Must-see QP: James Bezan disses Canadian submarines

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

Sailors have probably given up on Question Period, where politicians regularly reduce the Navy to a political piñata. Who cares the least about the Navy? Always the other guy. Who spent the least on the Navy? Always the other guy. Who’s willing to ignore the needs of the Navy? Always the other guy.

Today’s most troubled exchange offers a helpful case in point. Liberal MP Joyce Murray declared that Conservatives gave the Navy the bum steer when, way back in 2010, the confident Tories promised a sparkling fleet of new ships. The Navy is now retiring its ancient oilers, Murray reminded the House, and that means Canadian ships can’t be refuelled by Canadian ships. Promised new supply vessels, the vaunted Joint Support Ships, are years off. Murray referred to a CBC story that, relying on anonymous sources, warned the government might buy used ships from the United States as a stop-gap. Her exhaustive preamble concluded, Murray then went for the killer blow: “How much will the Conservatives’ woeful incompetence cost when they have to cancel their made-in-Canada supply ships they already commissioned?”

Let’s get one thing straight. The government hasn’t commissioned a single new ship. To commission a ship is to place it in active military duty. Perhaps that’s a pedantic quibble, but it’s helpful if politicians use the right words when they’re debating the government’s billion-dollar commitments. Falsely premised questions excuse dithering responses.

And what of that response? James Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, rose with a smirk. “It’s really rich, coming from the Liberal Party, the party that cancelled our replacements to the Sea Kings, the party that went and bought used submarines…” he said, before interrupting himself to demonize another Liberal and then applaud his own team’s stated spending commitments.

Don’t mistake that answer for typical anti-Liberal rhetoric. Bezan exposed an important bit of ignorance as he attempted to embarrass the former government. He dismissed the old Liberals’ acquisition of four used submarines from the U.K.’s Royal Navy in 1998. They cost $750 million and have undergone years of frustrating maintenance and setbacks. But now, as the Navy copes with budget cuts, aging warships and delays with new ships, the operational subs are a rare good-news story. Something the man charged with defending the government’s record should know before he turns submarines into yet another of the Commons’ figurative piñatas.

The recap

The context

We were aghast at the rhetorical tomfoolery of Paul Calandra, a parliamentary secretary infamous almost exclusively for his penchant for irrelevant interventions in the House of Commons. We were also considering the Leader of the Official Opposition’s accusation that Speaker Andrew Scheer isn’t a neutral agent of the Commons he oversees every day. On Monday, the assembled parliamentarians at least pretended to debate climate change policy, even if the government’s arguments bore little resemblance to the objective truth. Yesterday, despite Mulcair’s efforts, brazen rhetoric stole the show. Calandra, answering simple questions with outlandish non-sequiturs, became the perfect troll.