Ottawa

The Commons: If you don't support MacKay, you don't support the troops

The House of Commons comes tantalizingly close to debating peace negotiations in Afghanistan

The Scene. For a full 13 questions this afternoon, the opposition insisted on pressing the government about matters—the economy, trade, the separation of powers in a proper functioning democracy—unrelated to whether or not the Defence Minister should be ashamed or at least embarrassed.

Finally, the Speaker called on the NDP’s Tarik Brahmi, a francophone apparently of Algerian descent, who nonetheless looks to me like a tough English soccer fanatic.

“Mr. Speaker, according to a release by the Canadian Press, the Defence Minister was kept out of key decisions about Canada’s role in the Afghan war,” he said. “This was a top defence priority, yet the Prime Minister was calling all the shots. The Prime Minister could have used some advice. Most agree our efforts should have focused more on peace talks and diplomacy. Is he still making foreign policy and defence decisions on his own, or does he now let his cabinet in the room?”

Peter MacKay stood here not only to enthuse about how cooperatively the Harper government operates, but also to state his objections to talks with the Taliban.

“It is interesting to hear the honourable member now talk about somehow reaching out to the Taliban or improving coordinations inside Afghanistan,” Mr. MacKay mused aloud. “Even the Afghanistan government and the President himself have said that as a result of the assassination of Rabbani, it is back to business as usual. This, unfortunately, belies the fact that we can work with a terrorist organization that does not respect human rights, does not respect women and refuses to disarm. I will take no advice from the member opposite.”

Here, perhaps, were the makings of an interesting discussion about Canada’s position on peace negotiations as it relates to the positions of our NATO partners, most notably the United States. But that would have to wait for another day.

On this matter of what the Defence Minister was allowed to know, Mr. Brahmi had another go at Mr. MacKay. The latter duly took the opportunity to explain to the former how deeply the NDP had failed in regularly disagreeing with this government.

“I am very proud of the efforts that the Canadian Forces have put forward in Afghanistan in conjunction with our other government departments,” the Defence Minister enthused. “Of course, CIDA and Foreign Affairs have created an environment where there are now seven million Afghan girls going to school. We are immunizing children. We are working with all of our international partners and the Afghan government. However, the NDP party opposite has consistently voted against those efforts.”

Undaunted, the NDP’s Matthew Kellaway stood and wondered openly how the Prime Minister could publicly defend a Defence Minister he didn’t seem to consult in private. With the Prime Minister away from the House, Mr. MacKay rose and explained how the NDP’s lack of support for the government’s previous budgets has amounted to a lack of support for the troops.

So here we were again. Though Mr. Kellaway was apparently prepared. Indeed, if nothing else, this provocation of Mr. MacKay’s provided a nice segue to Mr. Kellaway’s supplementary—a direct rejoinder to the Prime Minister’s grand defence of Mr. MacKay last Thursday.

“Mr. Speaker, Conservatives using the repatriation of fallen Canadian soldiers to cover the Minister of Defence’s abuse of government jets is appalling,” he ventured. “Using fallen military men and women for political damage control tarnishes their sacrifice. It is an insult to the families of these soldiers. When will the minister take responsibility for his own decisions and stop using fallen soldiers as an excuse for his abuse of government jets?”

Members on the Conservative side were audibly outraged at this. “Sit down!” cried various voices. “Hope is better than fear!” called Heritage Minister James Moore, quoting the late Jack Layton and apparently thinking he had spotted irony.

When Mr. Kellaway had finished, Mr. MacKay stood all serious and solemn. “Mr. Speaker, the honourable member has it wrong. His feigned indignation once again brings shame to his party,” the Defence Minister lamented.

Not only was Mr. MacKay prepared to defend his standing behind the troops to defend his use of government aircraft, but he was willing to double-down and do it again.

“In my four and half years as Minister of National Defence, I have made every effort to be at every repatriation of any fallen soldier, to be there to support their families and all the men and women in uniform who stand in harm’s way on behalf of our country,” he declared. “I will continue to do that.”

That, you’ll understand, explains everything. And with that the House moved on to other matters.

In his seat, Conservative backbencher Jeff Watson was still struggling to come to grips with the profound sadness of the official opposition’s suggestion.

“So much for choosing civility,” he muttered, apparently free of irony.

The Stats. The economy, 11 questions. The environment, four questions. The Defence Minister and the G8 Legacy Fund, three questions each. Afghanistan, abortion, human rights, search-and-rescue and taxation, two questions each. Trade, the judiciary, John Baird’s business cards, the border, labour, Insite, seniors, religion and flooding in Quebec, one question each.

Shelly Glover and Peter MacKay, seven answers each. John Baird, six answers. Christian Paradis and Peter Kent, four answers each. Peter Van Loan, three answers. Diane Finley, Dean Del Mastro, Candice Hoeppner, Lisa Raitt, Leona Aglukkaq, Alice Wong and Denis Lebel, one answer each.