Maclean’s is your home for the daily political theatre that is question period. If you’ve never watched, check out our primer. Today, QP runs from 2:15 p.m. until just past 3. We livestream and liveblog all the action.
A minister on thin ice usually makes an unexciting spectacle in the House of Commons. Whatever file they’ve bungled, and however intently they wish to fix whatever mistakes lay in their wake, they become resolutely boring in Parliament. Better not to freelance when the opposition is out to get you. Thin ice can give way so quickly in politics.
Few of Stephen Harper’s cabinet ministers are pushed to resignation. Maxime Bernier lost his job as foreign affairs minister before he was allowed back in the cabinet when the dust settled a few years later. Peter Penashue took his exit, and then fought and lost a by-election meant to clear his name. Bev Oda took one for the team after famously sipping $16 orange juice at a fancy hotel. All of them had the opposition howling, but there would be many more among them if the opposition always got its way.
The opposition is at it again. They want the veterans affairs minister, Julian Fantino, to give up the keys to his office. He won’t give in, not yet, even after nearly a year of hard questions from New Democrats and Liberals across the way. They say Fantino closed veterans’ service centres. He says he expanded services. They say he and his predecessors sent $1.1 billion of appropriated funding back to the federal treasury, unspent. He says that’s standard operating procedure. They say a $200-million commitment to veterans’ mental health will be spent over five decades, not the six years the government claimed. Fantino currently offers no defence.
Today, Liberal MP Marc Garneau rose late in question period with a simple yes or no question, the sort that almost never receives a simple answer: Will the $200 million be spent over six years or 50? Fantino stood and replied the same as every minister before him who stood on thin ice. He read what amounted to a press release, a basic recitation of program highlights, and made no attempt at anything off the cuff. Fantino endures as a cabinet minister. He might yet stay on.
The struggle to confront sexual harassment on Parliament Hill, a workplace unlike any in the private sector or even broader public sector, lingers. All parties are trying to come up with a parliamentary approach to policing harassment on the Hill. Meanwhile, Liberals and New Democrats can’t agree to a process that resolves a pair of complaints leveled against two Liberal MPs who now sit as independents. Aaron Wherry spoke with Halifax MP Megan Leslie, the NDP’s deputy leader, about the slow-motion confusion unfolding where she works. You can bet all of these things are on parliamentarians’ minds as they endure the daily question period.
I’d say everybody is really on edge. But when I say on edge, I wonder what people will think when I say that word. It’s just—we’ve gone through so much this fall. I would argue that we are still processing a lot of emotions around the shooting that happened in October, I would argue that we’re all still pretty delicate from that. And then these harassment allegations, first of all not just that they happened but how they were made public, how we are actually learning what is going on or what is allegedly going on via the media.
I feel when I talk to some of my colleagues that they feel very powerless, they don’t know how to help, they don’t know what to say or what we’re supposed to do, and then you read another little tidbit of information about X or Y that might’ve happened in the papers, so it’s been really challenging.
I actually see some of my colleagues having some shorter fuses or getting angry about stuff that they wouldn’t normally. And I would make the links to what’s happening around this issue around harassment on the Hill. I think people feel really powerless and they don’t know how to navigate this.
The full interview is here: