The Commons: A good day spoiled -

The Commons: A good day spoiled

Asks Layton, “Is Canada’s signature initiative at the G8 going to be the ‘no condoms for Africa’ strategy?”


The Scene. The Prime Minister was having a fine time.

John McCallum asked if the government might commit to ceasing the production of ten-percenters and the Prime Minister took the opportunity to mock Michael Ignatieff’s absence from the House—because, of course, the idea that a political leader would leave Ottawa and travel the country to consult with Canadians is patently hysterical. Asked to account for an increase in employment insurance premiums, he easily mocked the Liberals as reckless and free-spending. Reclining contentedly as he awaited Mr. McCallum’s third question, he tapped out a tune on the arm of his chair.

Gilles Duceppe tried to provoke the Prime Minister on sales tax harmonization and was effortlessly dismissed. Jack Layton wondered if the Prime Minister might commit to a new restriction on prorogation and Mr. Harper thoroughly enjoyed the chance to invoke a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition. All seemed to be going splendidly, the Prime Minister sporting something of a smirk as he sat and listened.

Then though the NDP leader stood and turned the discussion toward sex, specifically the government’s apparent decision to exclude contraception from its commitment to improve maternal health in the developing world. And here, where normally Mr. Harper would be expected to respond another party leader’s question, the Prime Minister leaned forward and looked down his row to the near corner of his frontbench.

“Bev,” he called.

And so, when Mr. Layton had finished, the honourable Beverly J. Oda, minister for international cooperation, stood to respond.

“Mr. Speaker, as we have been very clear since our great announcement, accepted by all countries in the G8, this initiative is about saving the lives of mothers and children,” she stated. “As we know, 500,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year and an estimated 75% of maternal deaths occur 48 hours after delivery. This hard fact is something we can do something about, and that is what we intend to do, at our G8, along with our colleagues.”

Mr. Layton gave it another go. “How can a program aimed at reducing maternal mortality not allow for any contraception as a part of the program?” he wondered. “I ask the Prime Minister, is Canada’s signature initiative at the G8 going to be the ‘no condoms for Africa’ strategy?”

The Prime Minister remained seated. Up again came Ms. Oda, this time attempting to dazzle members opposite with math. “Mr. Speaker, as I just said, 75% of mothers are dying 48 hours after delivery,” she said. “In fact, 17% of those maternal deaths happen during childbirth and 71% happen in the post-partum period. Out of the 75%, 45% of those deaths happen within 24 hours of giving birth.”

Left unaccounted for in this algebra was the 25% of maternal and child deaths that the principle aid agency of the United States figures could be prevented with access to family planning options.

However much fun he’d been having, the Prime Minister’s day was done. The questions, as they tend to do, persisted. But then this is why a Prime Minister employs cabinet ministers.

Liberal Dominic LeBlanc stood and asked the government to account for a prison it had apparently promised the Afghan government. Lawrence Cannon, the minister to Mr. Harper’s immediate right, stood and dutifully reported that this had something to do with some other government—the Foreign Affairs Minister later insisting that Canada was “not in the business of building or running Afghan prisons.”

Mr. LeBlanc stood again and asked the government to explain why it had apparently promised to provide the Afghan government advance notice of any prison inspections. Mr. Cannon stood again and said that no such notice is provided.

Liberal Bryon Wilfert stood here to repeat Mr. LeBlanc’s queries in English. From the far end of the room, the Heritage Minister moaned. “Is this all you’ve got?” James Moore cried.

Wilfert eventually arrived at the inevitable conclusion of this particular narrative arc. “Canadians do not know what to believe from a government that keeps hiding the truth and gets caught hiding the truth,” he ventured. “Why does it not stop the charade and call a public inquiry?”

In his seat, Mr. Harper frowned and shook his head.

The Stats. Afghanistan, six questions. Taxation, five questions. Maternal health, four questions. Science, the environment, Rights & Democracy, employment, Helena Guergis, child care, Haiti and economic development, two questions each. Ten-percenters, prorogation, crime, Internet access and bilingualism, one question each.

Lawrence Cannon, eight answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Bev Oda and Diane Finley, four answers each. Mark Warawa, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Helena Guergis, two answers each. Vic Toews, Jason Kenney, Ted Menzies, Keith Ashfield, Peter MacKay, James Moore, Tony Clement and Stockwell Day, one answer each.


The Commons: A good day spoiled

  1. It's so thoughtful of our elected politicians to pretend to "do democracy".

  2. The more I read about QP, the more depressed I get. And the more I want an election based on democratic reform. This is not working.

    • Our institutions are only as good as our willingness to support them…

      This isn't a problem with our system more than it is a problem of self-serving hacks getting into power because of the vacuum created by voter apathy.

  3. “Canadians do not know what to believe from a government that keeps hiding the truth and gets caught hiding the truth,” he ventured. “Why does it not stop the charade and call a public inquiry?”

    Was there not a time when such vocabulary was deemed unparliamentary and, if not withdrawn, would earn the speaker a toss out of the House? Or is "hiding the truth" just on the inside of the cutoff?

    • That's an interesting question, although "hiding the truth" didn't even get a raised eyebrow from me. But you're right, that is kind of a shame.

    • Yes, I can dimly recall that, back back in the days when a minister caught lying to the House would resign.

      • Thank you for answering the question in your own head. Now, if you like, would you mind taking a stab at the one I asked?

  4. Question Period is so boring. Now I see why Canadians don't bother to pay attention. I was away for several months and didn't seem to miss a thing.

  5. Question Period is not meant for entertainment.

    • Unfortunately that seems to be all it's good for.

      • I agree, mores the pity. Why not take advantage of that? Hold a televised Question Period one evening every week, and questions come from citizens via webcam or phone. Citizens who are interested sign up, and the speaker randomly chooses people from the list without seeing their questions. They are allowed to ask one question to any MP, provide a brief response to the answer and ask a followup question.

        It's a combination of Question Period, Harpers Youtube interview and Chat Roulette. Much more entertaining, and probably more effective in terms of holding the government to account!

  6. QP is a small part of every day and was never meant to be where anything gets done. There are arguments for democratic reform but the uselessness of QP isn't one of them.

  7. Be patient Afghanistan, your time to do this will come

  8. Kinda makes one long for the good ole days of prorogation, doesn't it? This garbage truly IS a monumental waste of time, and millions$$$ of taxpayer's money. And Layton and Iggy get all bossy pants that they couldn't do this crap for a few weeks, while we enjoyed the best Olympics Canada has ever been in. There is a solution to this – a Conservative majority next time. Then if the Laytons and Iggys want to get all red faced with their constant attempts to smear – all just for the cameras of course, then have at it – they can waste all the time and money they want; but with a majority our government will be fully functional.

    • I am currently in the States and I have had a number of people congratulate us (Canadians) on a truly wonderful Olympics. Then they tease about losing the hockey game. Nobody other than the British and Canadian media criticized the Games. So sad that our cynical media cannot just enjoy Canada getting the attention in the world it deserves.

      • Ummm…..What on earth are you talking about??

        • It's just the 'fart-catcher channel changing' routine, a new weapon from the CON war room… You should hear it in Youtubed 3-D!

  9. Indeed. sir. A functional government, 'our' government. Huzzah. For only with a Conservative majority can the will of parliament ever be fully respected. Why, perhaps this pesky, inquisitive and querulous house of assembly can be done away with altogether!

    Plus, 'bossy pants"?

  10. Aaron Wherry's column, five minutes of my time spoiled.

  11. Wherry's idea of filling space every day is to cut and paste the Hansard blues. Quite an accomplishment…

    • So why come here at all then? Have you already finished reading the rest of the Internet and run out of things to do?

      • Have keep up on what the resident Macleans Liberal writer is propagandizing.

        • Really? Why do you have to do that? Is the thimble collection losing its charm?

          • Why do you care what I do? Have a bit of a crush on me?

  12. As is obvious, Harper was mocking Iggy for not being in the Commons not because Iggy was touching base with ordinary Canadians but because Iggy had spent a week posing for the cameras pretending that QP is where Canadians' *real* representatives were supposed to be and not e.g. spending time in a French chateau. Oops. I mean "at the Winter Olympics". Thanks for the disingenuousness, Aaron.

    • I agree with you. He is visiting school kids and the media isn't paying much attention to his "great pronouncements". Iffy is afraid of the voting public so he goes where he is most comfortable. Back to school for the good professor.

  13. Wherry of course ridicules the government for drawing to attention the fact that the leader of the opposition has missed Question Period this week after loudly castigating the government over prorogation. He should have done his school visits while Parliament was prorogued rather than grandstanding. Funny how things always come back to bite Iffy. He has the political instincts of a gnat and Harper is making sure Canadians know about it even if the media refuses to criticize the leader of the opposition for his hypocrisy.

    • On the other hand perhaps Ignatieff had this penciled in before prorogation. I have no idea myself. I do agree that he has little or no political instincts, but if this was booked in before Harper's holiday, it's pretty obvious who the hypocrite is, and t's not just Harper either.

      • I do agree that it could have been booked prior to prorogation. However, it seems unlikely that the trip would have been planned before the Christmas break which was early Dec. It may be but I am sceptical given Harper didn't prorogue until the end of Dec. Its just passing strange that the Libs tried to capitalize on the prorogation to gain political advantage and it worked for him. However, after calling Harper all kinds of names and holding daily press conferences extolling the virtues of a parliament in session and then to trot off talking to school kids seems a little bit disingenous to put it midly.

  14. Canadians are sick and tired of an opposition who has no policies other than to criticize the government. Case in point – Afghanistan.
    I wish Mr. Ignatieff would tell Canadians just how he would force that country to briing their police, prisons and justice system up to Canadian standards.

    • But are you talking 'Canadian standards' or just 'Harper's US-led standards'? Because we're still waiting for the real thing after 4 years of pronouncements, promises and prorogation delays. If its the former, Harper refuses to answer; if its the latter, then it is following his so-called leadership in imitating or delaying actions of Bush and now Obama, just so he can say he didn't do it.
      Note the impressive spineless dodge he pulled in the house when it came to standing up for his own policy on not funding family planning in the 3rd world. Can't let anyone get him on camera saying 'contraceptive' without giggling like a silly school boy, I guess. Or maybe he's worried that it will stain his impeccable record of 'hitting it' with that female demographic his party so covets. Another hypocritical moment in Harper's government.

      • aooo, d….ei dkia e dk e ee e e od,,eadfooa; !!! ih oh and….aodond doa s;dmmdm ,s,a,,,da;;a;ndnnna;..ddnn


  15. I honestly cannot decide who is the worst. I keep thinking its Harper, because although I am not a traditional liberal, even a slam dunk call like voting away the 10%rs and being able to make a claim that you are magnanimously accommodating of the enemy in times of fiscal restraint, he goes right into hyper partisan mode and muffs an easy toss just out of pure spite.

    That said, they all are making even a professional cynic like myself shake his head in disgust…

    We really need some national leadership. And I have no idea how long we might have to wait…

  16. So Parliament is supreme,

    oops… except for that pesky Board of Internal Economy,
    where the Parliament Act gives exclusive authority to the Board over MPs spending (and other stuff).

    oops…and where the GG and PM powers are written (and unwritten) in the Constitution…

  17. Aaron, it's not that difficult to understand why the PM would look so relaxed today: theentire MSM managed to announce hisupcoming appearance on Youtube, but the MSM reaction to the Youtube interview has been pretty mute. What does that tell you?

    Silence is golden in more than one respect.

    • Yes, pretty mute– save for the articles I saw yesterday on the CBC, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, etc., etc., etc.

  18. would suggest that when Mr. Speaker utters call in the members that instead of ringing disturbing bells tha the loud speakers sound off with music -" Call in the Clowns" would get my vote.