You have to wonder when, or if, the Speaker of the House will put his foot down in the chamber he watches so closely. Pierre Poilievre, the transport minister’s parliamentary secretary who really just looks like he loves talking, has given him plenty of chances. So have a lot of other people, it’s worth mentioning. But let’s stick to Poilievre, for now, because he’s a pretty entertaining example.
Anyone who’s watched Question Period during the past six months will know one of Poilievre’s favourite targets is Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP MP from Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie. They love to trade barbs on ethics. No matter what Boulerice asks during QP, you can see Poilievre’s response from a mile away. He loves responding with his own questions, usually surrounding donations Boulerice has made to Quebec Solidaire, the pro-sovereignty party in Quebec. Poilievre first mentioned those donations on June 4. Here’s how it went down:
Boulerice: Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister has demonstrated his contempt for democracy time and time again in this House. He handled the biggest fraud in Canadian history as though it were merely a hiccup. And now he is under investigation by Elections Canada. Apparently, he gave his own campaign 10 times the allowable limit. Not once or twice as much—10 times more. Will the parliamentary secretary step aside until the investigation of his election spending is complete?
Poilievre: Mr. Speaker, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister handed the documents over to Elections Canada almost four years ago. Elections Canada verified and accepted those documents. However, the member opposite donated $3,700 to Québec solidaire, a party that says in its statement of principle that it wants a sovereign Quebec. The hon. member gave them $150 last year when he was a federal member of Parliament. Does he believe in Canada?
In the months since, Poilievre has repeated some variation of those responses 15 times. In October, he repeated the lines on seven out of 18 sitting days. In November, it’s five out of 11 days, and counting. Poilievre’s mere persistence, however, isn’t the most annoying part of the saga. The most annoying part came yesterday, during an exchange between Poilievre and NDP MP Charlie Angus, that party’s ethics critic:
Angus: Mr. Speaker, I actually feel for the member for Saint Boniface who is leaving her political reputation in the hands of a spinmeister. Who else is hiding over there? Oh yes, there is the member for Ajax—Pickering, another red-flag campaign constituency. Now, on the day before the election, Elections Canada wrote to the Conservatives, “the frequency of calls seem to be increasing”. So rather than hide behind the duck hunter in the weeds, will the hon. member do the honourable thing and tell us who at Conservative Party headquarters coordinated the dirty tricks in his riding so that he could get here.
Poilievre: Mr. Speaker, the reason that member raises in the House things that have nothing to do with government business is that he wants to use the umbrella, the comfortable blanket of parliamentary immunity to protect himself against making those false allegations outside of the House of Commons, where, like every other Canadian, he would be accountable to defend them. One day, he will have to be accountable for the false words he used with his own constituents when he promised that he would eliminate the long gun registry and went back on his word.
Now, Poilievre has a point. MPs are supposed to ask questions that remain “within the administrative responsibility of the government or of the individual Minister addressed,” and arguably neither Boulerice nor Angus stuck to those parameters. But that Poilievre doesn’t recognize the irony in his own responses, which regularly have precious little do with government business, borders on absurd.
But Poilievre, like so many MPs, regularly gets away with this sort of thing in the House. Which brings us back to Scheer. To his credit, he occasionally flags questions that stray from government business, including on Nov. 2, after Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia queried the government about the robocalls affair:
The Speaker: These questions on what may have happened in elections and party lists, I do not find that they fall into the area of government responsibility. I see the parliamentary secretary standing to answer, so I will allow him the opportunity to do so.
Why Scheer chose to voice concern about that question, and not dozens of others over the past year, and in the past months, and even today, is a mystery. Probably, most people don’t care either way. But some clarity would be nice.