The Commons: A fish story, in verse

The PM rejects the 'so-called facts' used against his government

The Scene. “Is that all you’ve got?” moaned James Moore, as he is wont to do.

“Is that all you’ve got?” he cried again a second later, in case Alexandre Boulerice hadn’t heard him the first time.

The Heritage Minister did not clarify what precisely he found lacking in news that, as The Globe and Mail put it this morning, “the RCMP is probing allegations that members of the Quebec construction industry tried to use Conservative contacts all the way up to the Prime Minister’s Office in a bid to influence the choice of a new president of the Montreal Port Authority.” But if Mr. Moore didn’t think that much was worth a query or several, he was no doubt mollified as the range of the opposition’s concerns this day became clear: everything from ethical lapses to alleged failures by this government in regards to conditions on native reserves, firearms licensing, international climate talks, asbestos exports, employment insurance, food safety and poverty.

Foremost among concerns this afternoon was Peter MacKay’s fish story.

In the interests of keeping things interesting, Nycole Turmel explained her disappointment in verse, waving her hand in the air as if relating to a class of kindergarteners the least-heartwarming Christmas story ever composed.

Once upon a time, there was a minister
He woke up one morning,
went fishing to Gander
But he had to come back,
had to do a newser.
To leave the fishing camp,
he called a helicopter
In the basket he climbed,
got up in the chopper.
Made up a fairy tale to provide some cover
How will this story end,
all Canadians wonder?
Perhaps now is the time
for the Prime Minister
To show some leadership,
and fire his minister?

The Prime Minister was unimpressed, or at least unmoved.

“Mr. Speaker, of course I have already answered this question,” he said, apparently mystified as to why his say so had failed to appease the opposition. “The minister said that his use of the government aircraft was for government business and that clearly was the case.”

Ms. Turmel rose and used the word “embarrassment” four times to describe Mr. MacKay. Mr. Harper rose and repeated his reassurance. “Mr. Speaker, there was an allegation from the opposition that this plane was used for personal reasons,” he said, “but it is clear that it was for government business.”

For the sake of specificity, the allegation in question has to do with a helicopter, not a plane. The government seems content to ignore the distinction. “Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, I was on personal time on a trip I paid for myself. I was scheduled to be away for four days. I came back after the third day to go back to work,” Mr. MacKay explained for David Christopherson’s benefit when the New Democrat pressed the minister to explain himself. “That is what happened.”

Indeed, even when Bob Rae asked directly about the search-and-rescue demonstration Mr. MacKay had once claimed to have taken part in, the minister avoided any acknowledgement of his previous excuse. “I left time off to go back to work,” Mr. MacKay said.

So perhaps two possibilities present themselves. Either the government intends for everyone to forget the minister ever went for a helicopter ride or, as considered yesterday, it intends to imply that the use of search-and-rescue helicopters by ministers of the crown for the purposes of returning from holiday is within its understanding of proper behaviour and prudent expense. The former is at least premised on a reasonable understanding of human behaviour and the public’s general interest in the affairs of this Parliament. The latter at least raises any number of fun lines of inquiry.

Mr. Rae was persuaded only to lament, wrapping together Mr. MacKay’s air travel habits and the Conservative campaign against Liberal MP Irwin Cotler into a sort of omnibus complaint.

“Mr. Speaker, it is very clear the government has a real problem with admitting it made a mistake and has a real problem with simply telling the truth. In the case of the campaign against my colleague from Mount Royal, the government opposite allowed a campaign to take place when it knew things were being said, in directly attacking the member for Mount Royal, that were in fact false and completely untrue,” he cried. “I ask the Prime Minister when he will stand in his place, take some responsibility for the things that are going on around here and tell his ministers and his friends that morality and truth start right in this place?”

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper came back, “I utterly reject the premise and the so-called facts in that question.”

Of course, that would seem to have been precisely Mr. Rae’s concern.

The Stats. Ethics, 15 questions. Aboriginal affairs, four questions. Employment and firearms, three questions each. The environment, crime, security, asbestos and the RCMP, two questions each. Veterans, Syria, food safety and poverty, one question each.

Stephen Harper and Denis Lebel, six answers each. Peter MacKay and Diane Finley, four answers each. Greg Rickford, three answers. Candice Hoeppner, Bob Dechert, Michelle Rempel, Christian Paradis and Vic Toews, two answers each. Rob Nicholson, Eve Adams, Diane Ablonczy, Pierre Lemieux, Rona Ambrose and Maxime Bernier, one answer each.

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