The Commons: The good ole hockey game

If politics is like hockey, then how come Ken Dryden is so woefully out of place?

by Aaron Wherry

Ken DrydenThe Scene. Bob Rae was lingering near the microphones after Question Period, taking questions on Ruby Dhalla’s nanny troubles, when he decided to venture an analogy

“I’ve said many times that politics is more like hockey than it’s like ballet,” he mused. “If you perceive a weakness, then it’s no surprise to anyone that people would try to take partisan advantage of that.”

The government side has taken a few opportunities these past two days to raise the matter of Ruby Dhalla in the House. On each occasion, a backbencher was sent up solemn-faced and seemingly on the verge of tears to read into the record details of the various allegations and ask that a minister rise to explain in further detail how precisely abhorrent the whole thing is. Today, both Helena Guergis, minister of state for the status of women, and Jason Kenney, the immigration minister, were given the chance and carried out their duties with obvious concern.

“Having been at this business for nearly 30 years, I’m not surprised by anything that I’ve seen or heard in the House of Commons the last couple of days,” Rae continued. “I think the point has to be made though that we don’t do public show trials in Canada and we don’t try and hang people on the floor of the House of Commons.”

Indeed, Canada did away with public hanging shortly after it became a country. Thus, we were left with hockey and politics to satisfy our need of bloody spectacle. And so Question Period still serves some purpose.

In keeping with recent habit, Michael Ignatieff led the day with a request that the government make quick amendments to the employment insurance system.

“Mr. Speaker, I think it is very telling that in the run-up to the preparation for this year’s budget we asked the Liberal Party and the Liberal leader for their ideas on what should be done to help Canadians who are going through layoffs in these challenging times,” huffed Diane Finley, the human resources minister, in response. “We received nothing in response, nothing from the Liberals. The very first day after his coronation officially as leader of the Liberal Party what has the new leader come forward with? An idea borrowed or stolen from the NDP.”

“Mr. Speaker, the members on the opposite side of the House seem to want us to do their job,” snapped a scowling Ignatieff. “We are asking them to do their job.”

The Liberal leader repeated his question. The minister moved on to her next point.

“Let us face it, Mr. Speaker, the last time action was taken on this file, prior to us improving it, was when the Liberals introduced the program in 1996 and they gutted it,” she reported. “They gutted it say all acknowledged sources.”

It is by the same logic, of course, that the Liberals plan to fight the next election on Conservative involvement in the conscription crisis of 1917.

“Mr. Speaker, a 360-hour national standard of eligibility will help Canadian families who have lost their jobs. It will provide immediate stimulus to the economy,” Ignatieff offered with his third and final attempt. “So the question is this. When the Minister of Finance said just last night that he was willing to consider our proposals on EI, was this for real or was it just a case of when the cat is away the mice will play?”

This was, apparently, a nursery rhyme reference to the Prime Minister’s being away on travel. A voice from the Liberal side called out, “meow.” Rising again, Finley repeated her first point. Then it was Denis Coderre’s turn to bellow, which was the cue for Finley to read into the record various quotes of various Liberals offering unrelated praise for the government’s budget.

“Oh!” the government benches sang each time the minister revealed which Liberal had apparently said what.

The proceedings eventually came round to Jack Layton. Typically frustrated, he similarly beseeched the government to refigure the formula for employment insurance. Turning to another of her talking points, Finley shamed the NDP side, suggesting that its refusal to vote for the government’s budget was an insult to the unemployed.

Eventually, the Speaker called on Ken Dryden, the old goalie standing tall to wax poetic as only he possesses the self-seriousness to do so.

“Mr. Speaker, in a recession it is harder to keep a job; it takes longer to get one,” he began. “In a recession, Woodstock, Ontario is no better off than Bridgewater, Nova Scotia or Red Deer, Alberta. Recession is an equal opportunity unemployer. When will the minister create a national 360 standard?”

The minister offered neither a yes nor a no. ”While we are increasing benefits and increasing access for the unemployed,” she lamented instead, “all the Liberals want to do is increase rhetoric and taxes.”

That last bit—about taxes—has become a popular refrain for the government side. Questions today about funding for scientific research, the accountability of the transport minister, the availability of credit for the purchase of automobiles and the safety of Canadian pork products were all answered with some reference to what the Liberals might or might not do to federal tax policy should they ever again win the right to form the government. Yesterday, it was an NDP question about the scrutiny of government appointments that prompted Pierre Poilievre to stand and express deep worry about the Liberal leader. On days previous it was government backbenchers—Jeff Watson, Candice Hoeppner, Daryl Kramp and Bob Dechert all with apparently nothing else better to do on behalf of their constituents—sent up solemn-faced and seemingly on the verge of tears to ask Poilievre about the menace of Michael Ignatieff.

Ken Dryden, lacking much patience for this stuff, snapped at Finley.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “that is not the point.”

“Ohhhh!” mocked the government side.

“It is not what the government does, it is what the dimensions of the problem require it to do,” Dryden continued, desperately serious as he generally is. “Over 400,000 more Canadians unemployed. The government is stuck with its own bad lines, ‘we’re doing this, doing that.’ It is not about what it finds convenient to do, it is what needs to be done. As distasteful as the Prime Minister finds government action, as distasteful as he finds EI, it is not about him. It is about all Canadians. When will the government create a national 360 standard?”

Finley repeated her points.

“You missed on the poke check, Kenny,” cackled a voice from the Conservative side.

For sure it is ironic that Parliament’s only actual hockey player seems so woefully out of place in this game.

The Stats. Employment, 13 questions. Science, five questions. Trade, the seal hunt, John Baird, the auto industry, Ruby Dhalla, Afghanistan and immigration, two questions each. Swine flu and listeriosis, one question each.

Diane Finley, nine answers. Tony Clement, five answers. Gary Goodyear, four answers. Jason Kenney, three answers. Gerald Keddy, Gail Shea, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Rob Merrifield, Peter MacKay and Gerry Ritz, two answers each. Gary Lunn and Helena Guergis, one answer each.

The Commons: The good ole hockey game

  1. “Rae continued. “I think the point has to be made though that we don’t do public show trials in Canada ”

    Now that’s rich, coming from a Liberal after they pulled off the Mulroney Show Trial in the House Committee last year.

    That finger pointing circus even included CBC reporters writing questions for the Liberals – one can only assume the Liberals are too dumb to write their own.

    Bob Rae . . . show trail denier.

  2. This bunch astonishes me – and I have seen some pretty dirty games.
    I’ll pick on Helena Guergis again – simply because – to quote Bob Rae – politics is like hockey – you look for the opponent’s weak point.
    Aside from her dubious exploits in her husband’s former riding – which the MSM (other than the Edmonton Journal and the largest newspaper in her home riding – the Alliston Herald) have failed to pick up on – in her very early days as an MP – when she was still reading from Party talking point prompt cards (actually some things don’t change) – an opportunity came up to acquire and commemorate a local historic landmark (a farm where the discoverer of Insulin had lived). As a senior Liberal in a riding that was Conservative at both provincial and federal level, I approached her and said – look this isn’t a partisan issue – let’s get our heads together – and make this happen.
    Helena and her provincial counterpart decided to go down and dirty – making this a partisan and divisive issue – and delaying an eventual solution by at least five years.
    Time to kick the bums out!

  3. If Ruby’s family was using these workers for other than caregiving, then these workers as well as Ruby’s family were breaking the law. Labor law as well as Immigration law appears to have been broken with what appears to be Ruby’s active participation. Resigning a position as a pretend cabinet minister in a pretend shadow cabinet is a pointless gesture. I would be more impressed if Ruby herself invited both the federal and provincial authorities to clear this up.
    I don’t want double talk from Ruby. I want full cooperation with law enforcement as if she were exactly what all politicians profess to be…just another citizen.

    • Actually, the Toronto Star posted a copy of the government forms where the brother described the position as having both caregiver and housekeeper duties. There is also a form from the government saying the position as described had been approved. I don’t see how it could be against the law if they approved it. However, I don’t know the legalities of this program.

  4. Surely Ruby Dhalla’s former political staff would put in a good word for their beleaguered former boss, right? Wrong. From Liberal friendly Susan Delacourt’s blog at the Toronto Star:

    “On Facebook, one of Dhalla’s former staffers reports that he’s “not remotely surprised” by the story and other Liberal staffers have chimed in their agreement. That’s quite telling.”

    No wonder this would-be Liberal star was cut loose as a critic for the party. This one does look like a case of where there’s smoke, there’s fire. She political toast at this point. Can anyone name any leading Liberal female MP’s, other than the overrated Martha Hall Finlay who epitomizes ordinary.

    • Carolyn Bennett!

  5. Let he who has not sinned, caste the first stone.

    • Heh. That one made me chuckle and groan at the same time. It was a weird noise.

  6. Our central democratic institution is a farce. Let’s just meditate on that fact for a moment. And let’s remember that fact the next time we feel the itch to pat ourselves on the back for our splendiferous democratical virtue.

    • Finally a Liberal who has the courage to speak the truth on the Ruby Dhalla nanny scandal, if these allegations are true she should do the honourable thing.

      • Jack’s spoken the truth alright, but not any truth a hyper- partsan like you would recognise.

      • In fairness, she’s taken the first honourable step. But I agree that she should resign if the allegations are proved to be true. The allegations are truly appalling.

        • I agree. If the allegations are true, it is disgusting that any Canadian would behave this way, let alone a respected Member of Parliament.

  7. dryden has lost his mind. he’s an angry old blowhard now. sad.

    • I’d say your the blowhard but no one would care who you are anyways. Maybe you’re in the Tinfoil Hat Hall of Fame somewhere?
      If the allegations are true, this should be more than just a resigning thing.
      But the key is there has to be a process of investigation before justice can be dished out. What we have here is she-and-she says, she says story.
      But hey, pinning guilt on someone before any facts could be weighed worked well for Harper in the Arar case, didn’t it? Strange that this all came to light immediately after the Liberal convention, and that Harper is out of town. Just a little puzzling.

      • Can’t Ignatieff elicit the facts from Ruby? He should tell her to come clean with him and if this is true she should be kicked out of caucus. Ruby Dhalla is still a Liberal caucus member.

  8. “Parliament’s only actual hockey player”?

    Have you forgotten the Senate? I think Frank Mahovlich should count as an “actual hockey player”…

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