The Commons: Repeat after them - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Repeat after them

John Baird does his best impression of a television ad

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The Scene. Yesterday and again today, the Prime Minister apparently decided that it was in “Canadians’ interests” that he excuse himself from Question Period. If the House of Commons isn’t going to listen to him, it seems he isn’t going to listen to it. Indeed, given yesterday’s unpleasantness, it seems possible that he has decided to seal himself inside his campaign bubble a bit early.

In his place these last two days, Mr. Harper has sent John Baird, now seeming the human equivalent of a television ad. In the space of 45 minutes and 16 responses, Mr. Baird managed this day to use the word “coalition” nine times. This was followed in frequency by the words “unnecessary” and “unstable” with four appearances each. Not to be outdone were “risky” and “reckless,” which were each employed thrice.

But first, a word of support for the troops.

This much came in response to a question about post-secondary education. “Mr. Speaker, well beyond high school, advanced skills and learning are an absolute necessity for Canadian young people in a very competitive world,” Liberal deputy Ralph Goodale ventured off the top of Question Period, “but it is expensive. Two-thirds of Canadian families do not think they can afford to send their kids to university, college, technical school, or apprenticeships. Their futures are at risk.”

And then, a question. “In the Conservative regime’s twisted priorities,” Mr. Goodale wondered, “why is it spending a thousand times more on stealth fighter war planes than on students trying to get to school?”

Over then to Mr. Baird. “Mr. Speaker, we want to ensure that the young men and women who serve in our air force are protected and have the best equipment to keep us safe,” he enthused. “These men and women are putting their lives on the line to serve Canada. The best that they can hope for is that the Government of Canada will be as supportive of them as they are of this great country.”

Mr. Goodale, assuming the voice of the Liberal campaign to come, was not convinced to cease with his questions. “For low-income seniors, the Conservatives offer a paltry $1.15 a day. The junior finance minister compares it to depression relief in the dirty thirties. Well that is a dirty insult,” he said, enjoying one last opportunity to wag his right index finger before the campaign begins. “Why did this regime waste more money in one day on the gluttonous G20 binge last summer than it would provide to low-income seniors for a whole year?”

From his extended pronunciation of “gluttonous,” it was apparent that Mr. Goodale had taken great delight in scripting it.

Here Mr. Baird was apparently compelled to attempt his own math. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the Liberal Party of Canada wants to waste $400 million on an unnecessary and reckless election.”

In fairness to Mr. Baird, elections do cost money. In fairness to the principles of accurate accounting, Mr. Baird seems to overestimated here by approximately $100-million.

Undaunted, Mr. Baird next attempted to explain for the benefit of the House what was really going on here. “The real scandal here,” he said, “is that the Liberal-led coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois would not even accept the democratic will of Canadians. Worse yet, they would not be open and transparent about it. Unlike the reckless, Liberal-led coalition, this government wants to put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of the hard-working people who built this country, seniors living on modest incomes, rather than spend that money on an unnecessary election.”

As a compendium of talking points, this response was athletic in its construction.

Mr. Goodale was quick enough on his feet to ad-lib a retort. “Mr. Speaker,” he quipped, pointing a finger at the government side, “nobody would take lessons on democracy from this crowd.”

The Liberal deputy then attempted a compendium of his own—a tying together of perhaps a dozen strings to form a veritable quilt of disappointment.

“Conservative contempt for students, seniors and young parents needing child care. Conservative contempt for families looking after sick or aging loved ones at home. Contempt for Parliament and taxpayers, hiding $70 billion and falsifying documents. Conservatives hauled into court on election fraud and investigated by the RCMP for influence peddling,” he reviewed. “Applying these Conservative standards, is this how a twice bankrupt, disbarred lawyer and convicted felon gets to be the chief of staff to the Prime Minister?”

Whatever Mr. Goodale’s admonishment, Mr. Baird moved here to assert an understanding of constitutional convention that not even the Prime Minister seems entirely to support.

“Mr. Speaker, one of the most fundamental traditions in Canada, one of the most fundamental parts of our liberal democracy, is that the person with the most votes wins,” Mr. Baird declared. “The Liberal Party is showing outrageous contempt for Canadian voters by saying that it does not matter which government they elect, it will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois and make reckless decisions from an unstable government.”

It is on this note—containing within an implicit suggestion that individual MPs are elected primarily as warm bodies to fill the requisite seats necessary to make someone Prime Minister—that Parliament now nears dissolution. Perhaps while it’s away, its members and its prospective members can think over this question of what precisely it is they do for a living.

The Stats. The budget, 14 questions. Ethics, 12 questions. Energy, five questions. The F-35 purchase and taxation, two questions each. Government contracts, foreign aid and crime, one question each.

John Baird, 16 answers. Lawrence Cannon and Keith Ashfield, four answers each. Jim Flaherty, Diane Finley, Leona Aglukkaq and Rona Ambrose, two answers each. James Moore, Stockwell Day, Christian Paradis, Tony Clement and Vic Toews, one answer each.