The Commons: Weirder still -

The Commons: Weirder still

Iggy: “The government has made a total mess of a great institution, Rights & Democracy”


The Scene. Five days ahead of another of those moments that may determine the ultimate success or failure of Michael Ignatieff’s political career, and on his first appearance in the House after a week spent touring the country to participate in town hall discussions, the Liberal leader stood and asked the government to account for its handling of an organization mandated by Parliament to pursue rather unimpeachable, if perhaps somewhat abstract, goals. An organization, for that matter, that was, up until recently, going about pursuing its rather unimpeachable, if perhaps somewhat abstract, goals with neither fame nor infamy.

The government, he said, had made a scandal of this organization, Rights & Democracy. It had moved last week, he recounted, to block the widow of the former president of Rights & Democracy from testifying at a Parliamentary committee. Would it now, he wondered, allow Mr. Beauregard’s widow, as well as several other interested individuals, from testifying.

That he stood and did all this with his first opportunity speaks to perhaps a number of things, but perhaps none more so than the particular weirdness that continues to define this particular controversy—a weirdness that perhaps demands attention, no matter how innocuous, unimpeachable or abstract whatever else is going on here.

Conservatives had cried out their mock delight when Mr. Ignatieff stood (“Mr. Speaker, I did not miss a thing,” he smiled in response) and when he had finished, the government side turned to its most gracious voice of reason and post-partisan civility.

“Mr. Speaker, let me join members of the Liberal caucus in welcoming back to Ottawa the leader of the opposition. He said he did not miss anything, but we certainly missed him,” John Baird joked in response. “Let me say what I said on Friday. We said that we hoped that the committee could put aside partisan politics. We hoped they could put aside divisive bickering and come to an agenda to allow Madame Trepanier, who has obviously suffered a great loss, to be able to share her views with the committee and with Canadians.”

A dozen seats to Mr. Baird’s right sat Jim Abbott, the Conservative who was, at last report, filibustering the committee so as to prevent Madame Trepanier from appearing.

“Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be welcomed back but I did not miss a thing,” Mr. Ignatieff came back. “I heard about the government’s flip-flops in every town all week.”

Across the way, Mr. Baird smiled and laughed. Mr. Ignatieff then went a bit further.

“The government has made a total mess of a great institution, Rights & Democracy,” he said. “It has intervened. It has undermined its political independence. It has appointed a hyper-partisan president. Now it goes on to blame the staff. Will the Prime Minister work with us in good faith to repair the damage done? Will he guarantee that he will not use this crisis which is of his own making in order to eliminate Rights & Democracy altogether?”

Mr. Baird stood and assured him the government intended no such thing. Mr. Ignatieff reviewed his concerns in French and then Mr. Baird rose for his third and final time on this subject. “Mr. Speaker, from time to time politics did arise at committee,” he lamented. “It is our hope that partisan politics can be put aside and that all members of the committee will work together on setting hearings and allowing key people who could contribute to their discussion to make their views known, not just to the committee but through them to the people of Canada.”

That Mr. Baird might be able to stand and say any of the above without descending into giggles or passing out from the strain, is proof surely, as if there remained any doubt, that he is a performer nonpareil. Verily, those of us who have had the honour to watch him in person each day, may say forevermore that we were witnesses to true greatness.

But that someone of Mr. Baird’s reputation and fondness for combat would be sent up to say such things, out loud and in public, would seem only to edge this whole matter closer to the bizarre. Surely if Mr. Baird is now presenting himself as a champion of civility we are in a strange place.

Some time later, the NDP’s Paul Dewar stood, all urgency and exasperation, placed his left hand on his hip and began wagging his right index finger at the government side. News had apparently arrived that Aurel Braun, the current chairman of Rights & Democracy—a man appointed to that position by this government, whose name had appeared atop an op-ed just this morning that was headlined “We welcome public hearings on Rights & Democracy”—would not, for whatever reason, be able to attend a committee hearing on the matter tomorrow as previously scheduled. Mr. Dewar was displeased.

It fell to Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, to stand and read an answer that seemed to have almost nothing to do with this latest development.

Afterwards, meeting with reporters, Mr. Dewar seemed still quite exasperated. In truth, Mr. Dewar often seems so. In fairness, it is perhaps only because he is paying attention.

The Stats. Rights & Democracy and taxation, five questions each. Afghanistan and foreign aid, three questions each. Air travel, natural resources, forestry, firearms, government advertising, environment, affordable housing and Aboriginal affairs, two questions each. Health care, foreign investment, the military, the Olympics, water safety and Gilles Duceppe, one question each.

John Baird, five answers. Christian Paradis and Rob Nicholson, four answers each. Denis Lebel, Jim Prentice and Jim Flaherty, three answers each. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Bev Oda, Dave MacKenzie, Tony Clement, Stockwell Day, Deepak Obhrai, Ed Komarnicki, Chuck Strahl, two answers each. James Moore, one answer.


The Commons: Weirder still

  1. Is this really the most important issue that Mr. Ignatieff could think of for his first Question Period back after "consulting Canadians"? To whom was he talking? Paul Wells?
    The only thing interesting to most people about this issue is the revelation we have been paying several million dollars a year for an institution of which virtually no one has ever heard.

  2. Verily Aaron, then the government should disband the committee completely and start over. If it is government appointed then it needs to support the government's agenda which is Canada's position until there is a change in government. If not they should get their funding elsewhere. It sounds like a waste of money to me. We have a deficit. Lets start cutting the fat by eliminating these types of organizations which nobody has heard of and who think they can operate with their own agenda.

    • I agree the only good thing coming out of the R+D debacle is we now know it exists, and can ask why we are funding this organization

  3. You mean Iffy was talking to school kids because the voting public doesn't want to hear what he has to say.

    • Verily, verily, Hollinm – they are "high" school kids just short of being voting age who always complain no one is listening to them.

      Want to be taken verily seriously there Hollinm, perhaps you can drop the grammar school level namecalling

      • However close is not good enough. He needs those that vote today and will be voting in the next election not two or three years down the road. However, have at it. Keep yakking to the kids and confirm to voters that he is in it for himself and he is afraid of them.
        I can't wait to see the gabfest this weekend. A bunch of elitists yakking and yakking about a left wing government and how we need government to do everything. Fits right in with the left wing Liberal party these days.
        However, if you think that any of this is going to translate into a policy platform for the next election you are in for a rude awakening.
        The last time I looked the caucus and the membership vote on the party platform. However, the caucus is not attending the gabfest. The Conservatives will have a field day with this and you guys along with your buddies in the media will be whining big time.
        I simply repeated what Wherry said in his comments. So now you take offence to words. If its good enough for Wherry why not me. Yikes.

        • Na, I don't think I'll respond to this nonsense. Besides, I think you have all the other political articles to respond to where comments are allowed. You are on every one of them, day in day out, spewing the same garbage.

          Yup, I do read them, so no need to attack me on that. I get a kick out of the pathetic cons troll comments. They show just how ugly the conservative movement has gotten.

  4. So I see his Iggyness is back from his personal prorogation and has deigned the House with his presence .. which I must admit … is certainly more than his own MP's will get at the upcoming ' Thinkers Conference ' then again who on earth would want to waste their on line time at a Liberal Thinking Conference .. even though .. when it comes to thinking I have never seen much of that actually emanate from the opposition benches the last while. Let's face it how much thinking does it take to stand up and accuse Harper of being this or that, then state how much you are different and then demand an explanation for something that doesn't make any sense and then end up after all the noise and bluster making sure you prorogue just enough of your own MP's out of the House to make sure the legislation still passes and somehow out there are people who actually still support you … that ought to make a person shake their heads in dismay .. then again judging by all of the polls out there the trend line continues in a death spiral for the party so maybe he is not as far off the mark as common sense would dictate – so keep up the good work Iggy us Conservatives applaud you!

  5. I heard about the government's flip-flops in every town all week.

    Yes, that's all the townfolk were talking about. It was such a huge topic of national discussion.

    "Hey Iggy!" people would say as they approached him on the street. "Did you hear about the latest flip-flop? The one about contraception now being included in Harper's G8 initiative?"

    "Sure did", Ignatieff would respond, chuckling as he rolled up the rim of his empty double-double. "This government doesn't know whether it's coming or going".

  6. Oh the irony.

    Conservatives mocked Ignatieff all week for proroguing himself. When he returns, they all sarcastically welcome him back. Well, not all Conservatives. Harper wasn't there.

    Perhaps he was having a heart to heart with Mr. Braun.

  7. hollinm opined: If it is government appointed then it needs to support the government's agenda which is Canada's position until there is a change in government.

    Really, h, you should realize that an "independent" body. and I stress the word "independent". should be exempt from supporting the government's agenda. That is precisely why the Mulroney government made it that way. Are you suggesting that there could be a fleeting moment when a conservative in this country was wrong about something? That would be the crack that lets the light in, right?

    • Linking Rights and Democracy with the Mulroney government doesn't exactly give it added legitimacy

    • The fact is if it is financially supported by the government and is suppose to represent the rights and democracy of our country then they have an obligation to support the governments position on the world stage. Otherwise why are we funding these types of organization. I would bet that very few Canadians knew this organization existed and now they will be clamouring for it to be dismantled as it is a waste of taxpayer money.

      • Exactly, but I do credit Mr. Well's investigation because it leads to the question: Why don't the Conservatives come out and say, " Hey this organization has no business being funded by the government in our (the ruling parties) opinion- BANG -good-bye funding". Instead of replacing their cronies (all respect to the recently deceased) with new cronies .

        However, what is interesting is, then, Well's suggest there is a huge movement to the social right – then how come the Conservative Government doesn't say: "Hey we don't support abortion and won't fund it" – you make up your mind Canadian voter.

      • "if it is financially supported by the government?

        I thought it was supported by the taxpayers. At what point does the government represent all taxpayers, not just those who are Conservatives?

        • ideally, the government would represent all citizens, not just taxpayers.

        • Give me a break. Of course it is the taxpayers who fund EVERYTHING IN THIS COUNTRY. However, it is the government who sets the policy for the country while they are in power. Its the old rube. The government does not represent all of the people. If you can get unanimity on any subject in this country then you should be the PM. Since when did Canadians vote to have this committee. I never heard of the darn thing b4 this silly thing started. Quit with the leftist claptrap.

          • " I never heard of the darn thing b4 this silly thing started." And whose fault is that?

            "Since when did Canadians vote to have this committee." Your representative voted for it in 1988. It's the old rule.

            Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development), is a non-partisan organization with an international mandate. It was created by Canada's Parliament in 1988 to encourage and support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world.

          • How does that help me get better healthcare and public services here? The fact is these type of organizations are all a waste of time and money. They may make us feel good but tangible results I doubt it. Organizations like this should be eliminated. If they want to be truly independent then they should find funding for themselves not with my money or many other taxpayers who I am sure could care less about their mandate world wide. By the way MPs may have voted to establish the organization but I don't recall Canadians having any input. Tell me exactly what do they do day to day and I will tell you whether I support it. Other than the catch lines in your reply you probably have no idea whether they are achieving real results.

  8. Shorter biff:

    Stop paying attention to your government. Nothing going on here.

  9. I have always been of the belief that most of the government funded NGOs can disappear and they would not be missed – well their well-paid staff would miss their salaries, but that is not such a great loss. Any government should live or die by their policies rather than farming them out to, what is increasingly clear, unaccountable third parties such as R & D .

  10. All this, uhm, reasonableness from the government makes me wonder what particular chess strategy this happens to be, because it's like he's taken all the pawns off the board leaving the back rank wide open.

  11. Well, I see the Conservative spin-team is out in fine feather.

    Rights and Democracy does matter. It matters hugely. It demonstrates how Harper is trying to do through back room shenanigans what he cannot accomplish in public. More than that, the taint of Christian zionism of the worst sort…the sort that wants to bring on the end-times so PM Steve and his minions can float naked up to heaven…is dictating our foreign policy.

    Human rights, international law, common decency, and reasonable diplomacy simply don't matter to the Harper government. Instead they want to force their narrow and twisted version of Christianity onto the rest of us. I'm sure Chuck McVety is going off in his shorts, but those of us who don't support puritanical insanity are pretty nervous.

  12. So Rights and Democracy in its true form was somehow averting/battling the Christian/Zionist Apocalypse? Phew, I thought it was meaningless money-trough for friends of the political class

    -Don't get too nervous

  13. I wonder if Ignatieff has decided that his party's push to include abortion funding in the Maternal Health Initiative is not going to be a political winner, and is therefore turning to this. Either that or he has the political attention span of a water spider.

    • or he has the attention span of a gnat.

  14. Or more importantly, how does he link the 2 together with the Christian/Zionist Apocalypse

  15. "It fell to Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, to stand and read an answer that seemed to have almost nothing to do with this latest development."

    It was a little difficult to understand Obhrai's accent, but he seemed to be saying that the committee had other business to attend to and, in effect, that the R and D discussion was as good as over.

  16. Shorter Wherry:

    It's inocuous, abstract, and outside the concerns of the vast vast majority of Canadians,

    but given our "generate a scandal out of every imaginable issue" policy,

    we're going to run with it.

  17. Will he guarantee that he will not use this crisis which is of his own making in order to eliminate Rights & Democracy altogether?”

    Mr. Baird stood and assured him the government intended no such thing.


    • Given the half-life of this government's committments, I wouldn't draw any conclusions from a Baird statement of intent.

  18. A couple of obvious comments come to mind…
    Sweet John Baird must have had his fingers crossed behind his back for making mock of Mr. Ignatieff being absent the House – when he himself was pinch hitting for the Dictator! [Of course – Sweet John has been acting straight for so long to his Family Values supporters – there is no fraud that he couldn't pull off!
    Lawrence Cannon couldn't be bothered to reply either (being pinched hit for also by his Parliamentary Secretary)…
    Am I missing something here – or are we seeing contempt standing in its place?