Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.
QP’s must-see moment
Childcare is a divider of Parliament, the policy that separates the big-government socialists from the small-government libertarians across the way, the lovers of beer and popcorn from the teetotaling non-snackers. Today’s rendition of this eternal debate uncorked a parliamentary disagreement about which Canadian families are real, and which are merely figments of political rhetoric, fictional characters in our democracy’s everlasting drama.
The Tory side’s chosen defender of responsible parents, Candice Bergen, had just finished calling regulated daycare spaces an insult to people who aren’t near it or whose schedules don’t jibe with daycare’s traditional hours. Rural families and those who work shifts at odd hours, for example. The NDP’s Jinny Sims, a suburban MP from the Vancouver area, shot back.
“Mr. Speaker, it’s real Canadian families that are calling for regulated childcare space,” said Sims, who paused, considering her words and absorbing the murmurs emanating from the benches opposite. “It’s childcare weekend across the country…”
That’s when Speaker Andrew Scheer called for order, and Sims briefly took her seat, appearing slightly sheepish. She stood and tried again. “Mr. Speaker, the government talks about real Canadian families. Let me tell them that they are wanting affordable childcare spaces,” she said, eventually imploring the government to adopt the NDP’s plan to create spaces that cost no more than $15 a day.
Sims had lost her cause. Bergen knew it.
“They consider a family who is not using a regulated daycare space not a real family? Mr. Speaker, that’s not up to the government to decide what is a real family, or what is childcare,” she roared. “That’s up to the Canadian families themselves. That’s up to mom and dad—parents, the real experts.”
With that, Parliament arrived at a crossroads, a point at which serious questions stopped democracy in its tracks. Just how does a government accept families into its accepted reality? Ought there to be an official form of some length, filled out by each household and submitted for inclusion in some overall count of real families? Or should the government, in an act of fidelity to Bergen’s libertarianism, go the other way and repeal any law that attempts to limit any definition forced on families? Presumably, if Bergen’s words are to be trusted, families require a mom and dad. But what about that law, passed by a Liberal government so long ago, that made it okay for a mom and a mom or a dad and a dad to get married? What of the children of those alliances? Are their families real?
We’d better all figure this out, because have you heard of all the things these politicians are promising families? My friends Henry and Cathy say they’re getting a big tax break because of the Conservative plan. And my other pals, Preeti and Jessie, claim the Liberal plan is even better. They say all you have to do is convince the party leaders you’re in the middle class, and it’s even okay if you’re on the wealthier side. Just don’t be poor, or your very real family might not matter much at all.
I scored question period’s priorities, same as yesterday. Thirty-nine questions comprised today’s session. Each question was assigned a point value: 39 for the first question, and one for the 39th. Add up all the points per topic, and you get a weighted ranking. That first ranking does a fine job, but sort by the “points per question” column and the results trade places. The Duffy affair, which led NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s first round of questioning, jumps into first place given its priority in the issues queue. This is how it all breaks down.
The first rule of hashtags is that the crowd, the internet’s collective essence, hijacks and devours any hashtag created and promoted by vested interests or anyone looking to harness the world’s loudest haters. The train wrecks are legion: #McDStories. #susanalbumparty. #RedSkinsPride. The internet never forgets. Just google “hashtags gone wrong,” and thousands of listicles help you relive the madness.
Partisan hashtags are a fool’s errand. The Alberta-born #LifeWithNDP, unhatched in the middle of the most recent provincial campaign, intended to warn the province away from Rachel Notley’s New Democrats by recalling the hellscape left in the wake of NDP governments in other provinces. What seemed a coup, initially, was eventually overrun by left-leaning tweets from NDP activists that crowded out the fear mongering. Notley won, and presumably the #LifeWithNDP hashtag will lie mostly dormant until the next campaign.
Making some news today is another right-leaning campaign that starts with #, and this one is personal. The people behind the #no2trudeau campaign, a hashtag that comes with a bus and a cross-country speaking tour aimed specifically at discrediting Justin Trudeau’s hardline position on abortion, created a moniker that’s tough to hijack. #McDStories and #LifeWithNDP were too easy to spin. #susanalbumparty chose incredibly ill-advised wording. The anti-Trudeau folks packed their message into 10 characters, and anyone who engages with them—in support or opposed—has to include that message in any online retorts. It’s savvy, and it’s working: a scan of the hashtag reveals a mostly one-sided conversation, as opponents choose not to engage on #no2trudeau’s turf.
What’s getting the #no2trudeau folks in some trouble is the more traditional arm of their campaign: graphic brochures in mailboxes, the sort of anti-abortion literature and imagery that most people don’t want to look at even for a second. Dead fetuses tend to turn people’s stomach. But that kind of tactic makes news, almost surely, especially when thousands of mailboxes have these brochures lying in wait. And so it goes today.
The ultimate failure of the #no2trudeau campaign, however, will reveal itself during this afternoon’s question period. Abortion is a no-go in the House of Commons on most days, and it’ll never come up within the confines of QP. Whatever the campaign’s final goal, it’ll never find the light of day in Parliament until it turns its criticism on a Conservative Party establishment loath to recite the A-word into Hansard.