The Commons: Stephen Harper’s real world

Back in Ottawa, the opposition seemed unpersuaded by Harper’s assurance that we are “on the right course.”

by Aaron Wherry

harperThe Scene. Stephen Harper is not one to leave well enough alone. So having spoken hopefully of his government’s plans to build parking spaces in the Toronto suburbs, a pedestrian overpass in Surrey and a library in Weymouth, his voice switched to a more ominous tone and his pointy finger started wagging near the bottom of the television screen.

He took direct aim at the Liberal leader, informing the viewing public that his rival had vowed “unequivocally” to raise taxes—news that will surely come as some surprise to even Mr. Ignatieff. He bemoaned the boogie men and women of the opposition who continue to insist their majority of seats in the House of Commons holds sway over his 37 per cent mandate. And he warned that only “needless political instability” could harm us now.

The Prime Minister does like to make dramatic-sounding pronouncements. Take, for instance, that moment in late September when he said “the only way” the country would fall into recession was if we were collectively crazy enough to choose Stephane Dion over him. Or that editorial, published on election day a few weeks later, when, with the stock market gone wobbly, he vowed “never” to take the country back into deficit.

Of course, you’ll forgive him if those assertions now seem a bit silly. Indeed, it is entirely unfair to impose the consistency of actual reality on Mr. Harper. A bit like asking Al Pacino to play the same character in every one of his movies. Though perhaps that’s a bad example.

On the matter of needless political instability, the Prime Minister can at least claim some expertise. Indeed, having promised neither a recession nor a deficit, Mr. Harper returned to Ottawa last fall not quite ready to acknowledge either. Having to seem though like he was doing something, he offered to bankrupt the opposition parties. What would come to be called an “unprecedented democratic crisis” ensued. He identified his opponents as enemies of the state, then kindly asked the Governor General to shut down Parliament so that he might avoid losing a confidence vote. In a recently published book, a collection of academics spend several dozen pages agonizing over it all. (Six months later, with his poll numbers in Quebec described as dismal, news comes that he’s hired a disciple of Lucien Bouchard to sell francophones on the Conservative cause, thus officially exhausting irony as a concept.)

Nonetheless, by the end of January, Mr. Harper was ready to deliver a budget. It included a 120-day deadline on stimulus spending and a $34-billion deficit, neither of which are still acknowledged.

So it was that Mr. Harper retreated today to the comfort of the sort of scenery in which he campaigns, staging an infomercial in Cambridge with your special guest host Senator Mike Duffy, the former newsman now flirting rather aggressively with self parody. The speech, with a representative sample of Typical Canadians arranged in the background, was a sturdy review of recent government press releases. Mr. Harper was to take a few, surely unscripted, questions afterwards, but both news networks cut away, each apparently taking more interest in the WHO’s announcement of a swine flu pandemic.

Five hundred kilometres to the north, in the traditional (which is to say old-fashioned, which is to say antiquated) arena of our democracy, opposition members remained insistent in their right to ask altogether uncomfortable questions. All seemed entirely unpersuaded by Mr. Harper’s assurance that we as a people are “on the right course.”

David McGuinty led the day with two questions about our medical isotope shortage, then one about recent swine flu outbreaks in aboriginal communities. The Bloc asked how much of the government’s announcement spending had actually been spent and why the Prime Minister would be waiting until the fall to consider fixes to the employment insurance system. Gentleman Jim Flaherty, left behind by Mr. Harper’s travelling road show, stood to bravely declare his economic efforts to be the envy of the world.

Then Jack Layton rose to speak, the NDP leader knowing a thing or two about putting on a good spectacle.

“Mr. Speaker, holding some kind of weird Mike Duffy Live show instead of reporting to the House will not change the facts,” he ventured. “The fact is that the money is not flowing. The minister should not ask me. He should ask the mayors. At the FCM convention in Whistler, they were very clear on this. The mayor of Kitchener said that most stimulus projects are still waiting for approval. The mayor of Toronto added that although there has been announcements, very little money has hit the ground.”

His time expired and the Speaker turned the proceedings over to John Baird. The Transport Minister proceeded to reannounce one of his recent announcements, then accuse the NDP of either “negatism” or “negativism” (the transcript records the latter, this ear heard the former).

Mr. Layton though was in a happy mood, barely able to keep from laughing. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is holding some kind of gong show outside of the House of Commons instead of being here to answer questions,” he said next. “He had the gall to slap a windmill on his propaganda. Is that some kind of joke? A windmill? This is on the day when we learn from this infamous tape from the Minister of Natural Resources that the money earmarked to support wind energy was transferred, guess where? No surprise, to the oil patch.”

Jim Prentice, the environment minister, declared himself deeply offended by Mr. Layton’s tone. “Mr. Speaker, you should tell the honourable member what should not be happening is the nonsense he is spreading in the House of Commons,” he said.

Then it was back to difficult questions for which the government could muster no snappy retort. Save, of course, for Lisa Raitt’s periodic assertion that much of everything that currently ails us can be traced back to Ralph Goodale.

“Mr. Speaker, today and every week day in Canada three families will sit in their doctors’ offices and be told that their child has cancer,” reported Liberal Carolyn Bennett. “Eight hundred and fifty children are diagnosed every year, 135 will die. The parents will be told that the prognosis and treatment will depend on the results of a bone scan. Bone scans for children require technetium 99. There is no safe alternative. Will the minister guarantee that the children with cancer will get the scans they need when they need them?”

Rising to respond, Leona Aglukkaq fell well short of such a commitment. Ms. Bennett was displeased. ”Mr. Speaker, the minister has to stop misleading Canadians,” she charged. “There is no plan.”

The Conservatives howled in besmirchment, Mr. Baird taking particular offense at Ms. Bennett’s insinuation.

Ken Dryden invoked the concerns of a patient diagnosed with cancer. The Conservative members, typically quick to mock the big goalie, kept quiet. “The minister talks about all she is doing. The Minister of Health talks about using alternative treatments. They make it sound as if one plus the other is the answer, not just the best answer they have but the full answer for me, the patient,” Dryden said. “However, the medical experts tell us in spite of what they are doing, we have a crisis, that the one plus one of the ministers does not equal two and I, as the cancer patient at home, has to live in the shortfall. As that patient, tell me where I stand.”

Ms. Aglukkaq pitched him on the qualities of thallium and sodium chloride.

For good measure, Pat Martin wondered aloud about this country’s exporting of asbestos. “Mr. Speaker, more Canadians die from asbestos than from all other occupational diseases combined, yet Canada continues to be one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world. We will not use it ourselves, yet we dump over 200,000 tonnes per year into underdeveloped nations,” he reported. “Without exaggeration, we are exporting human misery on a monumental scale. Canada’s asbestos policy is morally and ethically reprehensible. How, in all good conscience, can the Minister of Natural Resources continue to promote and subsidize this deadly industry?”

Christian Paradis, pride and joy of Thetford Mines, Quebec, attempted reassurance.

In the middle of it all, an exasperated Geoff Regan had stood and begged. “Mr. Speaker, these are straightforward questions,” he huffed. “And Canadians are entitled to straight answers.”

Mr. Regan was being unreasonable. And so long as he persists in this thinking, the Prime Minister is well-advised to stay as far away as possible. Indeed, what with the portability of television technology these days, he need not necessarily ever return.

The Stats. Chalk River, 14 questions. The economy, eight questions. The environment, four questions. Swine flu, employment, aboriginals and asbestos, two questions each. The Congo and fisheries, one question each.

Lisa Raitt and Leona Aglukkaq, eight answers each. Jim Flaherty and Jim Prentice, five answers each. John Baird, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Chuck Strahl and Christian Paradis, two answers each. Lawrence Cannon and Gail Shea, one answer each.

The Commons: Stephen Harper’s real world

  1. I'm glad someone else watched the doc on the exportation of asbestos. I found it disturbing.

    • Pat Martin's question was not prompted by last night's documentary on CBC's The National. He has been raising this issue for many moons.

      • Good to know, thanks

        • Common mistake, CQ. Tonight's National gives said doc credit for "raising a fuss in Ottawa," or words to that effect. In truth, the CBC most likely got the idea from Pat.

    • Not only has he been on this for years, he worked in a mine himself. I can't remember whether it was asbestos or not, though…

  2. These partisan shots were brought to you through the generosity of public funding from taxpayers like you.

  3. Sodium chloride? You mean, like, salt?

    • Sodium chloride is the same thing as table salt. I think our intrepid parliamentary reporter must have misunderstood what the Minister of Health was actually saying.

      • From the rush transcript of QP distributed to the press gallery…

        "Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the medical experts have provided alternative options that are available for physicians. Of the alternatives that are available now, over 50% of the TC99 isotopes are for heart scans, thallium can be used an alternative in many of these cases. The next largest use of TC99 isotopes is for bone scanning. Again, there is an alternative, sodium chloride, which is available now. We have approved clinical trials and special access program requests."

          • Speaking of grano cum salis I see you've overtaken me in the Xp horse race, you b_____d! (shakes fist angrily)

            My first attempt to reply contained the word b_____d spelled out fully, which was apparently too much for ID (although f__k seems permissible).

          • Hmmm, and ID seems to have rewarded you for your b______disation with another 1p. That is justice?

          • It's all about the experience points. Once you reach 100 points, you become a Level Two Commenter and you get special magic powers! It's exciting! I've been practicing my "summon Wherry" spell.

          • LOL ! I'm more looking forward to "Dispel sf" — Level IV, when it makes him quack like a duck.

        • She obviously meant sodium fluoride. Subtle difference – either she misread the word, or the transcript writer misunderstood what she said.

          • Toothpaste?! Why imagine the breakthroughs! :)

      • From the rush transcript of distributed to the press gallery…

        "Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the medical experts have provided alternative options that are available for physicians. Of the alternatives that are available now, over 50% of the TC99 isotopes are for heart scans, thallium can be used an alternative in many of these cases. The next largest use of TC99 isotopes is for bone scanning. Again, there is an alternative, sodium chloride, which is available now. We have approved clinical trials and special access program requests."

    • That'd be sodium fluoride (NaF). But could you imagine if table salt had powerful medicinal properties? Naturopaths and their quacky friends would go out of business. *sigh*

      • Well, iodized table salt does have medicinal properties.

        But in this context that doesn’t really matter.

      • uummmm Sodium Fluoride is still as unradioactive as table salt. Unless…

        "In medical imaging, fluorine-18-labelled sodium fluoride is used in positron emission tomography (PET). Relative to conventional bone scintigraphy carried out with gamma cameras or SPECT systems, PET offers more sensitivity and spatial resolution. A disadvantage of PET is that fluorine-18 labelled sodium fluoride is less widely available than conventional technetium-99m-labelled radiopharmaceuticals."

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_fluoride

  4. Seriously though – how can the PM believe half the crap that he spins out to the public these days. Do you think he weeps when he's alone? Weeps for the ideologue he used to be before his ego took over and made him a power hungry zealot that will stop an nothing to hold on to his post?

  5. This blog should be required reading for all those election-weary Canadians who say they don't want another election.

  6. I would suggest that "Senator Mike Duffy, the former newsman now flirting rather aggressively with self parody" has gone beyond flirting and moved on to frottage. He's dry-humping self parody like Hendrix used to do to his stage.

    • But Hendrix had a talent to support his excess.

      • But Duffy has excess to support no talent.

  7. The Conservative government insists on saying that they do not want an election yet, they use their Opposition mandated economic report to make a slick (alright, that's a stretch, Mike Duffy could never be defined as slick), all-out partisan stump speech.

    Meanwhile, in the House, things are as venomous as they've ever been (and much more dysfunctional than last year).

  8. Nonetheless, it's good to know it is receiving attention from other quarters.

  9. ..and guess who may come back to the Commons:

    http://www.garth.ca/weblog/

    Garth Turner could be the area's next Member of Parliament, if some local Liberals get their way. The high-profile ex-MP, bestselling author and financial guru has been invited by the Dufferin — Caledon Liberal Association to throw his hat in the ring for a federal election, expected later this year. Turner recently moved back into Caledon, where he is restoring the 1855 Cataract Inn. He said he's pondering his options, adding he expects to make a decision in the next week or so.

    Dufferin-Caldeon…that's Tilson isn't it? That would be phenomenal.

      • My interest would be the spectacle, not the end result!! Imagine the blogging!

        • Turner would lose by a landslide, and he would write another book about it.

      • Tilson's a huge something alright. I wonder how many of his constituents are familiar with his openly hostile and disruptive behaviour at committee. Nasty piece of work, that guy.

      • Tilson's a huge something alright. I wonder how many of his constituents are familiar with his openly hostile and disruptive behaviour at committee. Nasty piece of work, that guy. He chairs Citizen & Immigration, part of the Ruby Dhalla smear campaign.

    • By coincidence, I just posted a link to Aaron's "Harper's real world" on Garth's greaterfool.ca, calling it "the best summation of a day in federal politics ever."

      It is, Aaron, and thank you very much for continuing to expose your ears, eyes and grey matter to the goings on in QP. As I've said before, with you we get the gain without the pain.

      • You're a feverish fan of both Wherry and Garth? Who else? Bozo the clown?

        • ha ha is that Flaherty's Blog?

        • Well, scf, not feverish, but I like the straight talk they deliver, so that does make me a fan of both. Who else? Well, Andrew Coyne, Kady O'Malley, Paul Wells plus a small clutch I read now and then.

          You would want to know my dislikes too, wouldn't you: two-faced SOBs like Harper, his bobbleheads and supporters who see nothing but perfection in their ilk, and nothing but perfidy in anyone else. Ditto for partisans of any political affiliation. Any other questions, scf?

  10. "Seriously though – how can the PM believe half the crap that he spins out to the public these days. Do you think he weeps when he's alone? Weeps for the ideologue he used to be before his ego took over and made him a power hungry zealot that will stop an nothing to hold on to his post?"

    Seriously though – if you think that there is any difference between the current PM's ego and lust for power (and corruption, and arrogance, and bullshlt) and the last PM's, and the PM before him, then I think you must be brain damaged.

    All of these things you hate about the PM – the bullcrap, the ego, the corruption – they go with the job. Only a loser would give away his money and power to strangers in Ottawa and then expect them to manage his life for him with the same diligence and fairness as he would have done himself. Quit it with this loser attitude. The more you play their bullcrap partisan political games, the more positive feedback you're giving them, and the more they're going to walk all over you and everyone else.

    • So it's wrong to hope for better?

      A hint of sincerity and humility from Harper could probably earn him back a few easy points in the polls. Instead he seems to be escalating to a losing course of action in recent weeks.

      • It says right on the back of the CON membership card — abandon all hope. Ideals and principles regretfully declined.

    • I have many issues with Chretien and more with Martin but neither of them were at all ideological.

  11. Jack, you bastard! You've pulled ahead of me in Xp!

    • I know, and it's rather preposterous, since you've been commenting up a storm and I've been more dour than ever (owing to withdrawal). Hmm, I hope there isn't some kind of lesson here . . .

  12. I think he still holds the Alberta Agenda in his pocket.

    • to make F150s mandatory driving for all Canadian males?

  13. "David McGuinty led the day with two questions about our medical isotope shortage…."

    no

    really

    What''s it take for a member of the press to step up and say it was obvious by the answers the isodope twins have no fricking clue what their people are up to?

    • Could the isodope twins even understand what their people are telling them? Reading some of the isotope debate here I've seen some Highly Enriched Ethymology.

      • I've seen nothing that tells me either of them have even had the chance to try. Raitt's been turned into the blunt end of a hatchet and Aglukkaq's got so many PMO strings attached to her she looks clastrophobic well beyond character.

        It looks to me like their deputy ministers are reporting to two offices.

  14. Diagnosis: Partisan Delirium.

  15. Why does Harper hate Parliament so much? He never wants to be in the House of Commons. What is he scared of? Is he a real leader?

  16. Another well played move by the PM and judging by the amount of space being rented out criticizing it rather than dealing with the underlying issue then you simply have to give credtit where credit is due. The bottom line is what the heck is poor Iggy going to do now as he is watching himself morph into a clone of Dion! I love canadian politics.

  17. "Another well played move by the PM …"

    Moist.

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