The Commons: This unserious business

Pierre Poilievre must have a highly developed sense of humour

by Aaron Wherry

The Scene. To his credit, Pierre Poilievre, the fresh-faced and ambitious young parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, does not take himself too seriously.

“We are building the country,” he sighed in response to a Liberal question this afternoon about the in-and-out affair, “rather than tearing people down.”

Now so long as you have paid even a little attention—or watched even a little television—these last five years, you will understand this to be a hilarious statement. Indeed, so long as you do not believe Mr. Poilievre to be completely delusional, you must regard this statement as an attempt by Mr. Poilievre to make a joke—a knowing wink, a cheeky taunt.

Mind you, the punchline here is not merely that the government side hardly lives up to the genteel principles of respect and manners invoked by Mr. Poilievre. Rather, the joke here is that it’s all a joke.

“Mr. Speaker, Conservative election fraud has been investigated for four years. Police raided Conservative headquarters. The fraud was pursued by two chief electoral officers, the chief investigator at Elections Canada and the independent Director of Public Prosecutions, and four of the Prime Minister’s top advisors are charged with serious illegal conduct for which there is voluminous evidence and the likelihood of conviction, triggering fines and jail terms. That is some administrative matter,” Liberal deputy Ralph Goodale reviewed off the top this afternoon. “How is all that not a character issue for the Prime Minister?”

In fairness to Mr. Poilievre, who has been assigned to stand and respond to these queries, the question here was rather rhetorical. In fairness to Mr. Goodale’s side, the government has entirely abandoned any pretense of regarding this matter with any seriousness.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Poilievre sighed once more, “I think the honourable member is referring to the typical back and forth that we could expect from a five-year-long administrative dispute of this kind.”

Mr. Goodale went on and Mr. Poilievre did likewise.

“The Prime Minister is responsible for the people he gathers around him. He sets the standards,” Mr. Goodale finally said. “When local riding associations questioned the illegality of the Conservative in and out scheme, all the Prime Minister’s men attacked them. They were called ‘undisciplined,’ ‘turds’ and ‘idiots,’ Conservative words not mine, but that is the mentality the Prime Minister fosters: the culture of deceit. If he will not ask his senators now charged with offences to step out of the Conservative caucus, would he at least remove the taint of the plumbers being in the Auditor General’s office?”

Here the Liberal deputy had indeed used the words of Conservative officials. But here came another joke.

“Mr. Speaker, the kinds of personal slurs that the member is engaging in will not create a single job for Canadians,” Mr. Poilievre demurred. “It will not allow Canadians to save for their futures.”

The opposition parties pressed on. Mr. Poilievre reached still higher.

“We will continue in this spirit of transparency and we will vigorously defend our actions,” he informed Jack Layton, “which have been in accordance with the rules, the laws and the highest standards of ethics from the very beginning.”

The Liberals turned to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, demanding explanations for their respective involvement in the scheme. From his seat, the latter chuckled as Gerry Byrne accused him of participation in a “Ponzi scheme.” Mr. Poilievre stood to respond on behalf of both.

When it was his turn, Bob Rae decided to make his own joke. “Mr. Speaker, if it is an administrative dispute, I guess all four of them will go to an administrative prison,” he quipped.

Mr. Poilievre was unmoved. “Mr. Speaker,” he lamented, “still not a single question from the Liberals on jobs for Canadians.”

The Liberals eventually moved on to a different topic: the outstanding questions that remain to be answered by a minister who is presently accused of misleading the House. Ms. Oda is now, apparently, able to stand and speak. But her ability to answer direct questions remains very much restricted.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s code of conduct requires ministers to appear in the House and answer questions honestly and accurately,” John McKay reviewed for the benefit of the House. “Who in the Prime Minister’s Office told the minister to cut KAIROS funding? Who inserted the “not“ in the recommendation line? Why did she blame honourable civil servants? Why does she show such contempt for Parliament by not answering questions properly put to her honestly and accurately?”

As he went on, Candice Hoeppner, the highly regarded Conservative backbencher, put her hand to her mouth and let out a theatric yawn. “Old news,” she sighed. “Old news.”

For sure, this business of democracy can be quite trifling.

The Stats. In and out, 13 questions. Crime, four questions. Ethics, three questions. Quebec City arena, KAIROS, the budget, forestry, fisheries, affordable housing and aboriginal affairs, two questions. Veterans, the environment and taxation, one question each.

Pierre Poilievre, 14 answers. Ed Komarnicki, three answers. Rob Nicholson, Josee Verner, Bev Oda, Stockwell Day, Denis Lebel, Gail Shea and Keith Ashfield, two answers each. Lawrence Cannon, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Ted Menzies, Rona Ambrose, Vic Toews and John Duncan, one answer each.

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