The Scene. John Baird stood and waved to the crowd. The Prime Minister had just identified Mr. Baird as the Canadian official who will be addressing the United Nations this week and the Foreign Affairs Minister—with Mr. Harper still speaking, mind you—rose in his spot and welcomed everyone’s recognition and adulation.
Alas, Thomas Mulcair was not reassured by the promise of Mr. Baird’s presence. “Mr Speaker, he’s busy photocopying his speech at the British embassy,” he chided.
Once more, the NDP leader pressed this matter of the Prime Minister’s agenda for the week. “Two years ago, the Conservative government lost Canada’s bid for a seat at the UN Security Council, a first in Canadian history,” he continued. “This week, the Prime Minister turned down an invitation to speak at the UN general assembly, even though he is already scheduled to be in New York. Has the Prime Minister given up on Canada’s role at the UN? We are merging our embassies with Great Britain, is our delegation to the United Nations next?”
This did not quite convince the Prime Minister to reschedule. “Mr. Speaker, as I just said, never under any government has it been the practice of Canadian prime ministers to speak every single year at the United Nations general assembly,” Mr. Harper offered. “The Minister of Foreign Affairs will be speaking this year. I am sure he will do a very good job.”
Mr. Baird put his hand on his chest and mimed as if flattered.
“That said,” Mr. Harper said, “nobody in Canada doubts, whether they agree with us or not, that the government takes strong, clear and independent decisions on foreign affairs.”
(Mr. Harper is quite right that there is no recent tradition of prime ministers making annual addresses to the general assembly. But Paul Martin did manage to do it twice. And Jean Chretien spoke five times in ten years. And Brian Mulroney spoke three times in just less than nine years. Mr. Harper has addressed the assembly twice in just under seven years. So if this is a competition of some kind, Mr. Harper is not winning. Unless you take a dimmer view of the UN, in which case, like golf, the lowest number wins and Mr. Harper has the lead going into the clubhouse.)
Speaking of clarity, the NDP’s Paul Dewar sought more of it.
“Mr. Speaker, let us get this straight,” Mr. Dewar suggested, “the Prime Minister will be in New York on a taxpayer-funded trip to get some personal goody, yet he will not even travel across town to speak to the United Nations.”
There was some grumbling from the government side at this “goody” remark.
“World leaders are gathering this week to discuss the world’s most pressing issues, but our Prime Minister will not be there,” the NDP’s foreign affairs critic continued. “Does the minister understand that foreign affairs is about doing the hard work of engaging the world?”
“Ohh!” sighed the Conservatives mockingly.
“It is not about making the Prime Minister feel special,” Mr. Dewar concluded.
Mr. Baird now stood to repay Mr. Harper’s kind words, invoking the honour Mr. Harper could not reference himself. “Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister will be in New York. He will be meeting with a number of colleagues to discuss the important issues of the day. He will also be accepting the statesman of the year award by a very well respected group,” Mr. Baird reported.
The Conservatives gave this a standing ovation.
(It is tempting to point out that Jean Chretien managed to both accept the same award and address the general assembly in the same year—two weeks apart, to be precise—but let’s not get too caught up in the minutiae of prime ministerial scheduling.)
“I say to all members of the House,” Mr. Baird said, “every single Canadian can be proud of the principled foreign policy and the leadership of our Prime Minister.”
Mr. Dewar seemed not quite to be bursting with pride. “Mr. Speaker, I guess the Prime Minister expects our new roommate, the British prime minister, to do the speech on his behalf,” he mocked, here demanding that the Harper government table before Parliament any co-habitation agreement with the Brits.
Undeterred by yesterday’s clunker, Mr. Baird now attempting a daring bit of creative equivalency. “I do find it passing strange that the critic for the NDP seems to be encouraging us to have vibrant diplomacy with Iran,” he mused, “but is somehow scared of us having diplomacy with the United Kingdom.”
The Conservative side appreciated this.
Bob Rae, having sat in the corner and waited for his turn, had a quip at the ready when he was finally called on.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I hope the Prime Minister can pick up the Fossil of the Year awards that are still waiting to be claimed by the government.”
The Stats. Foreign affairs and employment insurance, four questions each. Foreign investment, the economy, food safety, the census and the Canadian Forces, three questions each. Abortion, privacy, access to information and obesity, two questions each. Gay rights, education, pensions, trade, prisons, affordable housing, the coast guard and culture, one question each.
Diane Finley and Mike Lake, seven responses each. Stephen Harper, six responses. Peter MacKay and Gerry Ritz, three responses each. John Baird, Rob Nicholson, Tony Clement and Bal Gosal, two responses each. Ted Menzies, Vic Toews, Joe Oliver, Keith Ashfield and James Moore, one response each.