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.
The must-see QP moment
“Let not light see my black and deep desires.”
In my primer for today’s question period (read that here), I referred to Shakespeare’s Macbeth in describing the Liberals’ and NDP’s opposition to the expansion of the war effort as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” With the pleasure of 20/20 hindsight, that reference seems rather appropriate, given a particularly feisty question period that reminded watchers the election isn’t as far away as we’d like to believe. Eve Adams, now a member of the Liberal Party, asked her first question of her former Conservative colleagues, and was swept away with her own words, plucked from Hansard during her time as a parliamentary secretary. Using a typical stump-speech trope, Pierre Poilievre brought up a human example, Trevor, who was paying his way through university, to respond (inexplicably) to an NDP interrogation over child-care benefits. Tony Clement claimed this was the “most open and transparent government in the history of our country,” an oft-repeated statement that was followed by the loud gritting of reporters’ teeth.
Sound. Fury. Signifying . . . well.
That but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all—here / But here, upon this bank and shoal of time / We’d jump the life to come.
And so from the hill of Dunsinane to Parliament Hill, it felt assured that something wicked would this way come for Jason Kenney, the Conservatives’ primary attack dog and, with the departure of John Baird, the undisputed golden child of the caucus, having recently been elevated to the extremely high-profile post of a Defence minister during wartime. He would have two incidents from the last 12 hours to answer for: in a lesser issue, the classified nature of the cost of the expanded mission and the NATO one (Update: Kenney quickly revealed these before QP); in a far greater one, the about-face from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, who had supported Kenney when he claimed that Canada was one of two countries in Syria with smart-bomb capability—which he revealed to be false on Wednesday. And what good opposition could resist the chance to stick it to him?
Strange, then, that neither the NDP nor the Liberals really did. Kenney was there, of course—but not once did he get to speak, nor was he really challenged. The closest thing was an early question from Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, the answer to which was handled by the Prime Minister.
In that way, then, this was the moment because of what went unsaid. Kenney’s boss adhered to his talking points and bafflegab, but he did it while dancing around an easy enough thing to say: I stand by my minister. By not saying that, Stephen Harper shone a light on his deep and dark desire to cast blame: This one, he implied, is on Jason Kenney.
And then, well after question period, Kenney got up in the House and retracted his comments—making it even more baffling that the opposition wouldn’t take the opportunity to hang one on one of their most cruel tormentors. Jason Kenney got away with it.
This is an odd thing. Canadian politics-watchers often bemoan question period’s failure to provide meaningful answers to tough questions. Instead, we are treated to distracting pageantry—perhaps never more so than this session’s feisty start, where a game Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Harper took exultant jabs at each other over the Liberals’ agenda. (Admittedly, these were solid burns, especially from the Prime Minister.) So if we’re getting pageantry, at least make it important. A Defence minister who may have lied about a reason to get into a war is something worth calling on the carpet for. Use your rebukes and your sharp words there. The fact that Mulcair asked one question and both opposition caucuses moved on? No one wins with that.
Oh, well. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Adrian Lee is filling in for Nick Taylor-Vaisey on Wednesday and Thursday.
The pre-QP primer
In a way, expanding the war was the easy part. Taking into account the Conservative majority, all the hemming and hawing in the House over the vote to expand the mission against Islamic State into Syria was ultimately sound and fury signifying nothing, in advance of the 142-129 vote on Monday—and, as our own Aaron Wherry wrote over the course of the last couple weeks, there were only a handful of interesting votes, all of whom ended up voting predictably anyway: Irwin Cotler, for instance, abstaining once again. Canadian politics: a listing toward the least interesting story, despite conjecture to the contrary. Classic!
So there’s something deeply interesting about the revelations that have come in the last 12 hours about the Canadian Forces and their associated minister, Jason Kenney. Late on Tuesday night, defence expert Dave Perry lashed out at the fact that the cost of the NATO mission and the mission against Islamic State are now classified in the Treasury Board reports—the first time this has ever been the case—and, as my colleague Nick Taylor-Vaisey tells me, when the normally stoic Perry speaks out, you listen. The information, according to the report, is being slid under the umbrella of operational security, of course—but it’s odd, because the estimates were released not so long ago. What’s changed for the Conservatives since then?
And then this morning, Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of the Defence staff, reversed his attack-dog position regarding an Ottawa Citizen report he had previously said was wrong. That Citizen report repudiated the Defence department’s claim that Canada and the U.S. were the only coalition allies in Syria with advanced precision-guided munitions in Syria. In reality, Lawson wrote, “new information” revealed that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had access, and had been using them already. Kenney had been using Lawson’s letter as a way to wave off opposition MPs, and to charge the newspaper with being “misleading”; in Wednesday’s follow-up report, the Citizen cited sources who suggested that Lawson was pressured to write the initial, erroneous letter.
Kenney, of course, is still a rookie at the Defence portfolio in the wake of the reshuffle caused by Baird’s resignation, though he’s undoubtedly the caucus’s superstar. So these missteps are odd from a minister who is defined so often by his extreme confidence, one who has wielded fire and brimstone in the face of facts, whose preparation for the daily grind of the House of Commons is clear. So it’s hard to imagine that Kenney doesn’t know what he’s doing; he did, after all, manage to insist, with rage, in the House, that a Sun Media recording was, in fact, of Banff-Airdrie Liberal candidate Marlo Raynolds being glib about Canadian families, which flew in the face of mounting facts. (It ended up being a j’accuse in a mini-controversy that quickly melted away into the ether.) And he’s made war gaffes before. That said, these are strange missteps, because these are public, significant, doubled-down by the minister, and over a war that Canadians have a significant stake in—the oddest kind of Kenney mistake.
The vote to expand the war mission was a foregone conclusion. Given the fact that the Liberals and NDP are jockeying for the minority position on the war effort, now’s the time for the politicking and the facts—you know, the details—that could well dictate far more how the election will be won as it relates to the war effort.