The Commons: Good help is hard to find

The Scene. Seated almost directly across the aisle from his opposition critic, Jason Kenney shook his head as the NDP’s Don Davies read the indictment.

“Mr. Speaker, just last month the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism told Canadians how solemn he thought our citizenship ceremonies are, and they are indeed serious occasions,” Mr. Davies recalled. “Now, however, we learn that his office is fine just faking it. It was his office that arranged to have employees pose as fake new citizens in a made-up ceremony for a misleading news conference. Can the minister explain why he forced government employees to pose as fake new citizens and mislead Canadians?”

However fake the display, Mr. Kenney was quite sure his responsibility had been overstated here.

“Mr. Speaker, that is completely untrue. The only misleading going on is coming from that member,” the Immigration Minister scolded. “Every year CIC officials do a good job organizing special citizenship and reaffirmation ceremonies across the country including sometimes in studio televised ceremonies to raise the profile of citizenship. Today, I became aware that one small reaffirmation ceremony last year had logistical problems that were poorly dealt with—”

The opposition side descended into laughter and even a little desk thumping (it being hard, one supposes, to slap one’s knee when seated at a desk).

“Mr. Speaker, today I became aware that in a reaffirmation ceremony last year following logistical problems that the situation was poorly handled,” Mr. Kenney continued after the Speaker had restored order. “I regret that, but that in no way should undermine the importance and value of special reaffirmation ceremonies which we encourage all Canadians to participate in.”

A minister’s life is full of regret. Or, more specifically, a minister’s life is full of occasions to express regret for all of the ways the people you’re in charge of have let you down. Like allowing a cartoon puffin to be depicted defecating on a political rival. Or questioning the motivations of a deceased soldier’s father. Or plagiarizing a case for war. Or misplacing secret government documents. Or meddling in an access to information release. Or leaking a confidential committee report. Or asking people to show up to a news conference in “national folklore costumes.” Or mailing out inappropriate fundraising letters.

As luck would have it, it was the underling responsible for that last incident, never mind his resignation a year ago, whose job it was now to explain this latest example that good help is hard to find. “A civil servant made a well intentioned mistake,” he tweeted.

Whatever the government has asserted about ministerial accountability, that is supposed to be that. Except this was apparently not enough for Mr. Davies, who returned to his feet to dabble in both journalistic ethics and topical humour.

“Mr. Speaker, what the minister’s office should have done is tell any news outlet that wants help faking a story to go jump in a fake lake,” he snapped. “Instead officials played along, once again putting Conservative photo ops ahead of getting things done for new Canadians. It took an investigative reporter to get the truth out. Is the minister really that far out of the loop with his department? Can the minister tell the House when his government learned about this stunt and why they kept it a secret?”

Mr. Kenney stood again and explained that only yesterday had his office become aware of the matter and only today, while reading the day’s news, did he learn of anything. “It turns out that in the ceremony in question for reaffirmation, some of the people invited did not arrive,” the minister conveyed. “I think the response to that was poorly handled.”

Once more he expressed “regret.”

Out in the foyer afterwards, Mr. Davies was asked if he thought he’d heard an apology. “No, he didn’t apologize,” the New Democrat ventured. “You know, I think Canadians recognize an apology when they hear one and I didn’t hear the word sorry, I didn’t hear a sincerity to it. There was a little bit of an acknowledgement that what happened was wrong but I don’t see Minister Kenney taking responsibility in acknowledging the seriousness of what happened here.”

So far the word “sorry” seems only to have been uttered by a member of Mr. Kenney’s staff.

The Stats. Pensions, 10 questions. Crime, four questions. Citizenship and the environment, three questions each. Statistics Canada, Service Canada, equality, asbestos, search-and-rescue, the seal hunt and fisheries, two questions each. Employment, abortion, food safety and the oil industry, one question each.

Diane Finley, nine answers. Rob Nicholson, five answers. Stephen Harper, Christian Paradis, Joe Oliver and Keith Ashfield, four answers each. Jason Kenney, three answers. Denis Lebel, two answers. Vic Toews, Deepak Obhrai, Julian Fantino and Leona Aglukkaq, one answer each.

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