The Commons: James Moore's audition

Even Moore's pretend government has to answer for Tony Clement

The Scene. Today, it was James Moore’s turn to pretend to be prime minister.

Unlike most of his recent predecessors, Mr. Harper has never seen fit to name a deputy. He stands alone. And so when he cannot stand or when he chooses not to (at some point he stopped showing up on Mondays), it had typically been the duty of John Baird or Peter Van Loan to stand and mouth the official bromides. Of late though Mr. Harper has chosen to disperse the burden of parliamentary accountability upon no less than five pairs of shoulders: Messrs Baird and Van Loan, Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney and James Moore. Each day the Prime Minister is away, no matter what has been asked or what actually relevant minister might be around to handle the question, it is one of these sturdy men who rises to handle the first questions of the NDP and Liberals.

So today, for instance, it was Mr. Moore’s job to stand and explain the government’s policy on the treatment of water sewage.

“Mr. Speaker, waste water regulations are being put forward and designed to make sure that Canadians have safe water when and where they need it,” he said in response to Nycole Turmel’s lead query. “Those regulations are responsible for the way in which we are doing it. The Leader of the Opposition is right in the sense that these regulations have to be twinned with investment with regard to infrastructure for water. The problem is the NDP has voted against every single dime of new investment that we have made to make sure that water gets to Canadians safely.”

This was not bad. Seemingly gracious, but implicitly dismissive. Vaguely expansive, but also over-simplified.

Next he switched to French to expound on his side’s commitment to constructive federalism in the pursuit of properly treated wastewater and then back to English to assert the government’s generosity, even working in a little superfluos blame of its predecessor. “The infrastructure deficit that our government inherited from the previous Liberal government is being tackled aggressively and responsibly by this government,” he declared.

He sat then for a couple questions before being summoned to face Ralph Goodale’s assertion that raising EI premiums in the new year was a “job-killing Conservative tax increase.”

“Mr. Speaker, the truth is our government’s record is crystal clear,” Mr. Moore proclaimed in the face of inconvenient fact. “We are the government that has lowered taxes more than any other government across this country and we have done so in ways that have benefited the Canadian economy.”

He challenged Mr. Goodale on parliamentary grounds. “One thing we can control is the vote that is going to take place this week, tonight as a matter of fact, with regard to the next phase of Canada’s action plan. If he believes in lower taxes, he will stand with this government and lower taxes on Canadians.”

He appealed to democracy. “Mr. Speaker, I see the member for Wascana is still trying to fight the last federal election. The public rendered its decision. It does not trust the Liberals with the economy.”

He swam in shallow populism. “We are putting in place a family caregiver tax credit to help families with the cost of raising their families and taking care of their responsibilities, a children’s arts tax credit, a volunteer firefighter tax credit for volunteer firefighters who stand up in public and make sure we have the services that we need in times of crisis. We want to give them a tax credit. The Liberals are standing against that.”

He talked fast and without hesitation. He turned in his place every so often to stare down the Liberals directly. He wagged his finger. He experimented with a sort of forward-moving hand-chop that will almost definitely come to mean “competency and progress” in international sign language. And when, much later in the hour, the NDP’s Glenn Thibeault stood to ask about concussion prevention and the government frontbench realized it had no one present to speak to the state of Sidney Crosby’s brain, it was Mr. Moore who jumped up and made a good show of seeming like he knew what he was talking about. “Lacrosse has a different universe of head injuries, so does football and hockey,” he offered. “They all have their own science and we need to make sure that the sports are safe for our kids to play.”

This was all good stuff, all very smooth and reassuring. But then the Moore government (or the MacKay government or the Kenney government or the Baird government) is not so far removed from the Harper government that it can avoid having to answer for Tony Clement. And now it is not just gazebos and bike racks and public toilets, but a $3,000 bill for chandelier adjustments.

Thankfully, the Moore administration, like the Harper administration, has a ready supply of selfless backbenchers willing to stand and sacrifice themselves. “Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member has never hosted international guests in his home,” sniffed Bob Dechert this day when the NDP persisted in mocking Mr. Clement. “When one does that, accommodations are made for guests, especially when they are leaders of the great economies of the world.”

Prime Minister Moore might consider getting ahead of such issues and putting these selfless backbenchers to work building gazebos and moving chandeliers instead of merely acting out explanations for parts and labour after the fact.

The Stats. The economy, six questions. The G8 summit, military procurement and the environment, four questions each. Crime, three questions. Pensions, Syria, infrastructure, asbestos and the RCMP, two questions each. Waterways, fisheries, employment, foreign aid, pharmaceuticals, sports, Iran and child poverty, one question each.

James Moore, seven answers. Bob Dechert and Peter Kent, six answers each. Jim Flaherty, four answers. Ted Menzies, Christian Paradis, Candice Hoeppner, Diane Finley and Rob Nicholson, two answers each. Pierre Poilievre, Robert Goguen, Keith Ashfield, Bev Oda, Leona Aglukkaq and Peter Van Loan, one answer each.

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