The Commons: The faint sound of disagreement

The era of decorum achieves total farce

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. The Prime Minister stood and congratulated the leader of the opposition on his election. The leader of the opposition congratulated the Prime Minister on his election. In his front row seat, Tony Clement wrapped his arms around himself and mimed a hug to celebrate this new spirit of mutual appreciation.

The civility that we were promised—and which everyone is now monitoring with the sort of close attention and nervous anticipation usually reserved for the rescue of Chilean miners or small children from holes in the ground—is now almost entirely insipid. Newly elected members and newly appointed ministers are applauded for simply existing. Everyone claps for everything and everyone. David Anderson was widely saluted today for apologizing after suggesting that a member opposite had made a “fool of himself.” It is like being in a kindergarten classroom where encouragement and self-esteem and positive affirmation are paramount.

This Decorous Era achieved total farce this afternoon when Conservative parliamentary secretary Shelly Glover thanked one of her opposition critics for their re-election. “Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague once again for returning to this House,” Ms. Glover said of New Democrat Irene Mathyssen. Presumably she meant to congratulate. Hopefully we will soon enough be sufficiently reacquainted with each other that even that seems unnecessary.

In the meantime, this place remains mostly concerned with serious matters of public policy. And whatever this may lack in salaciousness, it does at least allow members of different parties to acknowledge their critical views of each other’s intentions.

First up was Jack Layton with a little thinly veiled sarcasm: suggesting that “as an economist,” surely Mr. Harper would understand the need to do more than reduce the corporate tax rate if he intended to nurture a well-rounded economy.

Er, hiyo!

When that failed to reduce the Prime Minister to tears, Mr. Layton went for more explicit admonishment. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has labelled his $17 billion in cuts to the budget over the next five years as modest. He said his critics are living in a fantasy world if they think that it will affect essential services,” the NDP leader prefaced. “What about the unemployed who cannot get the benefits that they need? Are they living in a fantasy world? What about the seniors who have seen their pensions disappear? Are they living in a fantasy world? What about families without family doctors? Are they living in a fantasy world?”

There were six questions here, but Mr. Layton had apparently not yet posed his actual query. “I have a simple question,” he explained. “What services will Canadians have to do without when the Prime Minister is finished his cuts?”

Mr. Harper assured that he intended only to cut “fat” and find “efficiencies.”

Peggy Nash went next and suggested that the government intended to “frighten” the population with this deficit issue. What’s more, she added, the Finance Minister could not be taken seriously (on account of how often his fiscal projections change). And his plans for corporate tax cuts were “reckless.”

The NDP onslaught did not end there. Wayne Marston suggested the government’s new pension initiative was “risky.” Pat Martin posited that Conservative plans for the Canadian Wheat Board were an “ideological crusade that defies reason, logic and even economics.” And Jack Harris exclaimed that a Conservative member’s alleged belief that higher unemployment might boost military recruitment was “unbelievable.”

To much of this, the government side was unmoved. Most questions of policy and national improvement, you see, have been answered by yesterday’s federal budget. Various other matters will be dealt with in due course. And there is little else you need bother your pretty little head with right now.

Those billions in spending cuts? You’ll barely notice. The expiration of federal-provincial health care accords in 2014? We’ve got lots of time.

“The health accord expires in 2014,” Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq explained to two of her opposition critics this afternoon, “not this year, not next year and not the year after.”

And so, especially in this new era of respectful public dialogue, surely everyone will understand that it would rude to expect her to say anything more for another two and a half years.

The Stats. The budget, 11 questions. Health care and regional economic development, four questions each. Seniors, three questions. Food safety, pensions, the Canadian Wheat Board, aboriginal affairs, crime, employment, the military and Quebec flooding, two questions each.

Shelly Glover, nine answers. Stephen Harper, five answers. Leona Aglukkaq and Diane Finley, four answers each. Pierre Lemieux, David Anderson, John Duncan, Rob Nicholson and Peter MacKay, two answers each. Jason Kenney, Alice Wong, Denis Lebel, Tony Clement, Lynne Yelich and Vic Toews, one answer each.

The Commons: The faint sound of disagreement

  1. I’m sure we’ll have the Mac and Tosh routine for awhile, until it dawns on them they can disagree…but without calling each other names.

  2. M. Dion pointed out the obvious problem in all this nicey niceness when he stated (en français) that it is fine and dandy to talk about how polite everyone needs to be but politeness should also mean that there should be some answers to the questions being asked.

    None have been forthcoming so far …

    • Interesting how that becomes so much more clear when the volume gets turned down.  Point for Jack. 

      • I would say point for M. Dion as Jack is all about the show of how righteous he is where as M. Dion just wants the facts.

        • All the same, I’ll give a point to the self-righteous for a job genuinely well done.

  3. It would be kind of silly for the government to be negotiating healthcare three years ahead of time when the McGuinty government will no longer be in power. The same holds true for other provinces where some provinical premiers could be looking for work after their elections.

    To me the opposition is all over the map. In every question it is all about spending more money. Yet on the other hand they want to know where the government is going to cut. Spend or cut. The opposition is trying to suck and blow at the same time. Anderson is right. They all look like fools.

    • Why is it wrong to be all over the place when we know literally nothing about this “economic” plan. Has Harper ever actually said straight out what “fat” he intends to cut and which “efficencies” he hopes to find? I am not hoping for figure to figure basis cause I know how Cons love to keep their spending records very close but at least a general direction would be helpful.

      • You just had a Throne Speech and a Budget. That is the direction the government is going to take. However, you failed to address the mixed message of the opposition parties. They want to spend but at the same time argue that the deficit must be covered. The direction that the opposition wants to go in is not the direction the government has chosen. They no longer can dictate. As for the cuts. They will come and all will be revealed in the fullness of time.
        However, do you see the old socialist themes developing i.e. poverty and of course the old canard healthcare which is provincial jurisidiction. It already has got mighty boring.

    • I would take issue with your claim that “it is all about spending more money.”

      I would argue that it is all about how much money is the government spending?  Where are the numbers to explain how much the government is spendin gand why ?  Where is the plan to explain how much and where the government is cutting?  Etc. etc. etc.

      • These are all talking points. At some point the numbers will come out and then rather than feamongering you will have some actual facts to base your complaints on. In the meantime it is all tinfoil hat talk.

        You can look at the budget. The numbers are there for anybody who wants to take the time to read it. Yes the announcement about specifics cuts are not there yet. Wait for next years budget. However, I would suggest be careful what you wish for.

        Of course nobody wants their ox gored and so any cut will be a travesty and will destroy the lives of Canadians.

  4. Of course they will disagree, but it will be nice if they can keep it civil, and on point. The NDP was all over the place. Lots of questions, while their platform provided no solutions.
    This will be interesting.

    • Almost like they were in opposition.

      When will conservatives figure out that when you’re in government, it’s up to you to not only come up with the plans, but be accountable for them?

      • are you trolling?

        • Thwim has been here for a very long time….unlike yourself.

          • “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory[citation needed], extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

            Anyone can troll. Most of his comment had nothing to do with what I said.

          • None of which Thwim has done.

            You need to learn more about the web

          • Yes and no.

        • Trolling…are you serious? That’s a perfectly valid observation. This govt’s track record on accountability is dismal -  they lost the confidence of the house over it.  

          • A valid observation that had nothing to do with what I said.

            As to the ‘confidence of the house’, I will quote the Liberal ex Speaker of the House. I think Peter Milliken said it best:

            ” Certainly the media have made big plays of my rulings on production of
            documents, two of them. But, in a majority House, you wouldn’t have had
            those issues come to the Speaker at all. You wouldn’t have had a demand
            to the government, passed by the House, that the government wasn’t
            prepared to meet. So I think that while [the rulings] have some
            importance in terms of the privileges of the House, you wouldn’t even
            have these issues come to the chair in a majority situation.”

            Pretty cut and dry, if you ask me.

          • I had no trouble following the link between his point and yours.Your question could easily be taken as implying it was up to the opposition to ask the right questions and provide the answers. You take a very narrow view of trolling – it’s not even in the ball park.

            C’mon he’s saying that those rulings were important in the context of a minority[ where they were perfectly valid, and had real meaning - they simply wouldn't be available in a majority if that govt didn't feel like cooperating. Without seeing the whole interview i'd have to say it seems to me you're trying to twist his words to mean it wasn't important at all. The fact that they now have a majority in no way invalidated the minority loss of confidence - you're completely misreading him. It's not even logical; since you didn't have a majority at the time[ when it couldn't have happened] therefore it didn’t have any validity at all.

          • Seems to me that no matter what I post, someone will reply with a variation of ‘the CPC is evil’. On point or not.
            I can probably create a link between any two comments, if I so desired. The question would then be: why would I. If it is to add insight, or an idea that would add to the debate, then it is good. If it is to throw in useless or demeaning comments, insult, or other such stuff, just to incite feelings or ‘stir the pot’ – it is trolling.

            Feel free to read the whole interview. This is not taken out of context, and most people who follow politics know this. That is why the majority of the people who were screaming ‘CPC lost confidence of the House’ were either self serving, or ignorant. I am not saying that the motions were not valid, just that, by the nature of our system, hold very little weight in a minority gov’t.

            By the way, I didn’t twist his words at all. I simply quoted him, and added nothing. How can that be twisting his words. They are cut and dry. Why do you think the ‘contempt’ thing has died down? Because it was almost a non issue.

            Funny how you ‘assume’ that I must have twisted his words. Truth hurts?

          • Obviously you want to continue to fight the old battles. You lost. You need to accept that and move on.

          • Don’t be a twerp. It has nothing to do with losing and moving on. The tories lost the confidence of the house during the minority parliament – it’s simply a fact. It’s guys like 99 and  yourself who keep it alive by trying to argue ludicrously that it didn’t count cuz we won the election…have you no repect for process at all?

            “This is not taken out of context, and most people who follow politics know this. That is why the majority of the people who were screaming ‘CPC lost confidence of the House’ were either self serving, or ignorant. I am not saying that the motions were not valid, just that, by the nature of our system, hold very little weight in a minority gov’t.”

            Just look at the clap trap 99 has to offer in defence for instance…full of assumptions, poor logic and non sequiturs. Facts are just that, facts and opinions are NOT facts. Process matters guys, whether you like it or not.

        • Not at all. Your “point” of the NDP asking lots of questions while providing no solutions to them is perfectly in keeping with being in opposition. Your first and second sentence implied that you think otherwise, that, like so many other CPC supporters on here, in the back of your mind you’ve got the idea that if they can’t come up with anything better, they should sit down and shut up.

          The thing is, it’s not the opposition’s job to have to figure out the better answers, it’s their job to simply hold the government to account — making sure that they’ve thought through their plans all the way.

          Of course, this does require a government that not only listens, but can think critically rather than just regurgitating the standard positions.

        • Of course it was reported in the media by a columnist and therefore it must be so. In fact if you read the column the title had nothing to do with the content.

      • “When will conservatives figure out that when you’re in government, it’s up to you to not only come up with the plans, but be accountable for them?”

        Indeed. I wonder when conservatives will figure it out. 

        The grand fallacy of the political left is that decisions are better made by third parties who pay no price for being wrong

        • And the grand fallacy of the political right is thinking that people who can benefit from the decisions they make can’t shift the price on to someone else.

          • I am not sure what you are saying about benefitting from shifting price. 

            You have plan to stop people benefitting from decisions they make?

            Money is fungible ….  are these examples of what you’re concerned about?

            “….. of all Ontario public sector workers who are paid more than $100,000. A total of 71,478 government employees made the list in 2010, up 11 per cent from 2010.”

            “While Canada routinely ranks in the top ten of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – a quality of life indicator based on income, education and life expectancy applying the same criteria to Canada’s aboriginal population reveals some striking figures. Registered Indians living on reserves are ranked approximately 68th, somewhere between Bosnia and Venezuela, while off-reserve Indians are ranked 36th.”

            “In 2002-2003, the average salary of workers in the core public service was $53,000, increasing to $73,400 when factoring in benefits ……. In the private sector, the average salary was $38,885.”

          • My comment is a reply to yours. If you actually understand what you’ve copied, you should be able to understand what I’ve said.

  5. This is the phoney war…it might last till Christmas, or until the full extent of the cuts are known, and just how badly it’s going to effect the public servce unions. By that time we might start to see what the line on Jack will be…somewhere between taliban Jack and socialist wrecker who shouldn’t ever be allowed anywhere near the throne of power. I wonder what the first anti-Jack ads are going to look like? And when we might see them – i don’t give it four years that’s for sure?

    • The CPC will not need to do anything to hurt Jack’s image – he will do it all on his own.

      • yeah right. I’m sure someone offered that advise in caucus before they started in on Ignatieff; for about 15 seconds, before they were shown the door, or told to pipe down.

        Go ahead and wrap yourself in security blankie if it gives you comfort. They did it to Dion and Ignatieff; i’ve little doubt they’ll do it to Jack and Bob if either start to gain any real traction, or if it starts to go south for Harper. The guy can’t handle any real pressure…he eventually resorts to type…he’s a scorpion, alpha dog, whatever. Sooner or later he’ll find a reason to lash out…it’s in his nature. He’s done it to just about anyone who’s ever opposed him…go read what Manning has said about how vindictive he can be.

        • Layton is not Ignatieff.

          “…Jack and Bob if either start to gain any real traction”

          “The CPC will not need to do anything to hurt Jack’s image – he will do it all on his own.”

          • So far so good.  (and yes, I’m being facetious)

        • There is no worry here. Rub and tug Jack will alienate his base in the rest of the country as he tries to appease the soft nationalists in his caucus. He already has a position which is contrary to the law i.e. The Clarity Act. Their convention should be fun to watch. The resolutions will be hysterical and clearly show that the party is still not ready for prime time.

          • “He already has a position which is contrary to the law.”

            FYI, the joy of being a politician is that you can change the laws. Note the CPC position on gun control is contrary to the law. Really, just about everything that gets discussed in parliament is due to some party taking a position that is “contrary to the law” and arguing that it be changed.  Good luck finding someone that thinks the law is perfect.

          • There is one thing I know with virtual certainty that Jack Layton will never be in a position to change the law on any subject.
            Layton’s position is untenable and he will have to change it. The law states that it must be a clear question and a clear majority. 50%+1 is not a clear majority. Even Dion says if that is a clear majority then what is an unclear majority.
            The law is not perfect but for a federalist party to take a position which is in direct violation of the law is not a good thing.

  6. The alleged Conservative’s comment sounds like something a Harperite would say and is why I am increasingly uneasy and wary about my recent enrolment in the military.

    I did not sign up to serve at a foreign international base.
    I did not sign up to support American foreign policy.
    I did not sign up because I was unemployed but if people are then are we getting the best and brightest in our Armed Forces or are we going to get resentful individuals grasping at their last options given to them by this ignorant government?

    • You should not have signed up. They want people who follow orders unquestioningly.

    • Then why did you sign up? There is no conscription in Canada. Sounds like you really are not in the military.

      • Probably because he wanted to.. you know.. defend Canada.

        Some of us feel that should be the primary and sole focus of our military.

        • Thwim…..do you think somebody is going to invade us and therefore he will need to defend Canada per se.
          The fact is we are fighting wars overseas so that we do have them directly attacking us. We are not an island unto ourselves. We are part of a global community and as such we have responsibilities.

      • Getting your hate on the troops, one at a time?

  7. Nothing’s changed. Same inept opposition under another name and same elusive governing party. No vision from either side of the Chamber, no facts, no real information. Same old, except that now it’s wrapped up in melting marshmallow. 

  8. Q: What would be a better punishment?

    A: My urging years ago, when I was not Speaker, was the guy should be thrown out of the Parliament Buildings, not allowed in for the rest of the day. All travelling privileges suspended and his pay docked for the day. Then the guy would start listening to what the Speaker says. Otherwise, you just make a saint of the person. He can hold a press conference and say, I called the prime minister a liar, or whatever the offence was, and I was right. Blah, blah, blah. He’ll get more media coverage if the Speaker threw him out. It’s not a very effective penalty.

    citizens: Hear hear!

    I would really like to know, after we’ve reviewed a few of his favourite rulings, what he thinks of his successor; and his thoughts on what happened behind the scenes when a 32 year old was elected as Speaker of the House.

    What will be the biggest challenge for the new Speaker?

  9. Wherry you  fool, they didn’t say they would stop criticizing each other. Last I checked that’s why the house of commons exists.

    They are going to stop HECKLING each other.

    Have you even read any of their statements on the subject? The leaders have been very clear that this is about bringing substance to the debate rather than focusing on personal attack. I dunno what you thought was going to happen.

  10. Minister Leona Black: Last year was 2010. Today it is 2011.
    We we we so excited, we so excited, we gonna govern with a majority.
    Next year is 2012, and 2013 comes afterwards. I don’t want this accord to end!

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