The Commons: What this is about -

The Commons: What this is about

“Having indirectly congratulated himself, Harper basked in whatever kind of victory this amounted to”


The Scene. “Mr. Speaker, the detainee issue—”

The leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition had barely completed the words before members opposite were groaning and moaning and muttering. They had apparently arrived this afternoon hoping to be entertained. Alas, Michael Ignatieff, in the face of futility and unpopularity, continues to insist on using this time to ask questions.

“—is about fundamental issues about Canadian democracy,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “It is about the respect for human rights, our international obligations under the Geneva Convention and ministerial responsibility to fulfill those obligations. We on this side of the House have called for months for a full public inquiry about the Afghan mission, going right back to the beginning in 2001, and no new information will change this party’s position on that issue.

“I ask the Prime Minister once again: Will he do the right thing and allow Justice Iacobucci to lead a full public inquiry?”

The Prime Minister stood here to shrug and dismiss and repeat himself. “We have asked Justice Iacobucci, who is a very respected Canadian, to review that work and ensure that all information is indeed available,” he concluded. “I think that information continues to show that all personnel of the Canadian government have acted with regard to their obligations at all times.”

Perhaps it is the Prime Minister’s hope that this can be matter can be bored to death. And, indeed, there may be something to that. Patience is not exactly prized in Ottawa. It is remarkable, to a certain extent, that this issue has persisted as it has, enduring despite the constant allure of shiny things like Helena Guergis.

But even if there is a sense that there is something here to be investigated and considered, it is true that with each non-answer, we seem to wander further from what it is we’re supposedly talking about. And so, as hard as it may be in this place, it is worth casting the mind back further than this morning’s headlines.

So what is this all about?

This is about what members of this government and ministers of the crown told the House of Commons—from 2006, through the late winter and spring of 2007, and the final months of 2009. This is about what was known, what should have been known, what was done and what should have been before Canada revised its detainee transfer agreement with Afghanistan in 2007. This is about the events of June 14, 2006, the accounting of those events and what that accounting implies about what was occurring on a wider scale. This is about what the handling of a report of that day might tell us about the very questions of national security and public interest which loom over all this.

There is, of course, so much to consider and so many ramifications and possibilities to debate, but the central and ultimate questions remain. Almost everything about this is hard, but that should perhaps only make it that much more difficult to dismiss.

“Mr. Speaker, the core of this issue is, and always has been, the conduct of the government and the Prime Minister,” Mr. Ignatieff ventured with his second opportunity. “The Prime Minister has done everything to prevent Canadians from getting to the bottom of this matter. The government boycotted the Afghanistan committee, censored documents, intimidated public servants, smeared Richard Colvin, shut down Parliament, and now is using Justice Iacobucci to buy some time. None of it has worked.”

Here, a slightly different tact. “The question,” Mr. Ignatieff finished, “that Canadians want to know is: What are the Prime Minister’s specific grounds for refusing a public inquiry?”

Mr. Harper stood and greeted this new wording with a new response, if not an answer.

“Mr. Speaker, the government’s position has been clear,” he assured. “Canadian officials have at all times conducted themselves in a most exemplary manner. The record is clear on that. Whenever problems have arisen, they have acted to address those problems. Not only did we conclude a new transfer agreement some three years ago.”

He turned then to a piece of yellow paper in his hand.

“But let me read what a former Liberal chief of staff had to say about this government’s work,” Mr. Harper continued.

“Here we go!” sang a Liberal backbencher.

”This government improved the agreement,” the Prime Minister read. “‘The concerns that a particular bureaucrat, Mrs. Olexiuk, had raised and the provisions that she had apparently at that time argued for were indeed put in the agreement by this government, the Conservative government, and kudos to them.'”

Having indirectly congratulated himself, Mr. Harper returned to his seat to bask in whatever kind of victory this amounted to.

The Stats. Government spending, eight questions. Afghanistan and foreign ownership, five questions each. Helena Guergis, three questions. Taxation, immigration, First Nations University, the environment and food inspection, two questions each. Crime, the disabled, Burma, Haiti, employment, Rights & Democracy and the economy, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Rob Nicholson and Rona Ambrose, four answers each. Jim Flaherty, three answers. John Baird, Jason Kenney, Chuck Strahl, Stockwell Day, Mike Lake, Jim Prentice, Gerry Ritz and Bev Oda, two answers each. Diane Finley, Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Deepak Obhrai, one answer each.


The Commons: What this is about

  1. So, the Government has had a chance to answer, and it has continued to stonewall. Mr. Speaker, when are the Opposition parties going to (insofar as they can be metaphorically considered to be male entities) GROW A PAIR and summon MacKay before the bar? When are they going to eject Peter Milliken? When are they going to start acting like a PARLIAMENT and not like the the biggest collection of dweebs Ottawa has ever seen?

    • Agree with the sentiment but have to take issue with your choice of "dweebs". I believe a more appropriate noun would be the one (which in the singular) begins with 'p' and ends in 'y', and has a couple of 's' between a vowel and the 'y'.

      • You mean passerby? ;-)

        • Well done! I nearly suggested "patsy" but it has only one 's'.

          • My unhealthy love for Scrabble pays off yet again!

    • When will the opposition ask questions about issues that matter, such as the economy, as opposed to questions (if one can dignify Mr. Ignatieff's posturing with that term) that they ask not because they care in the least about hypothetical abuse of hypothetical Taliban prisoners, but because they think such questions about a "scandal" will move their public support an inch or two higher. With an vapid opposition like this it's no wonder the Commons is held in general disrepute.

      • Here's a novel idea: if the Government would answer the opposition's questions, we could all move on.

        Gosh, it's so simple. I'll wait right here.

        • You're a patient man, TJ.

          • I'm sedated. It's in everyone's best interest and Joey Ramone's memory.

    • I think it's clear the the LIbs are petrified of a repeat of the 'coalition' debacle. If they dared get aggressive and use the parliamentary tools available to the opposition, they expect to be tarred and feathered with the same effectiveness that Harper applied to Dion.

      Fundamentally, the Libs do not think that – absent an explosive document leak – this issue can take down the Cons. So, they will make noise but not much more.

      • Then why would I vote for them? If I want a party that will try and fail to bluster through its own epochal futility, I've already got the CPC.

        • Take that second paragraph to the Thinkers' Conference, please!!

          • I don't know if I'm welcome at that kind of thing, MYL. Look at the sheer banality of the agenda. Any conference at which I'm not allowed to pound the desk with my shoe is not thoughtful enough for me.

          • Oh. My. Gawd. That agenda is straight out of a Dilbert comic!

            I shall now plead with you. Welcome, shmelcome. You take that paragraph, put it on a sign, hold it up to the window, get a rogue PowerPoint slide with it into one of the breakout sessions, put it on an endless loop in some kind of radio-wave mind-control thing, but just do it, man! Your country needs you! Because your country needs an opposition party that might, you know, one day before 2017 decide it should like to govern!

          • I couldn't agree more about the need for a viable alternative government, i.e. one that could actually win power.

            OK, you've prompted me to look into it. Haven't been to Montreal in a while, and later March is quite nice there. Perhaps you're interested in going yourself? The LPC needs to appeal to fiscal conservatives, you know.

          • The LPC needs to appeal to fiscal conservatives, you know. Ha! That's funny. But I think it belongs on a Feschuk page.

            So far, my understanding of the LPC's fiscal stance is along the lines of "How dare the Tories put us into deficit by misguidedly leaving money in the economy with a tax cut just before a recession. Far better to go into deficit while simultaneously sucking up more money in taxes from the economy in order to sprinkle it back into the economy with stimulus spending."

            All them Keynes idiots can go suck lemons.

          • Well, that's the idea: out with the proudly Keynsian CPC, in with the fiscally responsible Liberals, as enlightened by MYL. For one thing, I don't think the LPC has a "fiscal stance," or didn't 14 months ago: wasn't that transparently just a hammer to gezonk the Government with, originally inspired by the need to oppose the FUFU? That's all ancient history now, though; the question is whether we're going to let the CPC drag us down into structural deficit. I know that, as a good Liberal, you won't let that happen.

          • Well then let me extend an invitation to you right now, Jack Mitchell, to come to Kitchener. Kitchener-Waterloo and Kitchener Centre are having a joint session on Sunday, March 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Embassy Room at Bingeman's. It will involve a video/audio link to Montreal and the topics will include, jobs, the environment, the economy, our democratic institutions (I think there was another one but I didn't write fast enough). We will have an opportunity to discuss the topics both among ourselves and with the attendees in Montreal.

            I will do everything I can to find a desk for you to pound with your shoe. It may not be in the main room, mind you, but I will see what I can do.

          • I consider myself invited, Jenn! If I cannot get to Montreal, I will delightedly come to Kitchener; but realistically I may be too tied up here. I'm moving to Halifax this summer and have to figure out the housing situation about that time. But I will try! And I am flattered!

          • Wow ! Once again you're standing firm in the face of the myl mangler !

            See his ominous warning on the temptations inherent in encountering
            the Sirens of Nova Scotia (Feschuk thread) …. you can never check out …

          • Can't wait for the Sirens! Though I seem to recall that you had relinquished your Haligonian seat for a more bucolic setting . . .

          • Just back from the city. Several decades ago … well,the early 70's … I was staying at
            the far end of Mic Mac .. which was then the far end of Dartmouth .. and walking daily
            over the bridge into downtown Halifax on a job hunt (the culture of de feet). Eventually
            found one. In those days it was a great place to be young and stupid.

            Someday this could be you …

  … … h/t Contrarian

            I'm buried deep in the crowd. Great stuff.

          • You're moving to Halifax this summer? Are you in Halifax for a few months, or is it a long term thing?

          • Very much long term! I will have to compose a "Farewell Ode to TO." Actually, it will unfortunately require me to reduce the scale of my commenting, too. But that's still in the future.

            I notice you have hit 108, btw!

          • Indeed, and you'll be joining me at 108 shortly! That reminds me – we forgot to serve complimentary daiquiris to recent triple-digit inductees Jolyon and Thwim.

          • Remind me to give Jolyon's to Thwim.

          • You mean take the Ontarian's daiquiri and give it to the Albertan instead? A bit unconventional, but I like it.

          • It's striking that most of the guys on the far right around here (jolyon, scf) are from Ontario. Not sure about Gaunilon. TedTylerEzro was from the prairies but a long-time Nova Scotian. Meanwhile centrist Albertans are almost the dominant demographic around here. Goes to show.

          • We're quite far from a majority, but it's certainly possible that we represent a plurality.

            Glad you like the amphibistache! I was hoping that it would lend me some much-needed gravitas. ;-)

          • Gravitas, yes indeed.

            Ditching the Muppet avatar might have been a better way to acquire more gravitas, but then what do I really know about that topic.

          • Have you considered living in Dartmouth? Take a ferry downtown. Walk down the street from your house, turn left at the second stop sign and presto! A pretty lake!

          • A very attractive thought! All possibilities are definitely on the table, I'm pleased to say; though the Halifax (and Dartmouth) housing situation is not as affordable as Toronto legend has it.

    • It's been only a week back. There hasn't been an opposition day yet. My guess is that the Liberals will wait until the end of next week to bring in the kind of motion that would compel some sort of action. Besides, they are probably too busy planning their grand Thinker's Conference at the end of this month, which nobody will pay attention to since it's just before Easter.

    • Why is Harper allowed to repeatedly ignore a question? How can he be permitted to refuse to do his job?

      He has been asked a straightforward question that deserves a straight answer, and all he can do is show himself to be as crooked as a dog's hind leg, and just as smelly.

      Kudos to Ignatieff for not giving up. Bad marks to Jack Layton for trying to defuse it, he makes me sick.

      • Are you totally unaware of the nature of question period? Stockwell Day, when opposition leader, used to routinely (to the point of tedium) joke that there was a reason it wasn't called "Answer Period". The joke was not original with him, or the last century I'm sure. And most "questions", as in the ones Mr. Wherry likes to highlight, aren't questions at all – they are rhetorical exercises which no one, especially the questioner, expects will actually result in substantive answers. If you think this is a problem, it didn't originate with this government.

    • Unlike our national anthem, the opposition appears to be gender-neutered.

  2. ROFL! zing … right to the heart of the matter – way to go Stevie Boy .. can't wait to get home and watch CPAC …

  3. "Email messages obtained by the Competitive Enterprise Institute via a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that the climate dataset of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) was considered — by the top climate scientists within NASA itself — to be inferior to the data maintained by the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU).

    The NASA scientists also felt that NASA GISS data was inferior to the National Climate Data Center Global Historical Climate Network (NCDC GHCN) database.

    These emails, obtained by Christopher Horner, also show that the NASA GISS dataset was not independent of CRU data.

    Further, all of this information regarding the accuracy and independence of NASA GISS data was directly communicated to a reporter from USA Today in August 2007.

    The reporter never published it."

  4. Link here:

    "The reporter never published it."

    Of course they didn't. They'll publish reams of highly exxagerated and spurious claims – whatever the source- promoting AGW (note not reporting, but promoting),

    and bury stuff like this. Not isolated, but the norm.

    And people wonder why legacy media is dying?

    Now, onto the agenda of the day: "torture" of prisoners

    • I think it's pretty safe to say that most people, including the media, aren't as concerned as you are about AGW as you are.

      So yes, onto the agenda of the day, please.

      • Grammar mistakes like that are almost enough to make me want to sign up for an intense debate account. Almost.

        • Do it! Follow the lead of your fellow Edmontonians, like Thwim and PhilCP.

          • Hey! You take that back! I am *NOT* and Edmontonian, and quite proud of it, I might add. :)

          • So where did CR get that idea? One of the satellite communities surrounding the metropolis, then?

          • He must be confusing me with some other witty and charming fellow, because I'm Calgarian.

          • Ahh, Calgary. Some of us do consider Calgary to be a sort of quaint satellite community of Edmonton.;-)

          • Sorry, Thwim! I must have confused you with someone else. I hope I didn't insult you by calling you an Edmontonian. ;-)

          • IT'S A TRAP!

            Sorry, what? Wasn't paying attention….

      • You mean when the Globe and Mail went with the Green headline, going with entire pages, publishing nearly every "report' about polar bears, glaciers ect.

        They couldn't have been more "concerned"…when the "news" wasn't about it being bunk, that is. Now its not a "concern" anymore.

  5. Can we maybe start an inquiry from 2005 when the LPC signed the original agreement to send Taliban fighters to the Afghan government for interrogation and beatings? Or maybe the LPC didn't care about human rights in 2005 because they were more worried about bags of in and out money to Quebec ad agencies.

    • Ignatieff specifically called for an inquiry going back to 2001.

    • The Liberals HAVE been asking for a Inquiry that starts from 2001. So yes, it will include 2005.

    • From Ignatieff’s speech…

      “We on this side of the House have called for months for a full public inquiry about the Afghan mission, going right back to the beginning in 2001, and no new information will change this party’s position on that issue.”

      P.S. Remember to read the post before responding

    • That's what the Liberals have been calling for since the beginning: a full public inquiry reaching back to the 2002 beginning of the mission.

      "Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh insisted his party has "nothing to hide" and reiterated the Opposition's call for a full public inquiry into the Afghan detainee controversy from 2002 onward."…

      Whichever party you prefer, you have to admit that the Liberals have been doing the right thing on this file since the story broke.

    • The Liberals faced the music over Adscam and paid the price.
      Stephen Harper promised a new era of accountability, but is not willing to walk the walk.

    • nice work albertaclipper. Missed that day of class in Research Methods? That one called 'research'?

  6. Remember "epochal futility" applies to their work in the House. In public. On CPAC.

    Let's not forget their behind-the-scenes efforts:

    That sort of thing can accomplish lots of changes/damage in a democracy, while remaining steadily off the public's radar. I have a strange feeling that a nationwide 'A pox on all their houses!' would be considered a win by the Conservative Party of Canada.

    • Much as I hate taqiyya, I can't say R&D bothers me anywhere near as much as the CPC's insults to Parliament: first and foremost the possibility that a Minister of the Crown may have been lying to the House with a straight face for weeks if not months. Sure, maybe it risks a CPC majority, but the Opposition has a duty to do its job to enforce the Constitution, if only to scare the heck out of guys like MacKay. They could have him tarred and feathered by sundown tomorrow if they cared to. Make this issue about lying to Parliament and half the potential pitfalls disappear. That is the real issue, anyway, over and above the potential complicity of the Government in Afghan torture: the latter would compromise our good name, but the former would compromise the integrity of our democracy. Compared to the gutting of R&D, that's huge.

      Anyway, isn't it pretty clear that there is something big lying hidden here? I just can't believe Harper would have the Machiavellian skill to have simply laid a trap of this magnitude. There's something terrible in the documents and it could take the CPC down, if handled with the minimum of tact.

      • I agree: at this point, there simply HAS to be some wrongdoing on Harper's part here. And I agree that Harper couldn't have laid this as a trap for the Liberals, it's too much of a bank shot.

        My point, I suppose, was that there's plenty of behind-the-scenes damage to complement the front-and-centre insults that Harper is wreaking on our society. With the near-cooperation of our opposition parties who are apparently too concerned with immediate electoral success to do the Right Thing for Canada.

        • You mean like the implied wrongdoing in bribing a dying MP for his vote? You mean the implied wrongdoing of allegedly misusing election funds in a shell game to overspend the limits? You mean the implied wrongdoings of coercing a teammate, while in opposition, to rig up a tape that sounds like someone is being lured to cross the floor when that wasn't the case? Or just the implied ethically challenged accomplishments like blandishing a speech written and spoken by someone else as your own? How about back in the day as opposition, when so-called leader picked up the republican talking points and led the lynch mob that didn't want the government of the day to look into the safety of one Mr. Arar?
          I suppose part of the answer as to why we are at this point is that, if the media and its duty to afflict the comfortable can turn its head, or inquire with kid gloves, on all the above, what makes you think any of that PLUS proof that the government supported torture in Afghanistan is going to be applied or taken seriously by a financially troubled industry that is so liquored up with Economic Action Plan ad buys to give Canadians a clear choice?

      • Jack, let's say you are correct: there is something potentially fatal for the CPC lying hidden. Let's further say that the opposition was to "…grow a pair…" and start pursuing contempt of parliament motions, removing the speaker if need be, generally pursuing our parliamentary democracy as you suggest. How does Harper react?

        He could push it all to the SCOC. He may actually lose there but a SCOC decision could take months (if expedited) or up to a year.

        Harpers's alternative is the nuclear option: scream how separatists, socialists and Libs are undermining the Government Canadians duly elected; that the parliamentary tactics are tantamount to a coup. He goes to the GG and demands she dissolve Parliament, call an election and let Canadians decide. Odds are that's exactly what she would do. If Ms Jean is gone, you can be damn sure her replacement would have been selected to make dissolution under such circumstances a virtual certainty.

        Either way, Harper defers the issue until after the next election.

        Say you are Iggy, do you want to fight your first election as leader over obscure parliamentary rules and privileges?

        I'm not saying I think Iggy is making the right choice. I agree the Libs are putting their near term interests above those of our democracy. I'm just suggesting why Iggy may be behaving that way.

        • How would the matter be pushed to the SCOC? A summons to the bar cannot be debated or defied. The individual can be arrested the moment he steps onto Parliament Hill. What are the PM's bodyguards going to do, start tasering the officers of Parliament? That would be a cup for you.

          Harper does indeed have the nuclear option, as does the Opposition. If Harper thought he could win a majority tomorrow, Parliament would already be dissolved, so he obviously doesn't think he could. At the moment it seems that an election would barely alter anyone's seat-count. Your point, as I read it, is that Harper could campaign on a confrontation, but would that really work? The public seems to blame everybody for not making Parliament work, the Tories as much as the Liberals.

          You're right that the Liberals are playing the odds, but I think that after a while timidity starts to really damage the brand.

          • The game is politics. Laws, conventions, rules of procedure and traditions, some of each untested for a century or more, matter little. Sad, I know. So, just as Harper can try to push this to Iacobucci without any legal authority or precedent, he can certainly try to push a parliamentary dispute to the SCOC. Personally, I suspect that he'd go nuclear without hesitation.

            I agree, a Con majority is not in the cards, today. But with rare, complex and controversial parliamentary maneuvering against him, Harper can and will yell "coup!" and the voting public will believe him (as they did w/ the colalition kerfuffle). I fear simple lies nearly always beat complex truths.

            At that point he doesn't need to win a majority – although I think in an election on parliamentary rules and privilege, he may well win one he would not otherwise deserve. Also, another Con minority is nearly as good because it just as definitively puts the boots to the Libs and their claims of privilege. Even ignoring the turmoil that would consume the Libs following another loss, they would be forced by the mere seat count to drop the privilege issue and the torture issue.

            Unless something big leaks, this one is a loser for the Libs and I think they know it.

          • I believe Ignatieff is gambling that the ideas, passion and some good images from out of this Thinkers conference would be at least passable time to charge the gates. When so many right now are benign to accountability, are impatient with longwinded questions, and obtuse with the truth, the deck is stacked in favour of the powerholder.
            There needs to be some wind in the sail — to stop the insanity and corrosive beast that is Harper's democracy one can't be a complete wide-eyed idealist.

      • Jack, what's the objective here? To see if the detainee issue was handled properly as practically possible or that the Harper government should fall?

        By the way I read your diatribe, it appears as if the downfall of the Harper government IS the objective here.

        Interesting way of looking at things

        • The objective is to see whether Ministers of the Crown misled Parliament. If so, the Government must fall.

  7. “The question,” Mr. Ignatieff finished, “that Canadians want to know is: What are the Prime Minister's specific grounds for refusing a public inquiry?”
    This is what I would like to know too. It seems like such a simple question. Government explain yourself.

    • What are the Prime Minister's specific grounds for refusing a public inquiry?”

      It would involve transparency, accountability and the courage to do the right thing

      • They really need to 'Stand up for Canada' on this one.

  8. This is about what the government knew in 2007 and kept from the House. The government is not exempted from a request for information coming from the House of Commons under any circumstances. Unfortunately for them, they did refuse. It's time to pay the piper.

  9. The Liberals have asked for an inquiry into the whole Afghan file including their time at its helm. It is the Conservatives who are afraid of the inquiry. Which of itself may require no special courage, since they obviously feel confident about the outcome of such an inquiry. The big difference between the two governments, is that the Martin liberals were very wary of George W. Bush, while the Harpercons were Bush League wannabe right wing warriors and religious zealots aging war against Islam.
    which group went too far. Um… the religious fanatics of the conservative right ?
    And yes, the majority of local members representing the majority of Canadian voters has demanded to see the files while the PMO, which is a manageriate serving the corporate executive of Harpercon Inc, has decided to place itself above the House and Commons and Canadian democracy, has decided to attempt a right wing religious coup.
    Time for the member for that suburban riding in Calgary to get off his high horse. And it is time for Ignatieff to defend democracy before Canada becomes one more nation pm the list of democracy overthrown by a right wing coup facilitated by their friends in the corporate media from CTV to google.

  10. The inquiry asked for is to be from 2002 onward.The Liberals are OK with investigating their part of this unholy mess, but for some unexplained reason the Cons are against. Remember Franklin Roosevelts statement. "There is nothing to fear except fear itself" Perhaps the Cons are fearing what fear they have created.

  11. I think the desperate secrecy has to do with JTF2, and that they were trained by commandos from a country everyone is afraid to name.

    • Including you?

  12. Nothing new in the "recalibrated" budget; what's to ask?

  13. Including me.

    • Under no circumstances would Jody
      Seriously consider
      Acquiescing to your request to name the scary nation.

  14. Actually it's not that one.

    • God no, not Andorra!

  15. Is radical silence expressive?

    • Do cats fall out of trees silently?

      • Is radical elementary, my dear frog. The clue is there, if you care.

        • (splurts coffee all over monitor) NNNOOOoooooo! Not a democracy with a history of protecting itself from belligerent neighbours! Oy vay!

          • Is She Referencing An Eastern Land?

          • Maybe we could get a two-for-one and take lessons on commercial passenger air travel security, while we're at it.

          • Indeed. My respect for JTF2 just went up, assuming this is true. I don't see how to confirm it though.

  16. … Because, let's not forget that Harper has demonstrated his gameplan is to cripple all opposition. One mistep, like being pillared by said media for forcing an 'unwanted' election, would likely render all the above ethical questions moot and ancient history.

  17. My advice: your health and safety are likely enhanced by NOT attempting to confirm it.