The Commons: Incivility is in the eye of the beholder - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Incivility is in the eye of the beholder

Three days after invoking Hitler to mock the NDP, the Conservatives were claiming the high road

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The Scene. Thomas Mulcair had asked the government side to account for its recent adventures in military procurement and John Baird had stood and enthused about supporting the troops and now Charlie Angus was on his feet with a segue.

“Mr. Speaker, speaking of non-answers,” he said, “the Canadian Association of Journalists has just voted the Conservative government the most secretive in Canadian history.”

Journalists being among our society’s most respected and revered professionals, this condemnation on its own seemed certain to chasten the government, but Mr. Angus was not through.

“Look at the minister it put in charge of spinning the openness. The Muskoka minister ran a $50 million slush fund through his constituency office and then buried the documents and is refusing to tell Canadians what services are on the chopping block,” he reviewed. “The Prime Minister promised Canadians he would establish open and accountable government. Why did he break that promise?”

Tony Clement, the aforementioned minister, rose to respond, but Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House leader, stood too. With a cross look for Mr. Van Loan, Mr. Clement returned to his seat.

“Mr. Speaker, it was seven minutes ago that the House leader for the NDP stood up and talked about a new decorum,” Mr. Van Loan sighed. “He talked about putting an end to name calling, treating people with respect, calling them by their proper titles and proper names. It lasted seven minutes. The repeat offender is at it again.”

Directly across the way, Nathan Cullen, the aforementioned NDP House leader, who had indeed chosen today to take a stand on civility, sat and watched and shook his head.

“I encourage the House leader for the NDP to get his own side to fall in line,” Mr. Van Loan finished.

Precisely three days after his side invoked Hitler to mock NDP questions about this country’s mission in Afghanistan, Mr. Van Loan was claiming the high road. Or at least crying hypocrisy.

If Mr. Angus was shamed by this response, it only barely showed. “Mr. Speaker, this is the Conservatives’ sense of entitlement. They expect us to be subservient,” he shot back. “Our job and their job is to be respectful of the taxpayer, which returns me to the fact that they made promises to the Canadian taxpayer and they have turned their ministerial departments into black holes of accountability, which is why the Minister of International Cooperation was able to hide dubious amounts of lavish spending. The Prime Minister’s obsession with secrecy is allowing his ministers to break the rules time and time again. Why is the government committed to misrepresenting spending, hiding the books and misrepresenting Parliament?”

He perhaps meant “misleading Parliament,” if that’s not too uncivil an allegation to make.

Mr. Clement was allowed to take this one. “Mr. Speaker, they did no such thing,” he declared. “In fact, it was this government, at the very start of our mandate, in 2006, that created the Federal Accountability Act, the most sweeping anti-corruption legislation in the world today.”

“Follow it, Tony!” shouted someone from the Liberal corner, the Liberals not bound by any commitment to decorous behaviour.

“We have made great strides, of course, in delivering more information to Canadians,” Mr. Clement proclaimed next, staring down the concept of irony, “not only to the opposition members and to the media, but to Canadians directly. There are 272,000 data sets on line right now, at data.gc.ca. That is our commitment to opening the government, and it will continue.”

Perhaps among those 272,000 data sets, just waiting to be found, is the proper lifecycle costing of the F-35.

Nearer the end of this afternoon, the civility of this place was challenged once more. “Mr. Speaker, back in March 2005, when the previous Liberal government attempted to place the redefinition of a subsection to the definition of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act within a budget bill, the then opposition leader and current Prime Minister was outraged. He said, and I quote. ‘This is a backdoor way, a dangerous way of proceeding. It would not allow any parliamentary approval or discussion whatsoever. It is completely unacceptable,’ ” Elizabeth May reported from the furthest corner of the room.

Raising her voice, the Green MP held aloft the phonebook-thick budget bill.

“If changing one subsection to environmental law through a budget bill is completely unacceptable,” she begged, “why is changing hundreds of sections of a dozen environmental laws acceptable to this Prime Minister?”

Here, technically, Ms. May had violated the rules of this place, specifically the ban on the use of props.

Without complaining about that breech, Mr. Van Loan stood to respond. “Mr. Speaker, it has been a longstanding practice, of course, for budget implementation bills to actually implement budgets,” he quipped, winning guffaws from his side of the room.

“Our budget is focused on the economic growth and long-term prosperity of the country. That includes moving forward with responsible resource development so that we can ensure prosperity for generations to come,” he continued, now apparently feeling the need to muse aloud. “Canada has in great quantities the resources the world needs and the emerging developing world, countries like China and India. The development of those resources are the key to the prosperity, wealth and social well-being of Canadians for generations to come. That is why we are moving on it and that is why it is in the budget implementation bill.”

By the most simple understanding of what we apparently wish our House of Commons would sound like, this was perfectly civil.

The Stats. Government spending, eight questions. Military procurement, five questions. The Canada Revenue Agency, ethics and immigration, three questions each. The environment, foreign aid, fisheries, SNC-Lavalin and aboriginal affairs, two questions each. Old Age Security, homelessness, food safety, Internet access, employment, agriculture, arts funding and the budget, one question each.

John Baird and Diane Finley, seven responses each. Gail Shea, Tony Clement, Pierre Lemieux and Rick Dykstra, three responses each. Joe Oliver, Bev Oda, Keith Ashfield and Peter Van Loan, two responses each. Leona Aglukkaq, Bob Dechert, Rob Nicholson, Christian Paradis and James Moore, one response each.