Who here is the least disgraceful? - Macleans.ca

Who here is the least disgraceful?

The House engages in a rather unedifying hour of democracy

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On the day word came that the RCMP is investigating the circumstances of the cheque the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff gave to one of the senators the Prime Minister appointed, the Prime Minister’s party was quite concerned about a report that Thomas Mulcair had failed to stop at a security gate leading to Parliament Hill.

Four Conservative MPs—David Wilks, Ted Opitz, Cheryl Gallant and Chris Warkentin—used their precious minutes before Question Period to stand and raise the matter. When Question Period began, the Conservatives chanted for “Tom.” After the Speaker had called for order and after David Christopherson was finally able to offer the official opposition’s first question, James Moore did not even pretend to respond before launching into a harangue of the NDP leader. Mr. Christopherson offered a second question and Mr. Moore ignored that one too so that he might suggest that Mr. Mulcair did not have the “temperament” to be prime minister. Not until the NDP had asked its fourth question did Mr. Moore even feign a response (“Mr. Speaker, we take very seriously the issues raised by the NDP. That is why the Prime Minister has answered his questions.”) before again referring to the matter of Mr. Mulcair.

Later, two Conservatives—Ryan Leef and Mr. Wilks, again—stood and used their precious opportunities to hold the executive to account to wonder aloud whether the government might explain the importance of respecting the law. (“Do you know who I am?” mocked Mr. Wilks, to which various New Democrats yelled, “No!”, which is not entirely fair, as most anyone who follows federal politics will know Mr. Wilks as the backbencher who was very briefly concerned about one of last year’s budget bills.) Afterwards, various Conservative MPs walked out into the foyer with “Stop Mulcair” signs held prominently, while LeVar Payne took to Twitter to wonder if perhaps the NDP leader could not read English. Julian Fantino, who had been sent up to respond to Mr. Leef’s question, stopped to entertain questions from reporters, but was apparently dissatisfied to be met with questions about the RCMP and the PMO. “Why aren’t you asking about Mr. Mulcair’s breakage of the law?” he wondered.

Mr. Mulcair’s morning drive had been but the most prominent topic of discussion in the previous hour. When it was all over, the tally of alleged wrongdoing cited here today, assigned to one party or another, included unpaid taxes (NDP), abusing election laws (Conservatives), improperly taking money from charities (Liberals), improperly claimed expenses (Liberals), illegal campaign debts (Liberals), illegal political donations (NDP), flouting Hill security (NDP), a potentially illegal cheque (Conservatives), secrecy (Conservatives) and sabotaging the committee to select the parliamentary budget officer (Conservatives). And so possibly—in the wake of a particularly unseemly hour—it is time to adjourn the House for the sake of not further degrading the public’s feelings toward democratic governance.

At the very least, it is good that John Baird was in England today and thus not here to see and hear his colleagues behaving as such. It was two and a half years ago that Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister at the time and apparently in a hurry to get to Parliament Hill, reportedly exited his car and pressed the entrance button without waiting for the RCMP to clear him. And it was Mr. Baird then who beseeched the House to resist the urge to dwell on matters of minor relevance. “Let us focus on the priorities of the people of Canada,” he called to all within earshot, “and not these trivial matters.”

What might be the priorities of the people of Canada? Yesterday, Mr. Moore did seem to allow that the public might have questions about the matter of Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.

In that regard it is a pity that Conservative MPs on the ethics committee were apparently uninterested in hearing from Mr. Wright, but then there are still two questions on the order paper that the government side might deign to respond to before the House rises for the summer. Indeed, the Conservatives might even decide to proactively disclose whatever documents it has in its possession that might be relevant to the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. And a full explanation from the Prime Minister of what he has done to ascertain the details of the arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy might also answer some of the public’s questions.

As for Mr. Moore, some degree of pity is probably in order. None of this is his particular responsibility. He didn’t hire Mr. Wright. He didn’t nominate Mr. Duffy. He cannot be expected to account for whatever has transpired within the Prime Minister’s Office. Alas, for whatever reason, it has been his duty to stand in the House of Commons and respond to the questions pertaining to such.

His performance today is perhaps best understood as entirely ironic or bravely subversive.

“Why is it that the New Democrats think they are above the law?” he wondered aloud with his first opportunity.

Next, he wondered where Mr. Mulcair was. “If the NDP believe in accountability and responsibility, its leader should show up in the House and explain himself on why he broke the law again,” he declared.

Later, in response to questions about Nigel Wright’s cheque from Justin Trudeau, Mr. Moore fumed at the prospect that Mac Harb might be able to return to the Liberal caucus if the senator repays his questionable expenses. “The RCMP can speak to the RCMP’s investigation, just as only the Liberal leader can speak to the Liberal senators. Indeed, Liberal Senator Mac Harb took $231,000,” the Heritage Minister ventured. “I hear the leader of the Liberal Party say that he is not a Liberal senator. He sure was a Liberal when he stole the money. So, again, if the leader of the Liberal Party believes in accountability and responsibility, perhaps he should answer this simple question: how much money does a Liberal senator have to steal before they are not welcome in the Liberal Party?”

For sure, Mr. Moore would be on surer footing here if the Conservative Party of Canada hadn’t pleaded guilty to violating election spending limits in 2008 and if the Harper government wasn’t the only government in this country’s history to have been found in contempt of Parliament and if the RCMP wasn’t said to be presently investigating Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff and and if two Conservative MPs weren’t presently in court with Elections Canada and if the Prime Minister hadn’t left for Peru without facing the House on the first day that Parliament was in session after the deal between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy was revealed and if the Prime Minister hadn’t fail to show up in the House on the following Monday and if Mr. Duffy hadn’t remained a Conservative senator for awhile despite having apparently claimed a housing allowance he shouldn’t have.

And so you might argue that some degree of humility is in order.

But then perhaps Mr. Moore’s fuming in the directions of Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau was his way of conveying a deep personal dissatisfaction with the state of things on his own side. Or perhaps it is merely that there is comfort from the stresses of life in the trivial. (Some of us go home and watch the Bachelorette. Some of us stand up in public and accuse our rivals of disrespecting the RCMP and providing comfort to wayward senators. We all have our necessary weaknesses.)

Sometime after he had listened carefully to and then applauded Mr. Fantino’s declaration to the House that Mr. Mulcair should “stop acting like he is above the law,” Mr. Poilievre was sent up to respond to a complaint from Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner. In response to an accusation of flouting election laws, Mr. Poilievre pronounced the Liberals guilty of flouting election laws.

“The right thing for him to do,” Mr. Poilievre said of Mr. Cuzner, “instead of throwing mud at this side would be to stand up and explain what his party is doing about its own law-breaking.”

And so perhaps in that spirit—with Mr. Poilievre’s worthy words in mind—we should set aside a separate 45 minutes each day for MPs to stand and confess their sins.