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
Looking back, it was clear that Thomas Mulcair—leading off question period as usual—set the tone early for what became a fairly toothless QP session. With his very first query, he asked the federal government about childhood obesity—less about the feds’ failures in any meaningful way, but more to give watchers a sneak peek at a campaign plank to ban junk-food advertising. It was an interesting tack—maybe not its timing, since the campaign has basically already begun, but whether or not it’ll be a meaningful effort: Ipsos-Reid polling from 2013 suggests that it’s a national problem in the abstract, with the vast majority of Canadians believing childhood obesity is an issue and the vast minority finding their own kids to be slim and healthy. It’s hard to imagine the problem gaining traction if there’s no personal, individual drive to fix it.
No matter. Today’s question period was missing yesterday’s fire and brimstone, any meaningful press on the AG’s report (officially in the rear-view, with the exception of a few here-and-there questions about veterans and Archives), and, frankly, any meaningful questions about the Tories’ closure of a committee to discuss expanding CSIS powers that precluded the testimony from the federal privacy commissioner or even out-loud wondering about whether or not the Prime Minister will ever install an actually meaningful review process for Supreme Court justice appointees, who only happen to be some of the most powerful people in our country.
Instead, the most explosive exchange was about a social-media network that’s literally for the birds. NDP MP Pierre Dionne Labelle took exception to the new official Canadian Twitter account in French—@AuCanada—and criticized it for directly translating tweets from the English, a clumsy form of so-called bilingualism, given French is one of our official languages. It was the definition of sound and fury, signifying ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
But it was a late moment that became a (sort of) must-see, for mostly the wrong reasons: Check out the incredible contortions that Ed Fast pulled off here to turn a question about the illegal whale trade into a criticism of the NDP for not supporting CETA, free-associating on the meaning of trade. (No luck with video today, so today’s must-see is a must-read, italics in brackets mine):
I’d be glad to take that member’s question under advisement. (Read: I didn’t know to expect this question.) Our government has been very clear that we stand against the trade in endangered species. (Read: Not knowing to expect it will not preclude me from offering niceties anyway.) But it also allows me to point out the hypocrisy of the NDP. (Hm.) This is a party that stands in this house, day after day, attacking our efforts to expand legitimate trade around the world, (You hate legitimate trade. That means you LOVE illegitimate trade) opening up new markets for Canadians, opening up new markets for Canadian investors. (Also you hate Canadian businesses) Mr. Speaker, on this side of the aisle, we stand up Canadians, we stand up for Canadian companies, we stand up for Canadian interests. (Do you even remember that this question was initially about whales? No? Great.)
That’s next-level avoidance, Minister Fast.
Impossible it may be to fathom that political theatrics could possibly overtake any dialogue over policy matters. But as Aaron Wherry writes, the Conservatives are about to swipe the aviators off their face, drop a zesty one-liner, and launch into The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. Yesterday, amid the clatter coming out of the Attorney General’s Fall report, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux had the first chance to directly demand the Conservatives apologize for their role in an alleged spying-gone-awry of Banff-Airdrie’s Liberal candidate, Marlo Raynolds. Jason Kenney, one of the MPs to use Sun Media’s attribution of a controversial quote about income-splitting to the candidate—since retracted—instead doubled down on the claim. And then this morning the party announced it was ready to triple-down, hiring an audio forensic expert who now says that the quote is “75-80 per cent” likely to be the candidate, and not the public citizen who has since come out to claim the remarks as his. And then, of course, there were the baffling remarks from Conservative MP Peter Goldring—who sent out a press release that he wears a body video camera to “prevent besmirchment when encounters run awry”—which has the benefit of being utterly fascinating, and the downside of being immensely pointless in even the smallest scheme of things. (He has since retracted this, with a nudge from the PMO.)
So yes, this has been a whirlwind 24 hours for absurdity. But notice, too, that the dialogue has shifted away from the AG’s report that dominated the Hill at the week’s start and you can see why this may yet be a winning strategy. Who knows: Maybe no one will even ask about the absence of a review process for the newly minted Supreme Court appointee, or about the Conservatives denying a request from the federal privacy commissioner—a former advisor to CSIS—to testify about a bill about expanding CSIS’s spying powers, or a Department of National Defence conference call with reporters about the ongoing that could be summed up with the phrase “operational security.”
(Just kidding, those things are probably going to come up.)