The Commons: What we’re not talking about

And how it somehow came to involve George W. Bush


The Scene. The phrase is perhaps less rhetoric than art: its meaning entirely up to the beholder.

“We are not opening the abortion debate,” the Minister for International Development declared last Thursday.

“We do not wish to debate abortion in this place or elsewhere,” the Prime Minister seconded.

In the weeks since the Prime Minister announced an intention to deal with maternal and child health in the developing world, his government has struggled some to explain precisely what it means by that. When the leader of the opposition pressured the government side to confirm that a “pro-choice consensus” would be followed, the Prime Minister’s spokesman declared that the plan had nothing to do with abortion, gay marriage or capital punishment. Two weeks later, Bev Oda’s office declared that “family planning” would have nothing to do with it. A month after that, the Foreign Affairs Minister announced that access to contraception was most certainly out.

At that point, suddenly seeming to be at odds with international allies it intends to rally to this cause, the government side apparently decided it should stop explaining what wouldn’t be in its plan. And so Ms. Oda was sent up in Question Period last week to announce that the government would not be “closing the door on any options that will save the lives of mothers and children, including contraception.” No clarification was provided as to doors leading to gay marriage and the death penalty, but abortion was given its own clause.

“As we have been saying all along,” she said, “we are not opening the abortion debate.”

Here, if you desired it and were looking for it, was appeasement. Indeed, if you are generally supportive of the country’s current laws and policies in regard to abortion, here was an opportunity to believe, with some precedent, that the Prime Minister intended in no way to upset the status quo.

Unpersuaded though is the official opposition.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps changing his story on maternal health and family planning at the forthcoming G8 summit. First, he said no to family planning. Then he said yes. Then maybe. Nobody actually knows where the government is,” Michael Ignatieff reviewed with his first opportunity this afternoon.”Now is the time for clarity. Will the Prime Minister support the Liberal motion now before the House? It reaffirms the Canadian position maintained over the last 25 years. Will he support the motion, yes or no?”

The Liberal motion in this case is two paragraphs of policy and one paragraph of tangential nonsense. And it is on this third paragraph—and the derisive reference to a former American president whose policy in this regard has since been officially reversed—that the government has happily seized as cause enough to dismiss the motion in its entirety.

“Mr. Speaker, the government’s initiative on maternal and child health is very clear,” the Prime Minister pronounced in response to Mr. Ignatieff.

“Yes or no!” demanded a Liberal voice.

“Our objective of course is to work with our partners around the world to do many things that can be done, at reasonable cost, to save the lives of women and children,” the Prime Minister continued. “We are looking at a range of options in that regard. Obviously, we will take the best scientific advice.”

Turning to the Liberal motion, Mr. Harper suggested that even one Liberal was unimpressed. “I would encourage the Liberal Party,” the Prime Minister helpfully offered, “to worry about saving the lives of mothers and children and not about playing petty politics.”

Mr. Ignatieff stood here and paused, as he is often willing, to explain himself. “Mr. Speaker, the issue here is the consistence and coherence of Canadian policy over the last 25 years,” the Liberal leader clarified. “Does he support or does he reject that policy? Our motion calls for the government to fund all family planning options. That has been the policy of Liberal and Conservative governments over 25 years. It is what the government itself agreed to in the G8 communiqué, last year.”

Across the way, the Public Safety Minister shouted his concern. “Anti-Americanism! Anti-Americanism!” he cried, momentarily forgetting that it is this government’s official position that Mr. Ignatieff is, in fact, too stridently pro-American.

“Why,” Mr. Ignatieff asked, “did the Prime Minister sign that communiqué if he had no intention of keeping his word?”

“Mr. Speaker, of course, we will be keeping our word as we go forward with this initiative. The real issue here is the Liberal party and the leader of the Liberal party trying to be too clever by half and now he has divisions even in his own ranks on that issue,” Mr. Harper responded. “The fact of the matter is, Canadian people want to do what they can, cost-effectively, to save the lives of mothers and children. They are not interested in reopening abortion. They are not interested in playing petty politics in the United States.”

Sometimes, of course, a painting of a tree is nothing more than a painting of a tree. And in this case, it might be best to take the Prime Minister at his word. He is not interested in reopening the debate—if it can really be considered closed—on abortion. He would rather not be compelled to discuss abortion here or anywhere else.

Meanwhile, there is this: though the government’s preexisting commitment to maternal health has included funding for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a three-year commitment to the IPPF expired at the end of 2009. Planned Parenthood, which explicitly includes access to safe abortion in its program, requested in the middle of last year that the funding arrangement be renewed. Checking in with the federation today, it seems that it is still waiting to hear back from this government.

That may mean something. That may mean nothing. Either way, we are apparently not meant to talk about it. Instead, by day’s end, the House will have at least passed judgment on the contraception policy of George W. Bush.

The Stats. Foreign aid, seven questions. Television, five questions. Education, four questions. Waterways, three questions. First Nations University, taxation, Afghanistan, crime, the Quebec City armoury, infrastructure and free speech, two questions each. The economy, the military, pharmaceuticals, foreign ownership and child care, one question each.

Stephen Harper, eight answers. Jim Flaherty and Rob Nicholson, four answers each. Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose and Ed Komarnicki, three answers each. Chuck Strahl, James Moore, Josee Verner, Bev Oda, Jason Kenney and Tony Clement, two answers each. John Baird, one answer.


The Commons: What we’re not talking about

  1. "(By) day's end, the House will have at least passed judgment on the contraception policy of George W. Bush."

    And thanks to the Libs, judged it to be just peachy. Which leaves only the question of whether Harper will now claim a mandate from the House of Commons to actually restrict funding for family planning and abortion alike.

  2. Hence the inexperience of Iffy and his team. He cannot put forward a straightforward motion without getting caught in his own rhetoric. This whole maternal thing is a government initiative. They will discuss with the G20 and obtain agreement from the group on the best course of action to help with the issue. When Iffy becomes PM he can do what he wants. Otherwise he should keep his trap shut and think about what policies he will present to the Canadian people to see if they want another Liberal government.

    • He should open nominations in Liberal ridings. His caucus proved, yet again, that they are the biggest albatross around his neck.

      • Blame everything on the caucus, not the one who leads them. That's an interesting take.

        • It works for your team…

  3. Mr. Wherry, is there any way you can keep track of certain phrases or words being used? For example, i hear "clear" or "let's be clear" almost every answer from the government side, and it would be interesting to know.
    Also, to everyone with a thoughtful reply, in all seriousness, why do we still have question period? Does it actually serve any purpose when no one is really held accountable for their answers( and questions), or am i misreading this. I just don't see the point in it. I guess it's not called "Answer Period" but oh well, silly me for expecting children to rise above the fray. And yes, the opposition has a duty with their questions, but let's be clear, it's the government that is not holding up their end of the bargain ;)

    • Waht are you eating there in Japan? Read Harper's response again. Are you actually able to read what he stated in the House, or are you blindsided by the fact of what you wanted to hear coming from Harper. Please, at least within your mind, try and sort out the difference between reality and dreams.

      • Let's be clear. In QP the distance between reality and dreams is vast. And narrow, also.

        One cannot see the mountain until one disposes of the wish to see the mountain. Because only then is one mindful.

        • Man, I wish I could dream up something like that. Must be some landscape you're seeing.

  4. Note to Donolo,
    this is not 1993 ,
    back to the demonizing board……

    • Was it ever.

      The Liberal motion was defeated 144-138 after 3 Liberal MPs voted against it and several Liberals MPs abstained from voting.

      Talk about shooting blanks.

      • Wow! I have now caught up to the story. Iffy still does not have control of the caucus and when push comes to shove they abandoned him. All before his wind-athon (h/t Weston) he has egg on his face and then when pressed didn't have the guts to utter the word abortion. Even Rae couldn't because they have now set themselves up for attack during the next election campaign. By pushing the abortion button the Conservatives will argue that Iffy supports abortion and it is he who has a hidden agenda. What an idiot. It still shows he and his boy wonder Donolo are missing some political instincts.

        • The only party that wants to raise the issue of abortion during an election campaign is the Liberal party, and Iggy just demonstrated how effective he is at doing it.

    • The other thing is, what about jobs and the economy? Isn't that what Canadians are concerned about?

      Liberals trying to desperately play political games with abortion.

      Serves them right that this blew up in their faces.

      I think what happened here was that Rae thought he was back with the NDP, which imposes its moral principles on its members and kicks out any dissenters, and the problem with Iggy is that because he doesn't hold any principles to speak of, he assumes nobody else does.

  5. What the heck was the point of this little exercise. Surely the Liberals knew before they tabled the motion that they did not have enough votes to pass it. Looks like a case of shoot-aim-ready.

    • Did the motion not pass.

      If it didn't the reason they presented it is because they are so desperate to have something stick they will throw anything at the wall to see if the medis starts "harping" on it and they can get any traction. Its a sad way to run a party. Canadians are watching the Liberal party and its feckless leader and they are going to be defeated badly in the next election.

    • No kidding. They work themselves all up for weeks because killing unborn children wasn't part of an effort to help, uh, children. They then can't even muster the votes to justify their anger campaign. Brilliant, Iggy! Brilliant, Donolo! Brilliant!

    • They had the votes knick,
      if all MPs present abided by the whipping.

      Perhaps when yah tell your caucus they aren't smart enough to come to a Liberal convention,
      they just don't give a darn anymore.
      Or maybe the 6 Pro Lifers that threw Iffy the bird are just sick and tired of being treated like no mind lemmings,
      not even consulted on the fearmongering motion.

      • I am sure they are trying to send their leader a message, he just wont hear it.Before the thinkers 'thingy,' it was jobs jobs jobs, nows its back to detainees and helena. petty gossip

  6. Dear Aaron, you are too clever by half…..:)

    But seriously, I think if the CPC defeates this motion because of the third part (which is more than about the Bushy part) they have recently taken art lessons from the LPC painting club indeed: never be explicit about what the picture shows. If the viewer sees a tree, tell them you've painted a tree, and if they won't see the tree, well, than tell them it could be considered a forest.Hold it up under a different light, you know!. And when being done in acrylics, as the LPC painters prefer to do, well, then it all dries extremely quick which means you can practically sell it on the spot. It seems to work for Canadian "art" buyers these days.

  7. Of course we need Question Period! Watch on CPAC what goes on in committee hearings, you could see even more why we need QP! This is what goes on record in Hansard, the politicians set down their positions, they go on record as asking the question, the statements are recorded — what are you thinking, that we just ditch the whole process? Parliament is where everything is brought out into the open and discussed. That is the way it's supposed to work – but we have a Troll of a Prime Minister who thinks he can destroy Parliament, and is doing his best to try. However – it's all going down, and his attitude and refusal to answer questions is also recorded. This Prime Minister is going to go down in history as the one who is most like an opportunistic parasite — and he will also go down as the most hated Prime Minister in Canadian history.

    • Committee meetings are not part of QP in case you don't know. I agree it would be interesting to see the committee structure re-invigorated by giving support staff for investigating and showing them on CPAC so Canadians can see who the idiots are that are really thwarting the committees work.
      Margaret it does not help calling names but it is typical of the left wing types who focus on the process and tactics rather than the substance of the issues. Your guys have all the power. Quit whining and put a vote of non confidence forward and cause an election. Canadians do not hate the PM and the polls show it. It is only the Libs who think that Canadians hate Harper as much as they do. Iffy looks foolish on the abortion motion. He should go back to Harvard. Now try growing up and quit with the name calling. Its unbecoming of a lady.

    • Oh Maggey, PM Harper a Troll?

      It's called Question Period, not Answer Period.
      In fact, PMSH does not have to answer any questions, and is quite right to have his Ministers respond.

    • I have no doubt that Margaret`s most hated PM is Harper. But he`s also proving to be one effective and able PM to many of the rest of us.

    • Margaret, what a pitiful life you must lead. Hate embedded in your all being.

      Let a little sunshine into your existance and realize that PM Harper is a fine gent.

      Oh wait, it's too late for you to see any light. You are doomed to a life of darkness, drizzle and hatred.

    • Troll of a Prime Minister…destroy Parliament…opportunistic parasite…most hated Prime Minister in Canadian history?

      Hey Margaret…don't hold back! Let it all out. You'll feel much better, even if you make very little sense.

  8. The Liberals continue to grasp at straws,proroguing did not move the polls for them,Canadians are sick of these drummed up detainee B>S the average Canadian could care less if the Afghans tortured the bunch of those fanatic kid killers.How would a Liberal member ever imagine that with our young people fighting and dying that they could interest the average Canadian in what our international agreements say,Russia and china use agreements for toilet paper when they don't like them.Rae and Dasanjh look more like Taliban supporters every time they open their mouths.As for the abortion bill we have debated that for years no one is listening GIVE UP YOU FOOLS

    • The LibLuvin media and Donolo polling led them down EVERY dead-end they travelled,
      since Dion was elected.

      Travers, G&M…they all pushed to re-open the 2007 Afghan detainee issue, hoisted Colvin on a pedestal and ignored all the other public servants giving contrary testifmony to Colvin…it was get Harper, big time.
      Gloria Galloway article said Libs polling said abortion was a game changer, so down that path they went….

      The Dipper infestation into the LPC has done them in.
      Looks good on them.

      • "The Dipper infestation into the LPC has done them in.
        Looks good on them. "

        The "Stop Harper" mantel around the LPC has done them in.
        Doesn't look good on them: you can't see THEM.

  9. You should cover more than just the beginning of QP – must else came to be worthy of attention later on

  10. The Liberal motion was defeated, thanks to the votes of LIberals who voted against it or who stayed away deliberately at the time of the vote.

    Hey Libs, if you're going to play politics with an issue like abortion, which is a dubious proposition to start off with, at least learn to do it right.

    • Once again we have Iffy trying to play political games that he doesn't understand. He got burned badly tonight and we shall see if he has the courage to discipline those MPs who refused to show up for the vote. This is a moral issue for a lot of MPs including in the Liberal caucus. Iffy got what he deserved. Abortion is a dangerous topic for any political party because it is such a divsive issue. There are many on both sides. Trying to use this a wedge issue is a dangerous tactic as Iffy found out tonight. Shame on the morally bankrupt Liberal party.

  11. There are people who care deeply about this issue, on both sides of the debate.

    Then there are people who care little about any particular issue, including the above, but wish to play games with them, because they seek to leverage the deep caring of others.

    Iggy appears to fall in the latter category.

  12. There's also something else to consider. Don't just blame Liberal MPs for having this blow up in Iggy's face. Maybe — just maybe — blame it on the fact that abortion is a very bad, dark, thing; done in the horror of silence and secrecy. And that it's its very ugliness that allowed for the Liberal motion to fail, and rightly so.

    Hey, I didn't start this debate about abortion. It's Iggy and the leftists types who were salivating over the prospect. Irony's a you know what, ain't it.

    • So exactly when did you face the bad dark thing? I assume Dennis you are male which makes me wonder WTF are you talking about?

      Here's an idea talk to woman and ask her…

      • I'm sure that having an abortion would not be considered a bright spot in a women's life,
        and I have talked to other women about it.

        The motion didn't pass because 3 Pro Life Liberals voted against it, and 3 more abstained.
        All men (?)
        Would it be a more valid a position if it was 6 Liberal women that voted the motion down?

  13. I seem to remember recommending the libs press the cons on the "we don't wamt an abortion debate" – why should they sit on the fence and wink at their base. But it didn't for a moment occur to me that they'd lose their own motion. Way to go into battle guys. Half of you had your guns loaded, some didn't even turn up. And the motion was retrograde. If that's how you smoke someone out, better you stay home and play tiddly winks.

    • why did Libs sit on the fence and wink at their base and NOT put the word abortion in the motion?
      Did Iffy think the wishy washy wording was enough to appease his so-cons?

      Oh they smoked something out alright,
      their own Pro Life MPs.
      You did know there are ten or so Lib MPs that are anti-abortion and anti-ssm, right?

      • lt's nice to see the liberals actually allow their mps to express their own views on such an emotive issue.

        "why did Libs sit on the fence and wink at their base and NOT put the word abortion in the motion?
        Did Iffy think the wishy washy wording was enough to appease his so-cons?"

        Because a child of ten could see it was implied in the phrase " full range of family planning options." As has been noted this gov't has signed an international agreement to that effect. So who's being disingenuous again?

        • Ahh, KCM, it was a whipped vote, meaning that Lib MPs were expected to follow the party line.

          As to your second point about full range of family planning, apparently enough Lib MPs thought it covered abortion to keep them away or vote down the motion. How many more might have joined those brave few it the motion had explicitly mentioned abortion?

          • If it was whipped that looks even worse on Ignatieff.

            The conservative gov't signed an agreement in which provision for safe abortion is explicitly endorsed ,no? So why should they get to pretend they wont fund abortion and are somehow in compliance? So, explicitly mentioning abortion shouldn't really be an issue. And as AC has pointed out we fund abortion in this country right now, what's with denying third world women an option they might need, and we already have? If we wont fund them, then we need to do something about the adoption process, or orphans or the host of other problems that can arise from such a choice.

          • I'm not sure that funding or not funding abortion makes any difference to the the proposal to target specifically pre- and postnatal care maternal care and prevention of infant deaths.

            The government is presently funding NGOs that offer abortion counseling and services (from G&M story yesterday) and hasn't ruled out continuing to do so. All they've argued is that this initiative has nothing to do with abortion. Certainly, if one is trying to target aid to women who want to carry their child to term and offer support after birth, this position makes sense.


    • And that is the story of the Liberal party today. They have a feckless leader who has the political instincts of a gnat, a former communications director of a by gone era trying to give life to a moribund party and of course we have a party who is broke and has no fresh ideas and has to hold a wind-athon (h/t Weston) in order to try to get some ideas.
      Clearly Canadians don't much like Iffy and each time a leadership poll is done Harper is considered twice as good as Iffy.
      It will be interesting to watch the gabfest this weekend. There will be lots of pie in the sky bullsh.t but nothing that would allow a party to develop into an election platform. However, the Libs are so desperate they will try to reinvent history in order to restore the grand old days. As Craig Oliver says the Libs are afraid of Harper and so rather than talking substance they will continue to throw crap at the wall and hope something, anything sticks. Thus far they are failing miserably.

      • And in your next post you'll whine about the unfair demonizing of Harper and conseratives, right.

  14. Kady O'Malley, on Twitter:

    must agree with other observers: that was a stunning example of utter Liberal disorganization in the House.

    • I don't think is only disorganitazion, I really believe Liberals MPs are really wondering about this guy, they KNOW they have NO chance with Iggy at the helm. And, is hard to believe that he doesn't get it, he has had such a great chances to prove himself and get Harper. That just proves he doesn't have it in him to be PM.

      • I don't think it is only disorganisation either. I think part of the problem is that Ignatieff has just recently stepped into the real world, after having lived in another world altogether, and that would be the academic world. Somehow, coming from a strictly academic world seemed desireable. We might know better now.

      • I agree. I imagine there is a lot of dissent in the Liberal ranks at this point, and I don't blame them. They're probably sick and tired of the incompetent leadership they've had to endure ever since Chretien retired.

        • It has to be demorallizing to them too.

  15. I guess this was an LPC own goal.

    Ten minutes into the second period and it's a spirited game, folks….score is 2-0 Conservatives, but play has been mostly around the CPC net….wait…wait….what's this? The Liberals are pulling their goalie! They want the man advantage….Ignatieff shoots the puck in…it's behind the CPC net and Cannon's got it. Cannon skates out with the puck and shoots…shot blocked by Harper! And Oda collides with Cannon. The CPC really needs to get their lines working today……Ok here's Rae…he's taking the puck into the CPC zone…passes it to Bennett. Bennett takes it back into the Liberal zone…Bennett seems to be heading for the Liberal net….she shoots….SHE SCORES!!! Score 3-0 for the Conservatives, who are still milling around in their own zone trying to figure out which line is playing and which direction they're supposed to be going in.

    • Lol, that was funny!

  16. What I find very sad is that we look on MPs voting against party line as something to be scoffed at, and evidence of a weak party.. not strong MPs.

    • I agree that's part of the problem with politics today. MPs are criticized because they are always part of the pack and then when they step out to be counted on an issue that is important to them they are ridiculed and somehow it is a sign the party is in disarray. We have a recent example where the government abandoned its attempt to change the national anthem back to a previous version. The hew and cry from all corners of the country was evident and so the government backed off. Now they are being criticized for a flip flop. Is this not what we want from our government? A willingness to listen and react accordingly. I know you are not a supporter of the government but hopefully you will take my point. The media leads the way and uses any change of heart as a flip flop etc. trying to give the public the impression that the government or the other parties don't know what they are doing.

      • Oh, I'm absolutely a supporter of that particular point.. usually what people call a "flip flop" – from either side of the fence – I prefer to call "learning".

        The only thing about that particular flip flop which was egregious was that it came immediately after a prorogation that was supposedly being used to "consult with constituents". I mean, if you're going to lie to me, at least have the courtesy to not insult my intelligence by making it immediately obvious.

  17. And oh,

    isn't it heartening to see Iggy utlize the sanctitiy of every precious waking QP moment (damn that prorogation!!!),

    by playing political gotcha games that are not only taudry, but completely fruitless.

    • Keep saying political games, you haven't said it enough already. And where is your " Liberal media bias" line, honestly!
      Quick, call me a left wing Taliban lover! or wait, now i must be an abortion lover.

  18. What an own goal by Iggy/Libs this was. It is hard to believe this is Canada's Natural Governing Party.

    Why can't Iggy, and Dion before him, gain traction with Canadians? Why are Libs finding it extraordinarily difficult to get above 30/32% in polls for at least the past five years? And why, for god's sake, are Cons trying to turn themselves into Liberals now while Canadians slowly abandon the Lib party because they have little to offer.

  19. So Ignatieff/Rae/Donolo successfully complete a "wedge" issue, specifically designed to make a party look disorganized and fractured, while sowing the seeds of dissent within the party caucus.

    They just failed to realize it would "wedge" their own party.

    Shooting yourself in the foot certainly comes to mind.

    • Maybe this was just one of those left over Kinsella schemes that they forgot to cancel.

    • Best line of the day goes to Kory Teneycke:
      "the liberals put a wedge up against their foreheads and pounded hard"

  20. I hate to say it BUT I am going to anyways – TOLD YOU SO Folks – and indeed I have said now ever since Iggy started down this road that the good ol Liberal Fear and Shmear drive by has a tendency to run into a head wind and end up back in the face of the shooter. So here we have Iggy looking not only like a fool but worse an incompetent – canadians will forgive almost anything from their political leaders except .. getting caught with their hand in the till OR getting caught being stupid – Let's be honest this was a stupid strategy from day one and remains a stupid strategy now. The thing is folks is that Iggy could ill afford such a stupid move at this time. The jokes almost write themselves especially when the lib's own whip is involved. Oh Well! Stupid is as Stupid does.

  21. Here's where Ignatief veers wildly off course:

    Mr. Ignatieff stood here and paused, as he is often willing, to explain himself. “Mr. Speaker, the issue here is the consistence and coherence of Canadian policy over the last 25 years,” the Liberal leader clarified. “Does he support or does he reject that policy? Our motion calls for the government to fund all family planning options. That has been the policy of Liberal and Conservative governments over 25 years. It is what the government itself agreed to in the G8 communiqué, last year.”

    Does our country have an abortion policy?

    I would characterize it as a non-policy, reached at entirely by accident, and kept so by inaction and cowardice, and by the unfailing cat-calls of 'Neanderthal' to anyone who dares broach the silence.

  22. Yawn.

    I like the idea of MPs acting independantly of "The Party Line".

Sign in to comment.