Military procurement and aboriginal affairs, three questions each. Veterans, trade and infrastructure, two questions each. Submarines, immigration, Air Canada, affordable housing, Ukraine, the media and foreign investment, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Vic Toews, six answers. Joe Oliver, four answers. Rob Nicholson and John Duncan, three answers each. Gerald Keddy, Julian Fantino, Denis Label and Steven Blaney, two answers each. Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney, Lisa Raitt, Diane Finley, John Baird, James Moore and Christian Paradis, one answer each.