What it means when Peter Van Loan gets upset - Macleans.ca

What it means when Peter Van Loan gets upset

Is there meaning in last week’s question period commotion?


Ralph Goodale attempts to derive great meaning from last week’s commotion.

The altercation followed a fairly minor procedural argument. But it reflects a deeper problem. Since the last election, both the Conservatives and the NDP have pursued a strategy of partisan polarization. Their explicit objective is to drive all other participants off the political playing-field, so they can have it all to themselves. You see that strategy unfolding every day in the bitter polarizing tactics they both employ.

The subtext seems to be that the House of Commons would be a better place if Liberal MPs—those proud centrists who are not so sullied by “polarization”—were more prevalent, but it’s not clear to me what this has to do with last week’s events. What would have happened differently if the Liberals were in official opposition? Would a Liberal House leader have not used the point of order Nathan Cullen tried? Would Peter Van Loan have been less likely to confront a Liberal House leader who did so? Would the Liberal leader have reacted differently than Thomas Mulcair did if Mr. Van Loan attacked his House leader?

There’s a fair amount to be said about what the Conservatives and New Democrats have in common: the ways in which they have grown as parties over the last decade, the mutual desire to see the Liberal party crushed, a certain unabashedness about the practice of politics. But I don’t think last week’s disagreement is obviously something to do with any of that. I don’t think it’s particularly symbolic of anything. It was a thing that happened. Just like other things have happened in other sessions.

The deep-seated conflict that lies at the heart of polarized politics truly appeals to only a small number of the most extreme partisans, on one side and the other, who relish the constant fight. People like Van Loan, Cullen, Mulcair and Harper — it turns them on.

Suddenly this is a Cosmo sex advice column. I’ve no idea what turns these gentlemen on—and would rather remain so ignorant—but I’m not sure it helps to Mr. Goodale’s case to include this guy in that group. Also: are there really no Liberals who share the same zeal for political conflict?

But it also turns off large numbers of Canadians generally. They don’t hold extreme views. Perpetual campaigning is not their thing. They don’t like polarization or the hatred it breeds. So they just drop out of the political process altogether. They are the ones who stay home on election day. 

But here’s the good news! Canada is far too complex a country — too subtle and nuanced, too fundamentally decent, too full of hope and ambition — to be content for very long with the polarizing wedge politics of division, greed, fear and envy. People will look for something better. The greater Canadian instinct is to want to pull together to achieve goals that are bigger and more worthy. The future will belong to those who blaze that trail.

Aside from the obvious implication—The future belongs to the Liberal party! If it can just hang on long enough for everyone to come around!—Mr. Goodale has something of a point here. There are a lot of people—especially young people—who don’t vote. There would seem to be a lot of people who don’t believe the political process is relevant. There are about 10 million registered voters who didn’t vote in the last election. That’s a tantalizingly large block of potential voters—if you could just figure out how to motivate them.

But if the political process in this country needs to be fixed, if it needs to be made more relevant, the fight of significance last week occurred on Tuesday night, not Wednesday afternoon. If there is a conflict over and within the soul of our politics, that’s where it is. Not in political polarization or Peter Van Loan and Thomas Mulcair exchanging bad words or in the permanent campaign (the latter of which is probably not going away, no matter how noble the politician or the political party in government strives to be).


What it means when Peter Van Loan gets upset

  1. I’d make the point that the exchange last week shows that there’s still life in the system. These guys — all of them, both sides — deal in bullish*t all day, every day. The fact that the perpetual BS machine prompted some outrage — real genuine outrage and not the faux outrage that we’re treated to regularly — was refreshing. I had the same feeling when Trudeau called out Kent a few months back. It was genuine moment, and that’s something you rarely see in that place any more. Maybe that’s the problem.

    • Good point. I’d never quite seen VL as someone who cared about his agenda or the process of getting it through before…it makes him look human.
      OTOH [ sometimes i hate that other hand] a cynic might say all it showed was that VL wanted to win on every single point, regardless. That still wouldn’t invalidate your point. But it does frame the opposition pov.

      • That could be, though I suspect after having gone through the procedural grinder for the days leading up, that last little twist by the NDP was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. I bet a similar move under different circumstances wouldn’t have generated that kind of blowback from PVL.

        • You’re determined to see him as human, aren’t you? You’re taking all the fun out of being partisan you know.

          • The party discipline today tends to smash the humanity out of MPs… I do love it when I see a remnant of humanity rear its head. Hey, if it can happen to Darth Vader, it can happen to PVL!

          • “The party discipline today tends to smash the humanity out of MPs.”

            How true…it’s almost as if they have no choice in the matter.

  2. do the people of canada even know who tom mulcair really is ? i mean tom cant even ask a question without reading prepared questions from a lectern..this is a lawyer(tom) who should be able to ask questions off the top of his head without having to prepare them(did he(tom) read from sripts in court,or was he ever in a courtroom).at least harper dont always read from a script or a lectern because he(harper)is always on script.bob rea dosnt need a lectern or a script and garneaux for that matter.tom mulcair lacks athenticity and has some serious anger managment problems.i would never vote for either him or harper.PS.van loan is angry old man too.

  3. “There would seem to be a lot of people who don’t believe the political process is relevant.”

    Emma Goldman ~ Anarchism:

    “All voting,” says Thoreau, “is a sort of gaming, like checkers, or backgammon, a playing with right and wrong; its obligation never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” A close examination of the machinery of politics and its achievements will bear out the logic of Thoreau.

    What does the history of parliamentarism show? Nothing but failure and defeat …..

    Even were the workers able to have their own representatives, for which our good Socialist politicians are clamoring, what chances are there for their honesty and good faith? One has but to bear in mind the process of politics to realize that its path of good intentions is full of pitfalls: wire-pulling, intriguing, flattering, lying, cheating; in fact, chicanery of every description, whereby the political aspirant can achieve success. Added to that is a complete demoralization of character and conviction, until nothing is left that would make one hope for anything from such a human derelict. Time and time again the people were foolish enough to trust, believe, and support with their last farthing aspiring politicians, only to find themselves betrayed and cheated.

    It may be claimed that men of integrity would not become corrupt in the political grinding mill. Perhaps not; but such men would be absolutely helpless to exert the slightest influence in behalf of labor, as indeed has been shown in numerous instances. The State is the economic master of its servants. Good men, if such there be, would either remain true to their political faith and lose their economic support, or they would cling to their economic master and be utterly unable to do the slightest good. The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue.

    • I would gladly pay you an honorarium if you would please, please, please use the blockquote html tags.

  4. “What it means when Peter Van Loan gets upset”

    Pillsbury doughboy getting upset is like being savaged by a dead sheep.

  5. I see Goodale’s point Aaron…..there is a systemic process of polarization going on and it’s tied to campaign strategy to be seen in both the Conservative and NDP’s plans, it’s been going for some time. The notion of compromise, policy debate and etc…..has given way to ‘antics’, ‘posturing’ and ‘my way or the highway’ declarations……all designed to give the impression to an increasingly disintersted public that there is strength and vigour in their respective positions. Thus, we see Cullen and Van Loan, both were in it for the ‘show’, their outrage false and their bases satisfied….could have happened anytime in this process. The reality of both of these parties is that if forced to actually talk policy…..both would be lacking in the extreme as neither party has actually created or conceived of anything of any substance since about 2006. Not that it actually matters, it’s all about the show for them. That fact is, it’s a big country and effective management of it requires compromise and debate and reasoned thought….but the communications strategy they have crafted requires firm declarations and a time -poor and compliant media that rushes to report the sensation rather than the substance (not that I am saying it’s the media’s fault….but they ARE being played).
    The Liberals and to an extent the Greens suffer from the fact that most arguments they have are based on shades of grey, require some discussion and interest…..they can’t easily be summed up in a quick bumper sticker slogan and fed to a double-click society that is increasingly made numb to such shenanigans. In a way, I admire that becuase it’s the way things out to be….but on the other hand, if the Conservatives and the NDP succeed in the complete and utter dumbing down of politics, who will be around to pay attention and vote anyway besides the die-hard bases they (Cons and NDP) have built up?

  6. And in this ” permanent campaign “, this message has been brought to you by an agent of the Liberal Party of Canada.

    You see, when Goodale convinces a publication to allow him to advertise for the LPC under the guise of a column, then the story is Goodale`s political deviousness or smarts and the desire of that publication to promote his viewpoint.
    It`s about Goodale —not Van Loan.

    Why not mention Goodale in the title of the blogpost rather then Van Loan or that other angry guy—-whatisname—Tom something or other.

    Media guys keep missing the story.

    • Got tired of Bill have you?

      • I wouldn`t think the Conservatives have much to worry about if you are an example of the analytical skill and perception present in the LPC.

        • Can’t make grumpy old Andrew happy, even when i’m criticizing my own party.

          • Obviously, you weren’t doing it with enough firm declarations!

  7. .” People will look for something better. The greater Canadian
    instinct is to want to pull together to achieve goals that are bigger
    and more worthy”

    I’m sure most of us could sign on to that Ralph. But as a good liberal i think your argument would have more force if you first admitted our parties culpability in the current mess. Otherwise i see this as just political positioning [and obnoxious posturing] by the LPC.And i guess that’s ok , if you first admit the other parties have a right to play politics too.

    The scary thing is that deep down many of our politicians, from Goodale to Mulcair to Van loan seem to believe they are right, and by implication only they are right and therefor righteous. What if nobody is? What if they all are…just a bit?

    The liberals have over the years been masters at this claim to own all the moral political high ground, Goodale shouldn’t be at all surprised to see Cons and dippers falling into the same pit. He would be more convincing if he just yelled…”watch out! Or if you aren’t careful you’ll make the same silly errors we did!”

    But he wont. Of course not. This is politics and war by other means. Mustn’t offer what amounts to aid and comfort to the enemy.

    The way out of it is surely to first acknowledge all parties have legitmate views, grievances and all aspire to a better future for at least their constituents, if not the entire country. No body has all the right answers or is always wrong. I find this one of the most objectionable conceits of our elected politicians.
    Edit: Thinking about it some more, it occurs that nothing RG says is negated by his own partisanship. He is perfectly within his rights to point out that the other two parties favour a highly charged partisan field to the detriment of other parties. One he thinks might even be improved by the LPC. He might even be right. It is mainly the tone, the implied sanctimony that grates.

    • I agree with that. I also think the last lines are the pleas of one who knows he can’t be saved, but urges on those behind him to follow a different path. “People will look for something better. The greater Canadian instinct
      is to want to pull together to achieve goals that are bigger and more
      worthy. The future will belong to those who blaze that trail.” Or in other words, Cooperate for Canada!

  8. I’ve got a name to add to Goodale’s list of politicians who might seem way more interested in the battle than public policy: Don Boudria.