The Commons: Lights on, nobody home -

The Commons: Lights on, nobody home

What’s left of the legislative process once the furious indignation and the bad puns are stripped away? Not much.


For the record, the doors were, in fact, locked. The House of Commons, all lit up, was empty and quiet. At worst, a betrayal of our democracy, a grievous symbol of Parliament’s decline. At best, a minor waste of electricity.

In the morning, the Liberal and NDP caucuses had taken turns standing in front of the Commons in order to demonstrate their similar frustrations. Michael Ignatieff took the opportunity to propose a number of reforms that might ensure we never have to witness these sorts of photo ops again. The press gallery took that opportunity to express its confusion and impatience with infinitely debatable complications of constitutional law.

By the afternoon, things had quieted down some.

In the foyer outside the Commons, a large spotlight stood unfilled. A standing microphone, unbreathed-upon. A booth full of coat hangers, unburdened. The halls of our democracy, owing to a day of unseasonably warm temperatures, were a bit stuffy and humid.

Around the time Question Period would’ve begun, Bob Rae and John McCallum arrived to discuss the questions they would’ve asked. Mr. McCallum, wearing a “Liberals at work” button, explained that he would’ve quizzed the Prime Minister about the paucity of jobs for employable Canadians, a topic the Liberals were, coincidentally, discussing in a day-long forum down the hall. Mr. Rae reviewed all the respectful questions he had about the government’s efforts in and for Haiti.

“Rather than curse the darkness,” Mr. Rae mused, “we’re going to light a few candles.”

While the two Liberals entertained reporters, a pair of tour groups were led into the House lobby to gawk at the out-dated relic of democracy that is the Commons.

In the Railway Room, one of Parliament’s two main committee rooms, the Liberals were about then beginning a session on youth unemployment. After a few opening words from Mr. Ignatieff, the discussion was presided over by Justin Trudeau, he a young person who has found lucrative work in a highly selective field despite the economic downturn and without having to tame his exuberant locks.

From a makeshift stage, various representatives of various organizations and causes explained their various situations to about three dozen Liberal MPs. On a table by the back wall, a few stray sandwiches and wraps sat unspoken for. If the meeting had been called for the sake of the press gallery, it failed miserably—there being just one scribe present and he being of absolutely no influence whatsoever.

Problems were identified, proposals were offered. Mr. Ignatieff sat in the front row, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, listening seriously. It eventually came time for questions. The MPs seemed to struggle with this opportunity to ask things of people who were not also politicians and without the usual constraints of Parliamentary discourse. After a couple long-winded contributions, Mr. Trudeau reminded his audience to be succinct and focused. Larry Bagnell rose then with a five-point statement. Ken Dryden rose and spoke for three and a half hours before arriving at a deep existential question about what separates those who succeed from those who fail.

The situation called out for some sort of overseeing power to enforce time limits and order—call it, maybe, a “Speaker.” And for whatever it possessed in deep and nuanced discussion of policy and social structures, it surely lacked in furious indignation, bad puns and the implicit suggestion that whoever was standing opposite you is inherently evil.

Alas. The third of March can not come fast enough.


The Commons: Lights on, nobody home

  1. Other than how to ride coattails of famous father, I wonder what insights Trudeau could possibly have about employment.

    And I assume your being facetious about Dryden but you never know with him.

  2. He does his best work now.

  3. After a couple long-winded contributions, Mr. Trudeau reminded his audience to be succinct and focused. Larry Bagnell rose then with a five-point statement. Ken Dryden rose and spoke for three and a half hours before arriving at a deep existential question about what separates those who succeed from those who fail.

    Wherry writes his best jokes when he's really, really bored.

  4. "there being just one scribe present and he being of absolutely no influence whatsoever"

    Somebody needs a hug.

  5. bobby Clark once said about Ken Dryden you ask him the time and he spends 3 hours telling you how the clock was invented.Well this is one time we have the shut out.this act will last about a week and then watch these guys running back to their riding's or somewhere in the sun Our country is made up of the biggest amount of hypocrites in politics Nothing for us Lots form those over paid bunch of whining twits supported by the worst media in the world

    • Have you prorogued punctuation?

  6. A nice gesture from the Libs, but really, talking to each other isn't what I'd call work, even if it is done in Ottawa. Ignatieff laid out a real plan for prorogation reform, yet besides the crapshoot that was EI reform, that's the first piece of real, defined policy I've seen him lay on the table.

    If he wants to claim that he and the Liberals are actually working and not just trying to look nice for the cameras in order to capitalize on Harper's mistake for political gain, he'd better produce some more policies – fast.

  7. Whereas bore us all, endlessly.

  8. Admited this can't be easy. Perhaps absent the bad guys, the libs and dippers could go at it…or better yet they could both pick on the bloq…those guys are back to work, aren't they?

    • No, I'm pretty sure the Bloc stayed home. Will their poll numbers dip??

    • Oh, but with the NDP and Bloq there, it might look like a coalition of sorts. Heaven forebid!

  9. Gotta keep the ghost of Pierre in the back pocket, just in case, eh?

  10. OK, here's how you do this mock Parliament thing. Listening, OLO?

    a) You make damn sure your friggin' MP's show up. Since you have dictatorial power of your caucus, you just give the word. Alternatively, you explain why you're doing this: to demonstrate that Parliament has its own vigour. You may have to believe the latter point before making it convincingly, but that's another issue.

    b) You need a Speaker. If Milliken won't do it, you elect some temporary Speaker. Speaking of Speakers, the first thing you need to do when Parliament officially resumes is find a new Speaker for the House. This will require cooperating with the Opposition parties and selecting an agreed-upon candidate so as not to split the vote. Again, you might want to start coming up with a plan, so as to sell the whole concept; and you should already be negotiating with the NDP and the other party as to the purpose and strategy of the coming session. But I digress.

    c) Don't treat the mock House of Commons as a nice get-together with catered pita sandwiches and a string of witnesses, or as a committee meeting for that matter. This is the (mock) House of Commons, for Pete's sake. Arrange the chairs facing a central aisle and have people more or less sit where they would sit, i.e. with the Government side empty. You will need a reasonable turnout for this, even allowing for the small size of the room. You need a press gallery. You don't need a painted ceiling; part of the point is that the Commons has been degraded, so ghetto is good.

    d) Follow normal Commons procedure. Hold Question Period. Cry "Shame, shame!" when you normally would, and applaud your Leader's questions. Just leave the silence that settles when the Cabinet would be answering questions to speak for itself. Ask follow-up questions. Stick to the time limit.

    e) Apart from QP, give speeches (as Members' Statements?) on the subject of Parliamentary supremacy. Develop momentum for the official return of Parliament. Codify a united doctrine.

    f) Repeat.

    • Sadly, I'm not sure the OLO is listening at this point. They're just reacting, like bad actors. Iggy's surprise announcement today was a bad reaction to Layton's announcement four days earlier.

      • Bad reaction in what way – like in that it was obvious that it was due to the NDP coming up with the idea first. Iggys proposal seems to be being received like a good thought out proposal, not a reaction to something they should have thought of first. Its certainly debateable as to how effective the changes would be. Its certainly obvious to those paying attn that he is just basically copying the idea though.

      • He flip flopped, last week it was one thing.We don't need anyythting, then he climbs all over Jacks idea. Once he starts talking, his numbers poll lower

    • Geez Jack, that's pretty good. Did you make all this stuff up on your own?

  11. If one of my students had written this nihilistic tripe I would have told him to grow up and lose the attitude. Anybody can sneer. That's not journalism. If you want to write wit, think.

    • Having perused the offerings on your blog, I will concede that you're quite familiar with nihilistic tripe.

  12. You spotted the weakness in their evil plan…how could we have missed it?

  13. Mr Ignatief's "real plan for prorogation reform" – as real as Mr Rae's political stripes, as real as the Canadian press's dispassion, as real as Ms May's environmental credentials – go ahead, add your own comparators. It can be as entertaining as an evening watching the CBC, or as entertaining as …. …….etc.

  14. Would anyone else like to point out the irony in this pint-sized rant?

  15. I vote that Rod be pulled from obscurity and named wordsmith of the people.

  16. Stick to the time limit? Won't anybody think of poor Ken Dryden?

  17. Realizing that even the ardent supporters of the Liberal Party on the MacLeans Blog Central were mocking their attempt to have a Mock Parliament, the backroom boys in the OLO decided they would have a follow up Mock-Up at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. They informed Mr. Wherry they would be using the plan and seating arrangement outlined by the resident Commenter named Mitchell.

    However, plans began to be sidelined early Monday evening. Whether it was because of the excitement of the recent rallies or the fact that this was their first night away from home for some time, something made these MP`s spend most of the night in a few local watering holes. The end result was a very hungover group showing up for early morning Question Period. Bagnell looked like he had slept in his clothes; McCallum had no shirt on; Dryden fell asleep in the midst of his own speech and nobody knew where they left Brison. Ignatieff looked up and spotted Mr. Wherry. He was relieved. At least he would get one good report from this exercise.

  18. …as real as SH's principles…was that the sort of thing you had in mind?

  19. I'm still trying to find the nihilism. Whatever this guy's teaching, i'll pass. It's the sneering, right?

    • *nods*

  20. Cheap shots masquerading as humour – fail.

    I love the way everyone who doesn't think like you must, by definition, be a liberal supporter – an ardent one too! It's a much bigger world out there than you're partisan focus could ever encompass.

    • Oh lighten up ! You`re much too serious.

  21. The title should really read "Michael Ignatieff, lights on, nobody home" His "plan" to reform the use of prorogation is all a ploy. Whatever "reforms" get passed will be reversed by the next Liberal government, because they will want all options available to them. I can't believe that so many people are falling for this prorogation fakery.

  22. Well, the MP from Prince Albert ( Randy Hoback) reiterated today just how important it is to meet with his constituents with this time away from the House. Unfortunately he did this from Disney Land. Perhaps he's a tad confused who his constituents actually are. Here's a quote from the hard working MP: ""Our constituents have more concerns on their minds," he said by phone Tuesday from California, where he is vacationing. "They want us to concentrate on jobs, get people back to work, and get the budget back in order. And that's what I'll focus on when I get back to Parliament and that's what I'm focusing on now."

    What exactly do you think he's focusing on in California?

    • It wouldn't surprise me if Harper told some of his MPs to go away for a few weeks. This would minimize the risk of one of them putting their foot in their mouth and straying off message.

  23. No doubt Mr. Hoback's retort – scripted by the PMO – will be a swift "I'm thinking – I can think just as well at Disneyland as in Prince Albert or for that matter the out of this world environment of the HoC"…

    This of course presumes one thing – that Mr. Hoback has – in the words of Dr. Seuss – a thinker!

  24. If you have a conservative MP, I suggest you begin calling daily to find out his/her itinerary. Find out just what work is happening in your constituency. Turn a little heat on. Because even if you're a con supporter, you do expect a little return on your investment, right?

  25. Yeah, they can just phone it in….

  26. Gee I thought technology was the bestest thing given the huge love in with Facebook and how it changed the landscape of political involvement by citizens (NOT!). By the logic, MPs don't need to be in their ridings – they can and do respond to constituents using new media.

    And besides – who says that MPs can't take holidays – Iggy spend 3 or 4 weeks at is home in the south of France on an extended Christmas holiday. My feelings he should have been in Ottawa making sure that the Liberal Party had something more than a proposed bill that he knows will not fly – where are the policies that he has been thinking about? The budget will be released in about a month and I would like to see where the Liberals stand on the budget according to their policies. But guess what – they will not be able to do that because THEY HAVE NO POLICIES.

  27. You're right, the Liberals do seem short of a policy or two.

    Unlike the Conservatives, who have lots of policies, which they craft as legislation, introduce to the House, cancel through prorogation or dissolution….and then repeat the process the following year.

  28. No they won't

  29. I agree, lighten up isnt a word they seem to know here. I thought it very funny.

  30. Maybe..still wasn't particularly funny:)

  31. Even though this is very interesting, I don’t think I could agree with you completely.

  32. "The Commons: Lights on, nobody home" cq and we the taxpayers have paid the bills, wages, medical, life insurance, expense claims, jolly rides and pensions in advance!