The Commons: Mission accomplished

When in doubt, accuse your opponent of not supporting the troops


The Scene. It is perhaps more relevant that the Prime Minister seemingly chose this weekend to climb inside a motor-propelled dingy without a life jacket. It is likely more interesting to wonder whether it was courage or recklessness—or merely the suggestion of his stylist—that led him to make such a choice. It is probably more meaningful to question whether Stephen Harper abandoned here his responsibility as a role model. And it is almost definitely more entertaining to imagine the Prime Minister having to tape a public service announcement about nautical safety to repair whatever damage has been done to impressionable young minds by his cavalier display.

But then there is, of course, what the Prime Minister had to say once he was safely aboard the HMCS Quebec and the fact that his words were obviously meant to be heard. If only out of deference to our leader, it behooves us to repeat them here.

“Let me just say this,” he said, an early warning that what was to come would almost certainly be interesting, or at least inflammatory. “Living as we do, in a time when some in the political arena do not hesitate before throwing the most serious of allegations at our men and women in uniform, based on the most flimsy of evidence, remember that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are proud of you and stand behind you, and I am proud of you, and I stand beside you.”

It is tempting to point out that the military does not act independently. That it acts, effectively, at the command of the government. That that government is presently led by Mr. Harper. And that whatever the Canadian Forces are presently accused of doing, they are said to have done so only at the direction of their superiors.

But, of course, the Prime Minister was not attempting to posit an alternative understanding of government authority and the military. The Prime Minister was most likely doing here what the Prime Minister does when the questions prove too persistent or the accusations too uncomfortable.

A year and a half ago, when last this discussion of torture in Afghanistan flared, Mr. Harper loudly suggested that the Liberal leader of the time possessed a greater “passion” for the Taliban than he did for the Canadian Forces. A year ago, when a coalition threatened to topple his government, Mr. Harper loudly suggested his opponents had betrayed both the country and the very principles of our democracy. Now, here, he has decided to suggest that any who would allege wrongdoing in Afghanistan do not sufficiently support the troops—and let there be no mistake that in these times there is no greater sin than not supporting the troops.

When in doubt, lash out.

So it was that in the moments before Question Period, two dutiful backbenchers—including Scott Armstrong, who arrived just last week but has apparently quite quickly grasped his purpose here—were sent up to repeat the Prime Minister’s remarks. And after Michael Ignatieff had asked when the government could be expected to produce all relevant documents and deal transparently with the accusations of Richard Colvin, it was John Baird—not the Defence Minister or the Foreign Affairs Minister, both of whom were present—who was sent up to contort his face and project outrage.

“Mr. Speaker, if there is any disinformation campaign going on here, it is the disinformation, innuendo, second-hand information being spread by the Liberal party,” he opined. “The members are only too happy to spread half-truths and this type of innuendo about our troops. Last week, we heard from well-respected public servant, David Mulroney, who said there was no evidence of abuse. When will the Liberal party stop attacking the actions of our men and women in uniform?”

Mr. Ignatieff, a man of some pride, could not let this go unchallenged. “Mr. Speaker, at no time has this party attacked our troops or our men in the field,” he declared.

The Conservatives howled.

“It is the government we are attacking. It is the government’s conduct,” he continued. “For 18 months the Conservatives knew about allegations of torture and did nothing. Then they sought to smear a distinguished public servant. Even now they are not telling the truth and they are hiding behind our soldiers. When will they start telling Canadians the truth?”

Back came Mr. Baird, this time alleging that a member of the Liberal side had dared question the testimony of a military general. At the other end of the government frontbench, Vic Toews shouted something about Mr. Ignatieff not having been in the country at some point. A Liberal loudly suggested he “shut up.”

Mr. Ignatieff came to his feet yelling and pointing. “Mr. Speaker, when will the government apologize for using a Canadian destroyer as a backdrop for party political propaganda?” he wondered. “At no time have we ever attacked the integrity of the Canadian armed forces. The issue is the conduct of the government. The issue is whether Conservatives are telling Canadians the truth. The issue is whether they have covered up allegations of torture for 18 months. It is time to hear the truth from that side of the House instead of these baseless attacks.”

Mr. Baird took the opportunity to again yell about why the Liberals should be ashamed of themselves.

Bob Rae went next, speaking slowly and quietly, attempting to quell the House with careful inflection. “Mr. Speaker, in trying to understand the process under way with respect to dealing with allegations of harsh treatment, Kerry Buck, who is a senior spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said under cross-examination in 2008, ‘…it is not our role to determine credibility of the allegations, to determine the veracity of the allegations. We don’t investigate those allegations. We simply record those allegations.’ I wonder if the Minister of Foreign Affairs could tell us if that is his understanding of the way in which these allegations are supposed to be dealt with.”

Apparently feeling shy, Lawrence Cannon let Peter MacKay take this one. Mr. MacKay attempted to accuse the Liberals of some kind of hypocrisy. Mr. Rae tried again. Mr. MacKay returned to his feet to once more ignore the question.

“Mr. Speaker, two and a half years ago, when we improved the failed transfer arrangement,” he informed the House, “we started to invest in their justice system, in their prison system.”

The government side has stressed these points repeatedly. It remains a puzzling line of argument—the fact that it only acted two and a half years ago, a year and a half after taking office, and the suggestion that the previous transfer agreement was insufficient seeming to be the crux of the opposition’s concerns.

Whatever Mr. Rae’s efforts, the tone of the day was by then set. Ujjal Dosanjh asked the government to call a public inquiry. Mr. MacKay read aloud from the testimony of a general. Mr. Dosanjh suggested it would be wise to call a public inquiry before the Prime Minister goes to China. Mr. MacKay accused Mr. Dosanjh of trying to “politicize” the situation. Anita Neville lamented the lack of transparency. Mr. MacKay lamented for the previous Liberal government. The NDP’s Jack Harris accused the Defence Minister of contradiction and repeated the call for an inquiry. Mr. MacKay managed to accuse the opposition of inconsistency, cynicism and hypocrisy. Harris tried again. Mr. MacKay bemoaned that the Liberal critics for defence and foreign affairs were former NDP premiers.

The day was almost entirely a loss. Which seemed exactly the point.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 15 questions. The environment, five questions. Affordable housing, four questions. Employment, three questions. The Olympics and Public Works, two questions each. Taxation, education, immigration, pensions, the military, CN Rail and agriculture, one question each.

Peter MacKay, 11 answers. John Baird, eight answers. Ed Komarnicki, five answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, four answers. Jim Prentice, Gary Lunn and Christian Paradis, two answers each. Jim Flaherty, Jason Kenney, Tony Clement and Rona Ambrose, one answer each.


The Commons: Mission accomplished

  1. As others have mentioned Aaron. A collection of "The Commons" would be a best-seller.

  2. "Mr. MacKay bemoaned that the Liberal critics for defence and foreign affairs were former NDP premiers."

    Did he also bemoan that Gary Doer, the Conservative's choice for Ambasador to Washington, was also a former NDP premier?

    • Gary Doer never acted like an NDP Premier. He was always centrist, sensible and reasonable. He governed well and was fiscally prudent. He is the anti-Bob Rae. Just compare their track records.

      Harper recognizes that Doer is a pragmatist, not an idealogue. A Canadian first, a party stalwart second.

  3. Not out west. I appreciate this is after all a blog, but holy cow this doesn't even pretend to be objective. I am a partisan (and I'm seriously Po'd about whole swaths of what the government is doing), but civilians are coming here and reading this and are thinking this is news. I know it's a fine line and by and large I think Aaron does a pretty good job given his youth and time on the beat, but this is a little too too.

  4. What the government engages in on a daily basis is a "little too too"

    Aaron is merely reporting what he sees: a joke of a government making a mockery of our institutions.

    • I think you folks are missing something fundamental here. Much of what the "crown" does is beyond the control of the elected government. The PM is a steward of the "crown" and much of what wheoever holds the office does is dictated by past precedents as articulated by our nations "institutional memory" or PCO.

      Clearly there is some latitude for freedom of action on some domestic files, but the overall trajectory of "international policy" is guided by "interests" with life spans far greater than elected governments.

      Briefly, the PCO is a "sock drawer" for policy. PMs can choose red, or blue or green socks, but if they choose to go barefoot, they will have a VERY short tenure.

  5. Who new our Canadian Navy now has destroyers? Who writing Mr. Iffys questions? Maybe it is time to replace Peter Donolo.

  6. Whoops! That should say ….Who knew our Canadian Navy now has Destroyers?

    • And, as you see above, we do have destroyers.

      Who knew that MacLeans blog posters had conbots trying to change the channel to stuff that doesn't matter?

  7. It would be folly to expect anything else from this government

  8. Shame on Harper for smearing our troops.

  9. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Please don't speak for the 'west'. There is a great variety of people out here who would not share your view. Just like there are a great many who would not share mine.

    I'd buy this book.

  10. Who knew Afghanistan tortures people in prison.

    • Show me your proof smartass!

    • Sorry but any request for me to suffer through another right-wing dolt-athon from cadler just isn't fair. I suggest if he said something intelligent that you type it up and paste it here; no doubt you'd be limited to six keystrokes, tops.

    • Oh come now Springer, you are just a closet secessionist. When Harper crosses the line and is turfed out for good, you're going to be parading up and down the Kootenays in a barrel, a former pork-barrel no doubt, calling for BC to cast off its bonds to Oh Canada.

      Is that what Addledler said?

      Anyway if you can't be bothered to at least summarize what the Great Addled One had to say, don't expect us to click through.

      PS: Did your riding get enough pork? If not I'll send a note to the PMO and have that corrected tout suite!

    • Adler is great, he says what he thinks he doesn't pretend to be neutral like the LBC does.He tells us like it is.love him!

  11. HMCS stands for Her Majesty's Canadian Ship. So you just say "HMCS Quebec", not "THE HMCS Quebec".

  12. In all my years, and I’m about to enter my seventh decade, I’ve never seen such classless leadership in any profession much less our government.

    • Agreed – this government's methods are akin to taking the boots to your head, * again and again *
      And when they are done with your head, they start on the knees.

  13. The Harper conservatives can't help themselves, so much easier to act like they are in opposition then trying to govern! Besides they are doing the prudent thing hide behind the brave men and women of the Canadian armed forces.

  14. Thank you, Jon. My view exactly. And Peter, I stopped watching QP because of all the nonsense stooges like Baird engaged in on behalf of this "government." I keep on thanking Aaron for giving me the gain of QP without the pain of having to suffer through it myself.

  15. If you go back over everything the Liberals have said since this became an issue, you will find nowhere did the Liberals, or the NDP or Bloc for that matter, say anything accusatory or denigrating to or about the troops. It is the Conservatives that bring it up time and again to make it look like it has been the opposition's accusation. I can't believe that political followers, no matter what political stripe, has such blinders on not to have caught this.

    The opposition has said time and again that it is criticizing government policy and inactions. They know that the troops don't set that kind of policy. The troops just follow what government tells them to do. Even Jack Layton gets this.

    This is a tactic this government has used since it first gained office. It is not honourable or admirable and it doesn't look good on any Canadian government to act this way.

    • say anything accusatory or denigrating to or about the troops

      Apart from saying the troops are handing their prisoners over to be tortured, many of whom were captured on the field of battle.

      This is what they've been saying.
      "Hey troops! You've captured some prisoners – thanks for nothing! By the way, we think you're war criminals, or perhaps it's your superiors. Either way, you're participating in war crimes."

  16. Well said. The oppositon needed another scandal gate for the week and H1N1 would not cooperate any longer and the media could not push the fake story any longer.

    Now after Colvin has had his allegations torn to pieces by three retired generals, an ambassador and the Red Cross, the opposition are in a full damage mode.

  17. We have 3: HMCS Iroquois (DDH 280) HMCS Athabaskan (DDH 282) HMCS Algonquin (DDG 283)

    They've been in service since the 70's.

  18. You may want to reread what the Red Cross said, as it had nothing to do with the credibility of Colvin's allegations.

  19. Maybe it is time the Conservatives answered the questions., not just repeating lines from the playbook.

  20. Hey I'm "out west" and very little of what Harper has done since he gained office almost 4 years ago gains any points with me. Harper Conservative smear tactics are too close to Republican smear tactics for my liking. I think there are many exConservatives who are unimpressed with Harper and what he has done to the Conservative Party.

  21. Everyone but MacKay

  22. Unfortunately, having to state repeatedly that "the Liberals, the NdP or the Bloc never said anything denigrating or accusing our troops" effectively changes the channel from the current issue. It's a despicable but obviously a clever ploy — which ironically relies on using the troops as a distraction.
    Time to fess up folks, the Harper team is ready to use any and all tools at their disposal to avoid accountability. That pisclone who use to have some other Con drone handle should crawl back under his bridge.

  23. It's a turf war between the Freemasons, the Elks Lodges, the Hell's Angels, and Opus Dei.

  24. I thought he was summoned by the Military Police Complaints Commission.

  25. Can some at Macleans run a quick IP address check on TwoYen's computer, comparing it to 24 Sussex Drive?

  26. Great clip.
    That whole accountability promise was pure pantload

  27. Your perceived bias is purely in the eye of the beholder. Possibly because you feel the same pinch Harper did when he wrote the Alberta Agenda and chaired the NCC.

  28. How could Colvin have smeared the Harper government, TwoYen, when it is already filthy and stinking? And then Harper smeared his filth on our troops yesterday.

  29. A destroyer? it wasa frigate, cant he even get that right.Iggy come on now

  30. Wikipedia, for one.

    But way to focus on the important part. Never mind the whole detainee scandal and cover-ups… what's key here is that Iggy said destroyer instead of frigate in QP.

  31. It's hard to have an entertaining debate with morons!!

  32. I doubt it. It wouldn't begin:" with all due respect".

  33. I disagree completely Aaron : and I think Harper just earned a few brownie points today – he sure did with my parents right now who were ol time liberlas and they are not amused as well with some of the vast unwashed undecideds out there who are getting sick and tired of our armed forces being used as a poltical football by the opposition parties – Baird said it all and well I might add. I think the next election will affirm what I am saying when the lib's will pay the price for the all of the pseudo-scandals they have been focusing on rather than doing their job.

  34. Don't forget about the reverse vampires…

  35. At least kcm shows some class. Thank you.

    • Telling the truth is not a smear. It is the governments actions which are the stain on its (already low) reputation.

  36. There was a time when I looked down at Americans…believing that only a fool could buy into their government's "our ideology is America's ideology" jargon. Boy do I have egg on my face

  37. You need to look away from the mirror.

  38. Oh! I finally got it! "S"ome "C"onservative "F"anboy..

    Man.. can't believe I missed that all this time.

    • How fun! Name-calling! You're The witless moron!

  39. With due respect, it is Colvin that smeared the government, not the other way around.

  40. Skull & Bones was eliminated???

    Dang, I had some of them in my Conspiracy pool.

  41. No, I'd compare it to Conservative party HQ or to Mike Duffy's Senate office.

  42. The problem is that Skull & Bones alumni often turn out to be wealthy scions, captains of industry, or American presidents, and the results are usually unsatisfactory. It's almost as if a handful of wealthy, privileged frat-brats aren't Masters of the Universe after all, despite the Eighties' Wolfian hyperbole.

  43. All Harper knows how to do is attack. That's not leadership.

  44. "It is tempting to point out that the military does not act independently. That it acts, effectively, at the command of the government. That that government is presently led by Mr. Harper. And that whatever the Canadian Forces are presently accused of doing, they are said to have done so only at the direction of their superiors."

    That's a great line, Wherry. I wonder if one could then apply that same logic to the Liberals who were in power in 2005, at the time the prisoner transfer agreement was signed. How is it that they weren't bothered at all by the state of Afghan prisons? After all, Canada had had troops in Afghanistan for nearly 4 years by then. Were there really no concerns about humans rights between 2002-2005 that might have raised red flags for the Chretien-Martin governments?

    Some of the guys now clamoring for a public inquiry were in the Martin cabinet leading up to the time the 2005 transfer agreement, ie Ujjal Dosanjh.

  45. There is no way in hell that you believe a word of what you just wrote. No way.

  46. Peter,

    I'm sorry but what has happened since 2006 shows that the PCO is no longer the sock drawer (nor are Ministries run by Ministers of the Crown). There is one power in Ottawa today and that is the PM and PMO. There are no such things as policy options anymore…just government priorities. You either follow those orders or get out of the way.

    Government policies change with the party that leads (that's the whole point of election platforms). Crown obligations do of course exist but even then, governments of the day can change the nuances of deals…which is exactly what the questions re: Afgan detainees is all about…what were the "changes" that this government did or didn't do based on the information they did or didn't have.

  47. Jeez the whole political process seems childish at times. I find it hard to believe any sane citizen has the faith to support any major political party. It would be nice to have a parliment in session which was allowed to either sink or swim based on their ability to govern the country and not constantly trying survive a minority, or an opposition in place to challenge the ruling government as opposed to doing whatever it takes just to get back in power…..for the same BS to start all over again……sheesh……sometimes the whole thing seems so pathetic…..

  48. Regarding the photo of Mr. Baird.
    Was it taken yesterday?
    Is it normal to sport a poppy in late November?

  49. Wasn't the agreement signed late in 2005, at about the same time that an election campaign was kicking off in Canada, the one that lead to the election of the first Harper government? Hardly enough time for the liberals to determine whether they had made a major blunder then. How and when did the Harper government reach the conclusion that the original transfer needed to be modified?

  50. You seem well informed so please comment on this: A $500/hr Calgary lawyer at a firm, well recognized as Liberal, reports that recently "retired" Clerk of the PCO, Mr. Lynch was Paul Martin's "parting gift" to the incoming Conservatives.

    He had been DM finance and had most recently spent several years at the IMF in DC. In both of those positions his familiarity with "interests with life spans greater than elected governments" would have been intimate. Public Domain skinny on Mr. Wouters is that he is a follower of policy, not ideaology. The question to be answered is whose policy, PCO, or PMO? Seeing the contortions of the elected government where "party policy", as expressed in the constitution, is in conflict with the "needs" of the Crown, the Crown wins hands down every time. The pasting they're taking on torture right now is a case in point as is their position at Copenhagen.

  51. Well, at least you acknowledge that being called conservative is indeed name calling.

    There may be hope yet.

  52. "He was always centrist, sensible and reasonable. He governed well and was fiscally prudent."

    Tell me again why Stephen Harper wanted anything to do with him?

  53. Yes it was signed during the campaign, but I'm not sure what the election would have to do with it. I would expect the Liberals to undertake due diligence regardless of politics back home. It would a rather weak excuse at this point while they express fury at the government. Moreover, the agreement wasn't negociated over one weekend during the election campaign, but over several months preceeding as they decided to shift delivery of POWs from the Americans to the Afghans.

    For your latter question as to why the Conservatives changed the agreeement, there was a flurry of media reports starting with G&M either at the end of 2006 or early 2007 which made the issue of torture public. Christie Blatchford had a interesting column in G&M yesterday on the timeline of Colvin's memos, which really pick up the torture story only at the end of 2006, just as the issue became public. His earlier memos, she says, did not deal with torture itself, which is what everyone else, Generals and Mulroney, has said so far.

  54. I agree that the original transfer agreement was negotiated over an extended period, but suggest to you, that former members of the Martin cabinet might reasonably claim not to have had sufficient time to assess whether the agreement was workable. The Colvin memos (which may or may not report the possible torture of Canadian captured prisoners) date from early in the Harper Government and would not have been seen members of the Martin cabinet.
    The transfer agreement was changed in 2007 following media reports of torture, and for many months, questions in the commons. Just when the the government realized that the transfer agreement would have to be altered is not clear since publicly they were defending the original agreement until it was superseded.
    What role, if any, Colvin's memos played in these changes is presently unclear.
    Wouldn't things be a lot clearer though if the government just produced the memos rather than leak selectively to certain 'friendly' journalists.

  55. Unlike others, I believe what I've said because it's true.

    Ask the Red Cross what they think of Mr Colvin's comments about them.

    The Liberals have by their insinuations, called Generals Hillier and Hnatiuk liars. They have accused our military and our government of knowingly handing over prisoners to be tortured. How does that not damage our international reputation?

  56. In their zeal to exploit what they percieve as a real scandal, the Liberals have done a great job of smearing our armed forces and damaging Canada's international reputation.

    Colvin has even damaged the Red Cross's reputation as a neutral party.

    This behaviour is childish, irresponsible and reprehensible.

    It is hard to have a debate with morons. (Who would call themself Wascally Wabbit and then expect to be taken seriously?)

  57. "In their zeal to exploit what they percieve as a real scandal, the Liberals have done a great job of smearing our armed forces and damaging Canada's international reputation."

    Yeah, we got the official talking points already.

    Give it a rest, sycophant.

  58. When did the Liberals call, or insinuate, that Hillier et all are liars? Did I miss something here? Colvin gets called to testify, he does. The Conservatives and the Military command go into full on "attack the attacker" mode. Hillier then gives a testimony that calls Colvin a liar (my understanding is that he basically said, those memos that Colvin talked about? They don't say what he says the do…is this a fair assessment?). Mulroney calls Colvin a liar. and the Liberals and NDP continue to demand to see the documents and continue to call for a full inquiry.

    How exactly does any of that translate into calling Hillier and Hnatiuk liars are thus damaging Canada's international reputation??

    Furthermore, if you are so sure that accusations that "our government…knowingly hand[ed] over prisoners to be tortured" are damaging to our international reputation…wouldn't you want to get to the bottom of this? Clear our good name once and for all of any wrongdoing? Do you really think it suffices to just say "nope, that man's a liar…nothing to see here…move along now"? I don't. I want our name to once again become synonymous with moral and ethical leadership on the world stage. I want to be certain that if anything did happen, that it will never happen again. And if in fact nothing did happen, then I want all the details to come out vindicating my nation on the international stage.

    Why don't you?

  59. …cont…In my view they are taking it on the chin "to protect the honor of the Crown", which it seems is somewhat suspect in many areas right now, because that's the oath you swear before being allowed to take office. You also are sworn to life long secrecy about the actions you perform as a Privy Councillor

  60. I agree that simply releasing the memos would be in the best interest of all, except maybe posters on this board (how else would we waste our time, eh?)
    To your other point about cabinet members possibly not having sufficient time to assess the agreement, would be a truly remarkable admission (if true). They would have to admit to entering into an agreement without fully understanding the implications.
    Lastly, there were substantive torture allegations in Agfstan well before 2006. As I said, Canada had been part of the forces there for almost 4 yrs at that point. Surely, that ought to have been enough time to understand how POW prisons were not up to western standards. They still decided to shift the transfer of prisoners from US forces to the Afghan prisons. Mostly for the optics back home I would add.

  61. Name-calling, now that's a good argument.

  62. AT1
    "[that] cabinet members possibly not having sufficient time to assess the agreement, would be a truly remarkable admission (if true). They would have to admit to entering into an agreement without fully understanding the implications."

    I meant time "post-implementation" to assess the agreement, but you're right that much information was (or should have been) known pre-2006 about the conditions of Afghan prisoners. How much 'wishful thinking' and political expediency were involved in the original transfer agreement might be considered within the remit of any public inquiry.
    But if that agreement was obviously flawed, why didn't the Conservatives scrap it immediately upon taking office and blame the Liberals, rather than defend it vigorously for a year and a half? Obviously, it took time to determine that there were significant problems, but then the question remains when did the government become aware of these and how long did it take them to respond?

  63. Don't forget Iggy called Colvin a "VERY DISTINGUISHED PUBLIC SERVANT" man, that will haunt him eventually….

  64. But I did forget to write that I agree that the Martin government was responsible for the original transfer agreement, and hence its innate weaknesses. Still, it's not clear, is it, when those weaknesses became apparent?

  65. Yeah, I think that every agreement such as this develops some inertia, and knowing a start and end date, becomes hard to change without a major reason. It seems clear that nobody wanted to find, or look for any evidence that might necessitate abrogating the transfer agreement.

    However, I don't think the original agreement was obviously flawed. I think it seems that way in retrospect, but I don't believe the Libs negociated it in bad faith or for lack of proper oversight. My feeling is that we have not been involved a conflict such as this for a very long time, and human rights expectations (not just the laws) are evolving.

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