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 perfect Parliamentary committee would treat anti-terror legislation with such care, and such kindness, that only the finest bill would emerge after careful study. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the elected idiot’s guide to sitting in the chamber, makes the committee’s work sound so simple. “After deciding on the studies to be undertaken, a committee should agree on a work plan for conducting the studies as efficiently as possible. The work plan may include a work schedule, a calendar of meetings and a list of witnesses.”
Unfortunately, a reliable source told me the word perfect is embarrassed to be mentioned in the same sentence as anything parliamentary (sorry, perfect), and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has proven itself unable to come up with a work plan on C-51. They’re stuck on a sub-amendment to the motion that would launch study of the bill. Conservatives and New Democrats sitting across from each other in the same room as a sprawling portrait of the Fathers of Confederation cannot agree to the number of meetings they should hold or witnesses who should testify.
The government originally pitched four meetings, but later doubled the offer to eight—a plan that would hear from 50 witnesses. The NDP’s witness list alone includes more than 60 names, and the party can only call a proportional fraction from that pot to testify. Randall Garrison, the party’s public safety critic, offered to sit on evenings and weekends. His party has, at times, filibustered the committee to prevent passage of the Tory plan—which, remember, is a sub-amendment to the larger motion on the impending study.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has his eye on the committee, which he wants to study and pass C-51 as soon as possible so that the House of Commons can pass the bill as soon as possible so the Senate can pass the bill as soon as possible. The faster the anti-terror legislation moves to the Governor General’s desk for a final signature, the sooner Blaney can talk more about protecting Canadians. The NDP won’t kindly step aside, which is rather inconvenient.
This afternoon, Blaney stood in question period furious with the other side. He brought out the kind of language reserved for governments in a rush: obstruction. The minister’s first swipe came after Garrison insisted the committee should take its time. “Why is the NDP obstructing a democratic process and preventing us from protecting Canadians?” he barked. Viewed through a narrow lens, Blaney is correct: New Democrats are blocking a potential democratic process that’s desirable to the Tories. But the Official Opposition is proposing a democratic process of its own, which the Tories could also accept on its merits. They won’t, because anti-terror debates are, with this gang, no place for compromise.
You've got to admit: It's a neat trick to insist a bill be rushed through the House and then accuse the other side of obstructing democracy.
— Aaron Wherry (@AaronWherry) February 26, 2015
It’s all a mess. Later in question period, after speaking about something else entirely, and in a fit of mock puppetry, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford perfectly illustrated the tenor of conversation in this imperfect Parliament. Hover over the image, back and forth, to replay the magic.
If there’s a man to be trusted on judging Parliament’s rock bottom, Aaron Wherry is that man. When you watch question period, he’s the guy sitting above the Speaker’s chair in those wide shots of the House of Commons. Look again at the photo atop this post. If Andrew Scheer looked over his right shoulder, he’d see Wherry watching over the chamber. The man has written volumes about the House, warning after warning of the place’s ultimate importance but practical dysfunction.
And now, as the House passes a watered-down parliamentary reform bill, as parliamentarians disagree about how to debate an anti-terror bill at committee, and as Conservatives refuse to support a special committee to examine doctor-assisted death, Wherry has called it. This is rock bottom. He’s not alone in his worry. Andrew Coyne calls this a Pretend Parliament.
Yesterday, a line of cabinet ministers dismissed the government’s main estimates—a spending plan that requires parliamentary approval—as unreflective of the government’s true intentions. Estimates are estimates, went the defence. Tony Clement, the Treasury Board President who tables the estimates, complained of the opposition’s perennial “righteous indignation” at various planned funding cuts. He scoffed at the opposition’s opposition; Clement would apparently prefer a grand coalition.
Today, the same gang gathers in the same place for another round of questions and answers. We again endeavour to find a single moment to savour.