The Scene. In a curious and startling display of brinksmanship, Stephane Dion opened Question Period with a pop quiz.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “let me read the following statement: ‘The whole principle of our democracy is the government is supposed to be able to face the House of Commons any day on a vote. This government now has the deliberate policy of avoiding a vote. This is a violation of the fundamental constitutional principles of our democracy.’ Can the Prime Minister inform the House who said these words?”
Stephen Harper could not. Or at least would not.
“Mr. Speaker, the highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be Prime Minister one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists,” he yelled.
Apparently having read his reviews, the Prime Minister was fevered this day. Apparently having noticed the press gallery noticing them, the Conservative caucus snapped immediately to attention, cheering loud.
“This deal that the leader of the Liberal Party has made with the separatists,” Mr. Harper continued, “is a betrayal of the voters of this country, a betrayal of the best interests of our economy, a betrayal of the best interests of our country and we will fight it with every means that we have.”
Back the government members sprang up. Watching from above, the Prime Minister’s aides cheered and pumped their fists. This earned a quick rebuke from Hill security, no such expressions of enthusiasm permitted in the galleries.
Without similar law enforcement, all was soon lost in the arena below. What followed was equally captivating, stunning, dispiriting and horrid. Democracy thrown to the hyenas.
“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister did not answer my question,” Dion rightly noted. “Let me help him. He himself spoke these words on May 3, 2005, as leader of the opposition.”
Mr. Harper did not appear chastened, pointing furiously into the ground in front of him to punctuate his words.
“From Macdonald and Laurier to Diefenbaker and Trudeau, Liberals and Conservatives have often disagreed,” the Prime Minister shot back, “but there is one thing we should never disagree on and the Leader of the Liberal Party is betraying the best interests of the best traditions of his own party if he thinks he can make a deal to govern.”
The Conservative benches, up again, chanted “shame.”
“Mr. Speaker, every member of the House has received a mandate from the Canadian people to deliver a government that will face the economic crisis,” responded Mr. Dion, briefly outlining the basic parameters of our democratic system. “The Prime Minister has failed. The Prime Minister does not have the support of the House any more. Will he allow a vote to test if he has really the confidence of the House as it must be in a parliamentary democracy?”
Upping the ante, Mr. Dion offered the rare two-handed point.
“Mr. Speaker, not a single member of the House, not even a member of the Bloc, received a mandate to have a government in which the separatists would be part of the coalition,” Harper shot back, putting forward his own reading of the rules. “If the leader of the opposition thinks he has support for this, he should have the confidence to take this to the people of Canada who will reject it.”
“Mr. Speaker, it is too bad that the noise these Conservatives make is a whole lot more than the voting power they command in this House,” reprimanded Liberal John McCallum.
The government’s Vic Toews singled out members of the Liberal frontbench and called them out as “traitors.” Peter Van Loan, the man responsible for protecting us from Osama bin Laden, mugged for the press gallery and loudly deemed Dion a “new small man of Confederation.” During one of several dozen standing ovations, James Moore swaggered to the edge of the aisle, just enough to look good and mad without having to actually cross the aisle and engage the other side in fisticuffs.
“Honestly,” sighed Speaker Peter Miliken, “honourable members two weeks ago today were saying we needed more order in the House.”
Gilles Duceppe stood and reminded Mr. Harper of how the two had cooperated so nicely in the past. The Bloc leader sounded hurt.
Jack Layton tried once more to plead the case of the Parliamentary system. “Mr. Speaker, what I said during the election and have said for years and have put into practice is that I am ready to work with other parties in the House, and we have evidenced that with all parties here,” he reviewed. “It is clear that the Prime Minister does not understand that. He has been unwilling to work with other parties, and that is why he has lost the confidence of the House. That is what is happening here. He used to say that the Prime Minister had a moral obligation to respect the will of the House. He is refusing to allow a vote. He knows full well he has lost the confidence. When will he recognize that fact and turn over power.”
Mr. Harper was quick to his feet. “Mr. Speaker, yesterday, as part of the culmination of the machinations of the leader of the NDP, we had these three parties together forming this agreement, signing a document, and they would not even have the Canadian flag behind them. They had to be photographed without it. They had to be photographed without it because a member of their coalition does not even believe in the country.”
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, this was untrue.
Yesterday, the three opposition leaders sat behind a table on a small riser and explained their intentions. Behind them stood the flags of each province and territory. On each side of that row of flags, a Canadian flag.
And so having wrapped himself tightly in the Maple Leaf, Stephen Harper had promptly soiled himself.
Four mesmerizing rounds between Messrs Dion and Harper followed, all pretence of questions and answers forgotten. Two men who loathe each other so deeply debating nothing less than the sanctity and purpose of this nation.
Some time later, the Speaker called an end to the day. It is now impossible to say who is winning.
The Stats. Government, 14 questions. The economy, 12 questions. Arts funding, three questions. Equity and Thailand, two questions each. The environment, one question.
Stephen Harper, 11 answers. Jim Flaherty, six answers. James Moore, three answers. Christian Paradis, Diane Finley, Denis Lebel, Lawrence Cannon and Lisa Raitt, two answers each. Vic Toews, Helena Guergis, Jim Prentice and Rona Ambrose, one answer each.