The Commons: A question of maturity

Five letter writers connected to Helena Guergis, yet she claims ignorance. What a coincidence.

The Scene. “Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Prime Minister,” Bob Rae said quite matter-of-factly. And this being Question Period, the Speaker allowed him to proceed.

“What was supposed to be the Canadian signature initiative on maternal health has been described as completely inadequate by the two major allies, that could get to a microphone, both the United States and the United Kingdom,” Mr. Rae continued. “I wonder if the Prime Minister can explain how such a major diplomatic setback could be occurring in the build up to the G8 which Canada is hosting.”

The Prime Minister stood to put Mr. Rae at ease.

“On the contrary, Mr. Speaker, the initiative on maternal a child health is supported throughout the G8. Of course G8 countries will have different priorities in terms of the specific things they fund. Particularly on the issue of abortion a number of G8 countries have a different position,” Mr. Harper said, without actually saying what his government’s position is.

“Whether it comes to our role in Afghanistan, our sovereignty over our Arctic or ultimately our foreign aid priorities,” Mr. Harper declared, “it is Canada and Canadians who will make Canadian decisions.”

Happy Conservatives leapt to their feet to applaud their leader’s coming-of-age. Indeed, the Prime Minister has surely matured greatly in the seven years since he felt Canada should stand with the Brits and Americans and go charging into war.

If only all the people around him were so enlightened. Alas, if there remains any reason at all to doubt this government’s self-assurance and maturity, it lingers just over Mr. Harper’s right shoulder in the presence of Helena Guergis, a junior minister who the Liberal side eventually got round to mocking with some glee this afternoon.

“Mr. Speaker, the Status of Women minister denies knowledge that her staff wrote a series of fawning letters to newspapers in her riding,” Anita Neville reported with the day’s 13th question. “However the sheer volume of letters demonstrates a troubling pattern of deceit. Not only did her executive assistant, Jessica Craven author at least four separate letters to the editor, but her constituency staffer, Valerie Knight wrote at least three. Does the minister not read her local papers? When will the minister step down for her serial abuses of public trust?”

There were jeers and moans and even a few boos from the government side.

Ms. Guergis stood here and did what she could, which is to say she said as little as possible before retreating to her seat. “Mr. Speaker,” she said, “I did answer this question yesterday in the House.”

In fairness, Ms. Guergis did stand yesterday and answer a question. Unfortunately, that question had nothing to do with the letters of Ms. Knight—the writings of that particular individual not publicly known until hours after Question Period.

Liberal backbencher Alexandra Mendes rose to raise the case of another Guergis associate. Ms. Guergis stood again to insist that she had answered to this matter, even if, again, it had not actually been previously raised.

Now it was Liberal Yasmin Ratansi’s turn. “Mr. Speaker, it shows the minister is totally out of control and her staff is totally out of control,” she ventured. “She has expanded her letter-writing brigade and drafted other member staffers to write on her behalf. Bonnie Ainsworth, a constituency staffer for the neighbouring riding of Barrie, wrote to the local paper to also defend the minister. Like the others, she failed to identify herself as a paid staffer. With all these letters coming out, how can the minister continue to deny any knowledge of this orchestrated campaign? When will the Prime Minister boot the minister out?”

“Boot!” cried the Liberal side, apparently in reference to what Ms. Guergis may have down with her own footwear during an airport tantrum in Charlottetown.

Here, though, the government sent up John Baird to plead for reasonableness and peace. “The minister has clearly spoken to this issue in this place not just today, but as well yesterday,” he claimed. “All of us in this House have been given a great opportunity to serve the interests of Canadians. Let us focus on their priorities, on jobs, on improving health care, and on making our communities safer.”

To bring this tale of woe to a conclusion, the Liberals turned to Wayne Easter, who sang his song of sorrow.

“Mr. Speaker, this letter defending the minister and sent to a local Simcoe newspaper was signed by Dawn Richards, who is apparently the mother of, wait for it, Jessica Craven,” he reported in his PEI twang. “Five letter writers connected to the minister, yet she claims ignorance. What a coincidence.”

Turning from the Speaker, he tried to address the Prime Minister directly. The Prime Minister, choosing to be the mature one here, pretended not to notice.

“The Prime Minister’s code of conduct states that ministers must act ‘to ensure public trust and confidence,’ yet the minister continues to abuse the public trust without end,” Mr. Easter continued. “How can the Prime Minister condone this kind of behaviour by his minister?”

Once more to Mr. Baird, now straining to seem solemn and earnest. “We have all come together to represent Canadians, to work hard on the matters that are important to Canadians and their families,” he intoned. “Let us remain focused with the laser on jobs, the economy and improving the lives of Canadians.”

And let John Baird show us the light.

The Stats. Foreign affairs, seven questions. Taxation, six questions. Rights & Democracy, Helena Guergis and Afghanistan, four questions each. Employment and Aboriginal affairs, three questions each. Education and medical isotopes, two questions each. Infrastructure, pensions and railways, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 12 answers. Peter Kent, seven answers. Peter MacKay, three answers. Jim Flaherty, Helena Guergis, John Baird, Christian Paradis, Chuck Strahl and Tony Clement, two answers each. Rob Nicholson and Jim Abbott, one answer each.