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The Commons: The weight


 

The Scene. As the House settled in for another Question Period, John Baird wandered by for a chat with the Prime Minister. Stephen Harper nodded. James Moore stopped and dropped off a piece of paper. Mr. Harper looked it over and nodded. Jim Flaherty leaned over to say something. Mr. Harper nodded. Only when Rona Ambrose came over to retrieve a document from his desk did the Prime Minister offer an identifiable grin.

He rose twice, both times to join members in a salute to a distinguished individual of the public service who had suddenly passed. Otherwise, he sat with his hands folded in front of him, reviewing paperwork as he waited for QP to begin.

At just past 2:15pm, the Speaker called for oral questions and Michael Ignatieff rose to ask the first. Mr. Harper looked up impassively for a moment, but otherwise held his pose. 

“Mr. Speaker, the government continues to set records, but of the worst kind,” Ignatieff began. “December saw a 50% increase in personal bankruptcies. January was the worst month for job losses on record. Now in February for the first time in 30 years Canada is running a serious trade deficit … What steps will the Prime Minister take to regain our position as an exporting nation?”

The Prime Minister removed his ear piece, placed it on his desk in front of him and stood. He buttoned his suit jacket and fiddled with his left cuff. His answer was fairly perfunctory, perhaps a bit pouty.

“Mr. Speaker, you will know that these trade numbers are conditioned by a couple of factors: obviously the weaken in world trade markets and the sudden drop in the value of Canadian exports. At the same time we do expect the change in the value of the Canadian dollar to help that situation, but in the meantime we and all governments of the G20 are trying to stimulate the world economy through a series of coordinated measures that we are taking here in Canada and elsewhere,” he said. “I would say to the leader of the opposition, who has no economic policies of his own, to help us by getting on with passing these important measures.”

All of which may or may not confirm the reported suspicion that our Prime Minister is currently wrestling with a personal recession of sorts.

In truth, it is difficult to know. Or, rather, it’s difficult to say. Difficult to explain what’s changed. Aside, of course, from everything about the world around him.

Mr. Harper was asked not long ago, on the third anniversary of his government, what had changed in him over the course of these last thousand days.

“I guess I’d like to be able to say that after three years the job has become easier and you’re more used to it and you’re more accustomed to some of the aspects of it,” he said while in New Brunswick for a pond hockey tournament. “And, look, while I enjoy the job greatly, on a certain level, I can’t fool people… I feel the weight of the responsibility, as intensely now as I did then. Particularly, obviously, with the great challenges our country has in this global recession.”

He continued, perhaps in hopes of a summation. “So, look, it’s the best experience of my life. I know the day it’s over I’ll always look back on what an honour it’s been,” he said. “But it is an awesome responsibility. From everything to the economy to the people who serve our country in dangerous places like Afghanistan, it’s something, it’s a weight I feel regularly.”

You’ll notice that nowhere there did he acknowledge a change within. In fact, he sees none. Which seems about right.

Though inevitably every few months there are reports of an emerging new man, and though it has taken some awhile to pay notice, Mr. Harper is who he has consistently shown himself to be. He is steadfast, something his supporters admire. And the only people still periodically surprised by his words and actions are those who haven’t been giving him enough attention.

Today, for instance, you might’ve thought you saw despondence in him. For the most part he demonstrated only apathy. Head down, hands folded or flipping through paperwork. But then this is how he appears most days. His is a well-practiced show of disinterest—an act undermined only by his periodic smirks or frowns at the partisan debate around him.

At times it must be a difficult pose to maintain. At others it must seem the only possible response.

“Mr. Speaker, this week Léo Montpellier, his wife and their children were devastated by layoffs in Sudbury. Another 680 families are also in the same situation,” Liberal Anthony Rota reported in Mr. Harper’s direction. “Contracts and promises were made and broken, while the government stood idly by and watched these families lay abandoned. Why does the Prime Minister ignore thousands of families across northern Ontario like the Montpelliers?”

Harper, having answered Mr. Ignatieff’s three questions, left this one for Industry Minister Tony Clement.

Rota tried again. “Mr. Speaker, either the minister is not listening to northern Ontarians or he just cannot be bothered. The mayor of Sudbury says that they are not getting the help they need now and there is no hope of any help in the future from the government,” he said. “Last December the Prime Minister went to unprecedented lengths to save his own job. Will he explain to northern Ontarians why he has not done the same for them?”

Clement reported that he had met with the mayor of Sudbury and promised his government was working both “around the clock” and “over the weekend” to help.

Harper stood to take a question from Gilles Duceppe on funding for the arts, then turned the matter over to Moore. Jack Layton rose with questions on trade and stimulating the economy. Harper dismissed both.

The NDP leader changed tact then. “Since Friday the government has steadfastly refused to make any comment on why it has dropped its case against the Liberal Party on the Cadman affair,” he said. “In March, in this House, the Prime Minister said the issue would ‘prove to be in court the biggest mistake the leader of the Liberal Party has ever made.’ Does the Prime Minister now agree with the Liberal Party allegations on the Cadman affair, or is there something else that Canadians should know about why this case was dropped?”

Conferring with house leader Jay Hill, Harper at first appeared to assign this question to his parliamentary secretary, Pierre Poilievre. As Layton finished though, the Prime Minister changed his mind, calling off Poilievre.

“Mr. Speaker, I have already said all I have to say about this case,” Mr. Harper said. “I would note that the leader of the Liberal Party is no longer in his position. Maybe the leader of the NDP had something to do with that too.”

Harkening back to simpler times, the Prime Minister sat back down and laughed at his own wit. Layton, and even Mr. Ignatieff, smirked too.

But then Judy Sgro was up for the Liberals, telling the House about 61-year-old Sydney Banks.

“He is a proud man who never missed a day of work in the last 18 years, his wife is unemployed due to a long-term illness, and they are supporting an orphaned granddaughter through university. Unfortunately, Sydney was recently laid off with the closing of an auto parts plant in my riding,” Sgro reported. “So, with no pension, a minimum severance and EI clearly insufficient to pay the bills, what hope does the minister have to offer Sydney and the increasing number of families who are caught in similar situations?”

With this, the Prime Minister returned to his paperwork.

The Stats. Employment, nine questions. Arts funding, six questions. The environment and immigration, three questions each. Trade, federal jurisdiction, Afghanistan and fisheries, two questions each. Forestry, agriculture, the economy, Chuck Cadma, the flag, national heritage, free trade, citizenship and home renovations, one question each.

Stephen Harper, seven answers. James Moore, six answers. Tony Clement, five answers. Diane Finley and Jason Kenney, four answers each. John Baird, Jim Prentice, Lawrence Cannon, Josee Verner and Gail Shea, two answers each. Stockwell Day and Diane Ablonczy, one answer each.


 

The Commons: The weight

  1. I have no doubt the questioners believe it is politically popular to use the Ottawa-owes-everybody-a-job line.

    Damagingly stupid for the country. But popular.

  2. So, when asked if he agreed with the Liberal Party’s allegations, since he dropped the suit, Harper replied he had said all he was going to say. I take that to mean the Liberal’s allegations were true.

    Actions speak louder than words, particularly no words.

  3. Aside from disgust and contempt, he is a man who shows no emotion and that will be his undoing.

    • Aside from disgust and contempt, he is a man who shows no emotion and that will be his undoing.

      That is blatantly unfair. You forgot angry. Sometimes he gets angry.

      • That article by Don Martin was a total disgrace… nothing but gosip.

      • Yes, but he only gets angry about things that are disgusting and contemptible.

  4. Don Martin and Chantal Hebert are both throwing around some hints today.

    He looks miserable, like the last thing he wants is to be PM during this mess and then face Iggy on the trail. He really, really hates those photo ops.

    I’ve been saying this on these blogs for some time.

  5. Wishful dreaming on the Left that Mr. Harper has had enough of the job and is ready to move on. It appears his disinterest is probably born out of boredom. So imbeciles asking the same imbecilic questions, can’t blame the man.

    • Only conservatives like you elect non-imbeciles right! Yeesh!

    • Please don’t use this as an excuse to cut and run one more time?! He needs to man-up and take (or roll) to his deserved desserts, whether its win or lose at the poll box. I’d hate to see his style of leadership get to fade away without feeling the people’s supreme justice.

  6. I lost my job in 1990 when the recession was starting to take it’s toll. E.I. never covered my bills. I had two daughters aged two and one. Food was tight, bills were stacking up, had to sell some things.

    Thing is I never had an MP stand and ask what the government was going to do for me, nor did I expect it to. What I did do was get a number of part-time jobs, working 16-18 hour days, cut back to only essential spending, and rode out the recession. In the end I had accumulated debt, aged myself a bit, did a lot of tv watching for entertainment,and had the satisfaction that through hard work and sacrifice I persevered.

    All without having my Liberal MP demand the government help me.

    • SIU, for your sacrifice you and your now-young-adult daughters can look forward to escalating debt to pay off, in order to indulge our elected officials’ don’t-just-stand-there-shovel-something fantasy. Alas, congratulations are not in order.

      • madeyoulook!!

        This why we have EI.

        If people have spent way beyond their means, then it will be difficult for them to get a handle on their expenses. And I think this is where the problems lies. A two income family and they don’t save but want us as a tax payer to help them out. An it will be the tax payer that will pay for them. It’s the other family you are paying for, when you pay your taxes. It will hit the middle income wage earner once again.

    • I agree with Suck it Up. Why are the Liberals and NDP asking for the gov’t to help these people. They paid into EI this is were it starts.

  7. Aaron, we are well past the supper hour. And there is no update yet on how a random CPC MP feels about Charlie’s heckuva job, shared with an inquiring bright light in the PPG in a post-QP scrum. Never in recorded human history has a citizen’s day seemed so unfulfilled, as this lamenting commenter’s day seems now.

    • I agree. Surely someone out there (please, Conservatives only) has something to say about Charlie Darwin.

      Maybe if you tell us the name of the reporter doing the investigative work, we can petition the reporter directly for more investigation!

  8. I agree!! It’s terrible that the PM conducts himself in such a manner when he has the opportunity to pattern his actions on those of Mini-Marx. the Perpetually Outraged Dwarf or Iggy the Arrogant and Disdainful, although now that he has an MP’s Canadian pension, he won’t have to worry that he won’t get Canada Pension as he wasn’t here to earn it and his demeanour should improve..

    Why it’s terrible that he does not engage in the theatrics and outright bull $#!T that is available to him. I’ll speak to him about this matter right away.

    Pat

  9. Your insight into exactly what goes on in the House of Common is remarkable Mr. Wherry. Unlike some reporters who simply go with the spin and don’t even listen to what is said in the House, you are able to provide us with a true inside look at the House. This is almost as good as being there for QP.

    • You know how everyone jokes that there are PMO plants commenting at Macleans? I’m starting to wonder if there aren’t Macleans plants commenting at Macleans.

      • yeah, without comment on Aaron or anyone else’s work…. that comment was fairly rich.

        • Check out CJ Creggs comment to Kady on Monday:

          It’s hard to explain how giddy and interested you make me over committee meetings. I wish I could spend the day on Parliament Hill….

          I mean, we all love Kady (and to a lesser degree, Aaron), but the superfluity of cheese makes me assume CJ Cregg is a plant. Maybe Ken Whyte.

          • C’mon Olaf! Mr Whyte only spesks in those tones to our sainted PM.

          • I don’t know.. Kady managed to get me to read the *entire* Federal Income Tax Act. That takes skill.

          • Kady is a national treasure.

          • It’s kody. New assignment. Prepare to be astounded.

      • Sorry to disappoint but I work on the Hill and surely not at Macleans.

        • If you work on the Hill, why would you say “I wish I could spend the day on Parliament Hill”? Upon which Hill do you work, good sir or madam?

          Perhaps you didn’t know that I’m a part-time detective.

          • Claudia Jean ‘C. J.’ Cregg is a fictional character played by Allison Janney on the television show “The West Wing”.

            Nyah, nyah, Olaf. I’m an even better part-time detective.

    • I dunno. Maybe she’s dropping Danny for something younger .. and better ??

  10. Can I look forward to a “smile count” for Ignatieff in the e-pages of Maclean’s anytime soon?

  11. Small wonder Moore came in second place to the PM for standing up to answer questions. This 25 million dollars supposedly dedicated to promoting the ‘Canadian Nobel Prize for Arts’ , supposedly with Luminato, blah blah, has now morphed into some nebuleous concept for which we are still supposedly going to spend 25 million dollars of taxpayers’ money. La Presse has these past few days, and Le Devoir today, give a very good account. I’ll bet Moore will be standing up a lot today – if he shows up in the House.

  12. Aaron,

    As always, I enjoy reading your posts. I just want to point out a small idiom error, which may have been a typo. You wrote, “The NDP leader changed tact then.” The idiom is to change tack, and the language is taken from sailing.

    • Or, maybe he was implying that Jack was becoming more polite. Somehow, though, Baldygirl, I think you’re probably right – correct that is, I didn’t mean to reflec ton what your political leanings might be.

  13. Any momentum Harper enjoyed pre-Fiscal Update is long long gone. There is only one person (OK possibly 2 if you think Irish dwarfs are people too) to blame for this reversal of fortune. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if he is weighing his options for getting out intact before the CONservative party throw him out.

    The problem with burning all the ‘bridges of cooperation’ is that after a while you are standing alone with no allies. That is Harper’s problem and it looks good on him.

  14. But Harper has never held the Commons in any regard and spent most of last year avoiding question time altogether. I suspect he is showing up now just for form’s sake. He certainly has no interest in answering any questions. For the most part, he makes a couple of weal jabs at the questioner and sits down.

    I think Aaron is getting nostalgic for last years’s foodfights – much more fun to write about.

    The questions are also lame and entirely rhetorical, and don’t really even need an answer.

  15. Once again Macleans attacks everything Conservative while Iggy can do no wrong! When will this stop for the love of God!

    • confirmation bias. You can’t help yourself. It will never stop in your eyes.

  16. “we and all governments of the G20 are trying to stimulate the world economy through a series of coordinated measures that we are taking here in Canada and elsewhere”

    We and our counterparts in other countries have agreed that the only solution for a decade-long binge of government-stoked debt, malinvestment, overconsumption and inflation is … lots more of the same.

    • Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. But, then, those who have studied history don’t seem to be able to come up with anything useful, either. So here we are, repeating history.

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