The Commons: Comedy, tragedy, but no inquiry -

The Commons: Comedy, tragedy, but no inquiry

Well, not a ‘public inquiry’ at least


The Scene. “Why don’t you ask a question about the economy?” pleaded one voice from the distant recesses of the Conservative side.

“What about jobs?” begged another voice from the furthest reaches of the government benches.

Sadly, though reputed to do a fine a cappella version of Free Bird, the leader of the opposition does not take requests. And paying no mind to his partisan audience across the way, he insisted on asking the government, once more, to explain precisely what it is it wants Justice Frank Iacobucci to do. “When will we see Justice Iacobucci’s written mandate? What will the mandate be, and when will he report to us about his findings?” he wondered aloud.

The Prime Minister stood and responded in kind, singing from his songbook in shrugging one-part harmony. “Mr. Speaker, I think we have been very clear,” he sang. “We are asking Justice Iacobucci to look at all of the documents that have been previously reviewed by public servants in terms of access to information. Justice Iacobucci will conduct a thorough inquiry on those documents and he will report according to his terms of reference.”

Ralph Goodale loudly wondered where precisely those terms of reference were. Bob Rae, it would seem, took quiet note.

“Mr. Speaker, this government shut down Parliament,” Mr. Ignatieff came back. “It intimidated witnesses.”

The Conservatives groaned.

“It withheld crucial documents from Parliament,” the Liberal leader continued. “The Canadian people are tired of this. It is adding a democratic deficit to this country’s operation. We need to know who in government knew what and when about torture in Afghan jails, and that should be the justice’s mandate. Why will the Prime Minister not give him the power to do the proper job? Why will he not appoint a public inquiry?”

The Prime Minister was unpersuaded. “Mr. Speaker,” he stated, “obviously I categorically reject all of the unfounded allegations contained in that question.”

He proceeded then to pump his fist and chop his hand and generally carry on so as to visually express his displeasure.

When the NDP’s turn came round, Jack Layton took the opportunity to note the day’s revelation that a diplomat had warned the previous government, a government of Liberal persuasion, of potential torture troubles. The Conservative benchwarmers enjoyed that opportunity to mock the Liberal side, while the Prime Minister seized the moment to say something rather ridiculous.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “in this country, prime ministers are not in the business of calling public inquiries on their predecessors.”

Well, you know, except for the current prime minister and, er, the one before that too.

Siobhan Coady and the Defence Minister then argued over how precisely to describe what it is a military board of inquiry has recently finished investigating and when some sort of accounting of its findings might be released publicly. Ms. Coady narrowed in on that unexplained field report to which the board of inquiry was referred. “The memo said, ‘Police did assault him, as happened in the past,'” she said. “Can the minister assure us that this particular section of the report will not be censored? What did it mean that such assault having happened before?”

Mr. MacKay ignored the second question and assured the House the first was strictly within the purview of government officials who were not him.

So here, finally, Liberals turned to the Riddler, Bob Rae, who stepped forward with a skill-testing question for the Defence Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, to the same minister, he said in the past, ‘The truth is there is no credible evidence to suggest that a prisoner was ever tortured.’ There now appears to be evidence of photographs being taken in order to ensure that something that happened in the past did not happen again,” Mr. Rae explained. “If something happened in the past, would the minister not agree with me that in fact is credible evidence?”

“I will answer the righteous member this way, Mr. Speaker,” Mr. MacKay shot back. “What I will say is that if there is credible evidence and we have seen in the past information that led us to believe there were concerns, we acted.”

And now perhaps emboldened by that, Mr. Rae chose to be nothing more than mischevious. “Mr. Speaker, a very simple question for the minister,” the Liberal foreign affairs critic began. “Will Mr. Justice Iacobucci, first of all, be able to review this document and how much of it can and should be made public? Second of all, can the minister please tell us what are the terms of reference of the Iacobucci inquiry? Who will be represented at that inquiry? Who will have the ability to make representations to that inquiry? What exactly is that inquiry?”

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stood for this one and expressed some puzzlement. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “it is not an inquiry.”

The Liberals howled and pointed at the Prime Minister, the Justice Minister having not noted, or chosen to ignore, Mr. Harper’s use of the term in his first answer.

If the Greeks intended a division between comedy and tragedy, it was perhaps only because they could not possibly have foreseen anything quite like this.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 14 questions. Government spending, five questions. Helena Guergis, four questions. Taxation, three questions. Immigration, auto safety and infrastructure, two questions each. Haiti, trade, foreign aid, First Nations University, the budget and veterans, one question each.

John Baird, 10 answers. Stephen Harper, eight answers. Rob Nicholson, five answers. Peter MacKay, four answers. Jim Flaherty, three answers. Jason Kenney and Rona Ambrose, two answers each. Lawrence Cannon, Stockwell Day, Peter Van Loan, Bev Oda, Chuck Strahl and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, one answer each.