Must-see QP: Stephen Harper confident on childcare

Your daily dose of political theatre

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

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.

The must-see moment

Stephen Harper didn’t wear glasses when he became prime minister. Just look at the cover of Right Side Up, a view of the 2006 election through the eyes of Paul Wells. By summer 2010, however, the PM was wearing glasses everywhere. That was until last week, when Harper announced new income-splitting measures and a beefed up childcare tax credit. Poof, no more glasses. Four years ago, the Toronto Star‘s Joanna Smith asked a few insiders about the PM’s image change and no one could tell her what was with the glasses. Some people, of course, guessed.

“I doubt the glasses are part of a deliberate strategy. The prime minister isn’t a huge fan of image politics and I can’t see him doing a focus group on two eyes versus four,” said Jim Armour, who was [Harper communications director] from 2002 to 2004 when Harper was opposition leader. “Most image consultants advise politicians to lose the glasses unless they need to appear to be smarter. Since intelligence is not seen to be a weakness for the Prime Minister, I can only conclude one thing: the glasses help him see better.”

Is the glasses-free look meant soften the PM’s image? Harden it? Make him look stately? Cool? Maybe all of those things to at least some people. Maybe glasses just felt heavy on the nose. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Probably, it doesn’t matter. Definitely, it doesn’t matter. Let’s move on to the substance of today’s must-see exchange: childcare. Justin Trudeau attacked the Tory income-splitting proposal that would, vaunted left-of-centre number crunchers say, benefit wealthy families disproportionately. Why should the Harpers and Trudeaus gain up to $2,000 a year in tax breaks when poorer families are left out?

Harper rose and spat out his reply. The Liberals will pay at the polls for opposing Tory tax breaks. The PM claimed every Canadian family with children would benefit from his party’s plan to lower taxes. He didn’t, however, claim that every Canadian family with children would benefit from income splitting. Harper is hoping that his marriage of income splitting and child tax benefits—voilà, a two-part plan!— remains whole. Tory voters will have to accept the inherent inequality of the former because of the attractiveness of the latter. You’ll never hear a Tory talk about income splitting without, in the next breath, talking about free money for children. Free money!

The recap

The context

Last Friday, MP Dean Del Mastro was convicted of electoral fraud in a courtroom a few towns over from his riding in Peterborough, Ont. This wasn’t good news for his former party, the Conservative team that happens to hold power in Ottawa. Del Mastro used to be the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary. That’s the job handed to the MP most willing to do the PM’s dirty work in the House of Commons. Yesterday, We watched the man who currently has that gig, Paul Calandra, try so, so hard to distance himself from Del Mastro and, in the next sentence, remind anyone who reads Hansard that New Democrats are just as unethical as anyone else in the House.

We also watched Speaker Andrew Scheer try, in vein, to control proceedings somewhat. The man in the big chair may have been justified in his frustration. Questions are supposed to refer to government business. NDP MP Peter Julian’s opening query mostly referred to party business: “Will the Conservatives admit that they have become masters at the art of electoral fraud?” For the moment, Scheer said nothing, and Calandra stood to respond. Del Mastro’s case has been referred to a the procedure and House affairs committee, he said, and the House can trust that committee. After all, it recently “investigated the NDP’s use of illegal satellite offices.” Julian rose for a rejoinder. “When will the Conservatives acknowledge that there is an elections law in Canada that must be obeyed?” At that remark, Scheer rose and asked the New Democrat to focus his questions. Julian didn’t, really. Neither did his colleague, Charlie Angus, who earned another rebuke from Scheer.

How vital to our nation’s collective fate is Del Mastro’s conviction on fraud charges? Probably, the MP’s conviction in that modest courtroom last week is but a speck of dust on the bottom of an historical footnote. But New Democrats don’t care. Conservatives don’t care. They simply relish the opportunity to drag each other through a mud pit of allegations, and they roll around in the House of Commons, where Hansard remembers every word for all time.

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