The Commons: Let us build a bridge

Upon this we must drive together toward the future. Or at least Verdun.

Be it so decreed that something must be done about the Champlain Bridge. On this we are all agreed. On this we are united. Upon this we must drive together toward the future. Or at least Verdun.

Or so we might, if we were not so divided on pretty much every other matter raised this evening. There are apparently some gaps not even the Champlain Bridge can transcend.

For instance, hockey metaphors. Or, more specifically, the proper hockey metaphor to describe the usefulness of Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs in the House of Commons.

It was Mr. Layton—with another of his one-liners—who suggested the Bloc Quebecois was a team composed entirely of defencemen. And only the NDP, he figured, with all due respect to the legacy of Doug Harvey, could score goals.

Mr. Duceppe was moved, at least enough to extend the metaphor. The Bloc team, he noted, had long been fielding a team of more players than the NDP side. Presumably this power play made up for the Bloc’s lack of offensive skill.

From the other side of the room, Mr. Ignatieff felt it necessary to say something on the subject—whatever it was we were now talking about. What goals, he wondered aloud, had the NDP ever scored?

Mr. Harper, perhaps thinking this—like the “parliamentary squabbling” he would later lament—to be beneath him, declined to engage and so Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Layton segued, not at all awkwardly, into a discussion of the firearms registry.

Save for the bits that had nothing to do with anywhere other than Quebec, tonight’s debate was, not least because of this hockey tangent, a slightly better show than last night’s engagement. Properly warmed up, the leaders were more ready for these two hours. Mr. Duceppe, for instance, seemed to have had a good night’s sleep, while Mr. Ignatieff seemed simply to have taken a deep breath before arriving to the studio.

Mr. Layton seemed almost to be bursting with enthusiasm. Sensing his opportunity, he was the demonstrative and forceful and well-stocked with choice words for everyone in sight. The moderators were lucky to escape without the NDP leader demanding to know what they’d accomplished these last five years for the sake of ordinary Canadians.

Mr. Duceppe was in his element. He seems placed here on earth to do three things: demand more of everything for Quebec; complain about a lack of everything for Quebec; and debate the 1981 patriation of the constitution. Here he had nearly two hours to alternate between these causes, with a few moments set aside to torment Mr. Harper about their dealings in 2004.

Mr. Ignatieff remembered here that he had a platform to peddle. And so at every opportunity tonight he had a policy to promote. Struggling to mind your middle class family? Mr. Ignatieff’s government will give you somewhere to send your preschooler and help you take care of your mother. Worried about crime? Mr. Ignatieff will send easily distracted young people to university. Thinking about living in a democracy? Mr. Ignatieff will respect that.

For the last week, Mr. Harper’s advisors meanwhile have apparently been yelling at him incessantly to smile, untold hours spent practicing this basic gesture of contentment. Tonight was Mr. Harper’s chance to prove all the work was worth it. And so after every denouncement, Mr. Harper would smile. After every protest, a smile. After every pronouncement, a smile. Even when listening to the scathing criticism of an opponent, Mr. Harper’s mouth would take the approximate shape of a smile.

If his facial expressions remain a struggle, he has his patter down pat. Raising the corporate tax rate by one and a half percentage points will impose catastrophic calamity upon the nation, sparing no man, woman or child. The answers to almost all problems are contained in his side’s most recent budget. A Conservative government will continue to keep taxes low while doing everything anyone asks of government. The $11-billion in cuts he mentioned the other day will only deal with “inefficiencies”—most of it saved, one assumes, by forcing bureaucrats to print memos on both sides of the paper.

So far as la belle province is concerned, Mr. Harper’s appeal is somewhat simpler—Notre région au pouvoir, your region in power. Or as he put it shortly after the other leaders had explored Mr. Layton’s hockey metaphor, only the Conservatives can deliver the “merchandise” for Quebec.

Here for Canada then, with a new stereo or living room set for whoever elects a Conservative MP in Quebec. And a bridge. A bridge to somewhere.

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